One Earth; Two Earth Days -- Prepare to Celebrate on March 19!
Why the March Equinox Is the True Earth Day
The Magic and Majesty of Earth's Solar Equinox
How the First Earth Day Came About

March 15, 2004

One Earth; Two Earth Days
The Real Earth Day Falls in March

Earth Day Founder John McConnell and the Earth Flag in orbit on Russia's Mir space station, flanked by cosmonauts Talgat Musabaev and Nikolai Budarin. Credit: Earthsite (
All individuals and institutions have a mutual responsibility to act as Trustees of Earth, seeking the choices in ecology, economics and ethics that will eliminate pollution, poverty and violence, foster peaceful progress, awaken the wonder of life, and realize the best potential for the future of the human adventure.

The first Earth Day (the event that many people insist is the true Earth Day), occurred in 1970, at the moment of the March Equinox. The event was conceived by visionary John McConnell as a means to encourage "unity in the care of Earth" by honoring the Earth on a day that was "scientific, poetic, historic and singular."

The celebration of Equinox festivals is an ancient human ritual that goes back to Stonehenge, Persia, the Mayans and early Chinese history. This is "nature's day" -- a special time when Light and Darkness (day and night) are of equal length everywhere on the planet. Earth Day marks the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the arrival of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

The symbolism of Earth Day -- equilibrium and balance -- encourages independence and cooperation. Part of the balance of the equinox is that it signals the beginning of spring and new growth in the North while it signals the beginning of the season of harvest in the South.

Plans for the first Earth Day were announced in San Francisco at the November 1969 UNESCO Conference on the Environment. The City of San Francisco and other northern California cities became the first to issue Earth Day proclamations and celebrated the first Earth Day on March 21, 1970.

In 1971, UN Secretary General U Thant rang the United Nations Peace Bell on March 21, signaling the start of an annual celebration of Earth Day. Each year since, the United Nations Peace Bell has been rung at the very moment spring begins -- an unprecedented Global Moment when people worldwide grab bells and literally "ring the planet" with sounds of jubilation to renew their commitment to protect and care for the planet.

The United Nations Earth Day celebration serves as the centerpiece of this growing, annual global holiday designed to promote "the common objective of local and global harmony with nature and neighbors."

This year, •the first warm breath of spring will sweep across the Hawai'i Islands at 8:49 p.m. on March 19. At that exact moment, bells will be rung simultaneously in cities, towns and villages on every continent.

The Peace Bell at the United Nations in New York will sound on Saturday, March 20 at 1:49 a.m. EST while the Peace Bell at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria, will ring out at 7:49 a.m. The first minute of spring falls in San Francisco on March 19 and will be welcomed with the pealing of church bells and cable car bells at 10:49 p.m.

Why the March Equinox Is the True Earth Day
By John McConnell, Founder of Earth Day March 19-20

In 2000, San Francisco Attorney Angela Alioto celebrateed Earth Day (founded 30 years before by her father, then-Major Joseph Alioto) by ringing the bells of the Shrine of St. Francis as John McConnell and Father Kevin look on. Credit: Gar Smith / The-Edge
"The Earth will continue to regenerate its life sources only as long as we and all the peoples of the world do our part to conserve its natural resources. It is a responsibility which every human being shares. Through voluntary action, each of us can join in building a productive land in harmony with nature."
-- President Gerald Ford Proclaiming March 21st as Earth Day

Throughout the many decades of my life previous to my founding of Earth Day March 21, 1970, I pondered over how the many differences that confront our world could find a peaceful resolution, instead of being in an almost constant confrontation. My key solution was to focus attention on the most important common ground and the positive values shared by adversaries.

National holidays, as well as religious ones, have special days set: a good example of people coming together to peacefully celebrate.

And so I drew attention to a time that is celebrated by the entire world -- the first day of spring: Nature's moment of the Equinox when the Sun crosses the celestial equator causing the length of day and night to be equal -- a state of equilibrium throughout the Earth. This is the true Earth Day, not because I selected it, but because it originates in the Earth's own rotation and revolution.

The first day of spring, a day that historically has been celebrated by people of every creed and culture -- is a day worthy of being a holiday of all of Earth's people.

The first Earth Day, celebrated in the United States, was on March 21, 1970. It has been celebrated each year thereafter at the United Nations, bringing attention to its original purpose: peace, justice and the care of Earth.

The highlight of each ceremony has been the ringing of the Peace Bell -- occasionally by leaders of countries who may have been at war with each other.

In 1987, the Peace Bell was rung by the representatives of three different cultures and religions -- Chester Morris, from the United States Mission to the United Nations, Valentine Karymov, from the USSR Mission to the United Nations and Sheik Ali Mukhtar, representing the Muslim World League.

The principal hindrance for Earth Day to fulfill its potentials was initiated by the organizers of a 1970 "Environmental Teach-In" when they announced that Earth Day would occur on April 22. This group of individuals has used "Earth Day" as a fundraising tool for their projects and political aims.

There would be no problem if the organizers of the April 22 "Earth Day" would call it by its original name, "Environmental Teach-In" (or "Eco Day" or any name other than Earth Day).

Nothing should be done to legitimize calling April 22 "Earth Day." When the geophysical, original Earth Day is understood, and celebrated, the global state of mind and the actions of its people will assure a healthy prosperous future.

The object of Earth Day is to have one great annual occasion where the whole human family can forget their differences and celebrate the wonder of our planet.

For more information, contact: John McConnell, 1933 Woodbine St., Ridgewood, NY 11385 or check the Earth Day website:

"EARTH DAY draws on astronomical phenomena in a new way; using the vernal equinox, the time when the Sun crosses the equator making night and day of equal length in all parts of the Earth.... EARTH DAY attaches no local or divisive set of symbols, no statement of the truth or superiority of one way of life over another. But the selection of the March equinox makes planetary observance of a shared event possible."
-- Margaret Mead
1977 Earth Day Statement

The Magic and Majesty of Earth's Solar Equinox

At the moment of the Equinox the Sun will set at the South Pole and rise at the North Pole. On the Equator at noon, there will be no shadow.
This common event for humanity will occur at:

  • 8:49 p.m. - Honolulu, Hawaii - March 19
  • 9:49 p.m. - Anchorage, Alaska - March 19
  • 10:49 p.m. - Los Angeles, California - March 19
  • 11:49 p.m. - Mexico City, Mexico - March 19
  • 12:49 a.m. - Chicago, Illinois - March 20
  • 1:49 a.m. - New York City, NY - March 20
  • 3:49 a.m. - Sao Paulo, Brazil - March 20
  • 6:49 a.m. - London, England - March 20
  • 7:49 a.m. - Vienna, Austria - March 20
  • 7:49 a.m. - Rome, Italy - March 20
  • 7:49 a.m. - Lagos, Nigeria - March 20
  • 8:49 a.m. - Istanbul, Turkey - March 20
  • 8:49 a.m. - Johannesburg, South Africa - March 20
  • 9:49 a.m. - Moscow, Russia - March 20
  • 9:49 a.m. - Nairobi, Kenya - March 20
  • 11:19 a.m. - Bombay, India - March 20
  • 1:49 p.m. - Jakarta, Indonesia - March 20
  • 2:49 p.m. - Beijing, China - March 20
  • 2:49 p.m. - Shanghai, China - March 20
  • 2:49 p.m. - Hong Kong - March 20
  • 2:49 p.m. - Manila, Philippines - March 20
  • 3:49 p.m. - Tokyo, Japan - March 20
  • 4:49 p.m. - Sydney, Australia - March 20

    How the First Earth Day Came About
    By Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day, April 22

    "On April 22, 1970, Earth Day was held, one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy. . . "
    -- American Heritage Magazine, October 1993

    What was the purpose of Earth Day? How did it start? These are the questions I am most frequently asked.

    Actually, the idea for Earth Day evolved over a period of seven years starting in 1962. For several years, it had been troubling me that the state of our environment was simply a non-issue in the politics of the country. Finally, in November 1962, an idea occurred to me that was, I thought, a virtual cinch to put the environment into the political "limelight" once and for all. The idea was to persuade President Kennedy to give visibility to this issue by going on a national conservation tour.

    I flew to Washington to discuss the proposal with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who liked the idea. So did the President. The President began his five-day, eleven-state conservation tour in September 1963. For many reasons the tour did not succeed in putting the issue onto the national political agenda. However, it was the germ of the idea that ultimately flowered into Earth Day.

    I continued to speak on environmental issues to a variety of audiences in some twenty-five states. All across the country, evidence of environmental degradation was appearing everywhere, and everyone noticed except the political establishment. The environmental issue simply was not to be found on the nation's political agenda. The people were concerned, but the politicians were not.

    Why Not a 'Teach-in' on the Environment?
    After President Kennedy's tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called "teach-ins," had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me -- why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?

    I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.

    At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air -- and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office.

    The Global Grassroots Event that 'Organized Itself'
    Five months before Earth Day, on Sunday, November 30, 1969, The New York Times carried a lengthy article by Gladwin Hill reporting on the astonishing proliferation of environmental events:

    "Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation's campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam...a national day of observance of environmental being planned for next spring...when a nationwide environmental 'teach-in'...coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned...."

    It was obvious that we were headed for a spectacular success on Earth Day. It was also obvious that grassroots activities had ballooned beyond the capacity of my US Senate office staff to keep up with the telephone calls, paper work, inquiries, etc.

    In mid-January, three months before Earth Day, John Gardner, Founder of Common Cause, provided temporary space for a Washington, DC headquarters. I staffed the office with college students and selected Denis Hayes as coordinator of activities.

    Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.

    For more information about events scheduled for the Earth Day celebration in April, go to:

    For more information contact:

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