10 Earth Day Quotes From History’s Greatest Environmental Heroes

Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring,” at her summer home in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, in 1962. Photo Courtesy: CBS Photo Archive/Contributor/Getty Images

In the 1960s, amid growing environmental concerns following the publication of Rachel Carson’s bestselling Silent Spring and emerging public awareness of the links between pollution and health, a junior senator from Wisconsin by the name of Gaylord Nelson had an idea. Inspired by Carson’s work, the student anti-war movement and a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, Senator Nelson recruited a young activist named Denis Hayes to promote events and rallies across the country in cities, communities and university campuses protesting against the degradation of the environment.

When Is Earth Day 2022?

The first Earth Day occurred on April 22, 1970 — a date chosen to maximize the greatest level of student participation between spring break and final exams. In its debut year, the event inspired 20 million Americans (about 10% of the total population at the time) to come together with a common purpose. By the end of 1970, the United States had created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Just a few years later, Congress passed the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. Earth Day went global in 1990, with 200 million people in 141 countries participating that year. Today, a total of 192 countries celebrate annually on April 22.

What You Can Do on Earth Day

The great thing about Earth Day is that you don’t have to wait until April to celebrate (in fact, we’d argue that every day should be Earth Day). Something as simple as picking up a piece of trash on your morning jog or finally investing in a home composting routine can help make a difference every day of the year. 

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Of course, Earth Day’s continued popularity means that communities all over the world highlight imaginative events and ways to invest in the Planet on April 22 specifically, ranging from beach cleanups and festivals to educational programs and everything in between. Use the map from Earth Day Network — the global organization that grew out of the original Earth Day in 1970 — to find the events nearest you.

In the meantime, we’ve rounded up 10 uplifting Earth Day quotes from some of history’s most prominent environmental heroes that will inspire anyone to appreciate the importance of protecting our Planet.

“Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.” – Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall, the British scientist renowned for her work on African primates, delivers a speech in Paris. Photo Courtesy: PATRICK KOVARIK/Contributor/Getty Images
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Known for her longtime study of wild chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park (which later became the world’s longest-running continuous primate research project), Jane Goodall has dedicated her life to conservation and human rights. One of her most famous quotes spotlights the importance of education in the face of environmental crises.

“In nature, nothing exists alone.” – Rachel Carson

The acclaimed biologist and famed author of Silent Spring — touted as the most influential book of the modern environmental movement — certainly had a lot to say about the interconnectedness of nature and…everything else. Although she passed away over 50 years ago, Rachel Carson’s words continue to remind us that any change in the fragile balance of nature can have vast consequences.

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“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty, the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” – David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough attends the “Our Planet” global premiere at the Natural History Museum on April 4, 2019, in London, England. Photo Courtesy: Dave J Hogan/Contributor/Getty Images
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It’s no surprise that the broadcaster, author and naturalist who narrated arguably the most well-received environmental documentaries of all time would have some incredibly insightful quotes floating around. David Attenborough’s words often look at the environment from an emotional perspective, bringing the wonders of the natural world right into our living rooms.

“I have learned you are never too small to make a difference.” – Greta Thunberg

This quote from Greta Thunberg serves as an important reminder that, although the climate crisis can sometimes feel overwhelming, taking small steps at the local community level can still create incredible value. This quote later inspired the title of her 2019 collection of speeches, No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference.

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“Hold up a mirror and ask yourself what you are capable of doing, and what you really care about. Then take the initiative — don’t wait for someone else to ask you to act.” – Sylvia Earle

Dr. Sylvia Earle, CEO and founder of Mission Blue, speaks during the 2020 Embrace Ambition Summit. Photo Courtesy: Craig Barritt/Stringer/Getty Images
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Eagerness and enthusiasm are often the first steps to shaping change, even if you have to take it upon yourself to get started. Sylvia Earle is the president of the Mission Blue environmentalist advocacy group, a National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence and one of the world’s most renowned marine biologists.

“Change is never easy, and it often creates discord, but when people come together for the good of humanity and the Earth, we can accomplish great things.” – David Suzuki

Canadian scientist, conservationist, activist and television personality David Suzuki has a gift for conveying serious environmental issues to the public through his TV series The Nature of Things. Also known for his support of Canada’s Indigenous groups, he’s continued to speak on current issues, author books and host his show since 1979.

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“At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.” – Chico Mendes

A picture of famous conservationist Chico Mendes is displayed at his house — preserved and open to the public — in northwestern Brazil. Photo Courtesy: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/Staff/Getty Images
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Chico Mendes’ work pioneering history’s first tropical forest conservation initiative in Brazil helped create some of the Amazon’s first nature reserves and paved the way for sustainable forest management worldwide. Sadly, he also became a sobering example of the dangers environmental activists face when he was gunned down outside his home in 1988.

“Wilderness itself is the basis of all our civilization. I wonder if we have enough reverence for life to concede to wilderness the right to live on?” – Margaret (Mardy) Murie

Known fondly as the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement,” Mardy Murie helped establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the largest national wildlife refuge in the United States. This quote comes from her congressional testimony about the Alaska Lands Act, which (at the time) protected the refuge from oil and gas development.

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“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and seeds of hope.” – Wangari Maathai

Kenyan professor Wangari Maathai, who founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977. Photo Courtesy: William Campbell/Contributor/Getty Images
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Founder of the Green Belt Movement and the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Wangari Maathai was also one of the first to link environmental protection with human rights. In 2004, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” – David Brower

David Brower founded several environmental organizations throughout his lifetime, including the John Muir Institute for Environmental Studies and the Earth Island Institute. His words here highlight the perspective of saving the Planet for the sake of the future rather than the present.

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