Happy 45th Birthday Earth Day!

- Wednesday, April 22, 2015
This is definitely not your parents' Earth Day.

On April 22, 1970, millions of people took to the streets for '60s-style demonstrations and marches, calling attention to the perilous pollution of America's land, air and water. Ten thousand flocked to the Washington Monument for a folk music concert featuring Pete Seeger and U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie.

Today, Earth Day isn't just a national event; it's a global phenomenon. And it's not just one day; it's a whole week – or month in some cases!

"It is now the largest secular event in the world," Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network, told NBC News. "We have over 1 billion participants from 192 countries."

Tens of thousands came to Washington's National Mall on Saturday to hear Gwen Stefani, Mary J. Blige and other pop stars, as well as the United Nations' secretary-general and the World Bank's president, at a music-packed kickoff for 2015's Earth Day observances.

"Is Earth Day still relevant? I think so," Rogers said.

The call to action that started with Earth Day has had a huge impact as well:

  • Air: The EPA says aggregate emissions of six major air pollutants have dropped more than 60 percent since 1980.
  • Water: Only about a third of American water was safe for swimming or fishing before the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. Today, that proportion has risen to about two-thirds.
  • Land: Tens of billions of dollars have been spent since 1980 under the EPA Superfund program to clean up hazardous waste sites (although the cost has become increasingly controversial in recent years).
  • Species: The bald eagle has become a poster child for the environmental protections added by 1972's restrictions on DDT pesticide use and 1973's Endangered Species Act.

And yet, even Rogers acknowledges that the challenges facing the environmental movement are at least as daunting as the pollution woes that led to that first Earth Day 45 years ago.

"Back then, we could see it," she said. "Although there's still lots you can see — you can see landfills from space — what we have now is a much more insidious and harder-to-see problem called climate change."

Earth Day 2015 is on the bandwagon as well: In addition to the performers and the politicians, the stars at this weekend's National Mall concert included the Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicle.

"It's no longer just about movement-building, it's about technology," said Rogers, the president of the Earth Day Network. "It's not about reflection, it's about doing things."

**First published April 19th 2015, Alan Boyle is the science editor for NBC News Digital.