How far we’ve come and how far we need to go
In the early 1960s, Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, proposed a nationwide conservation tour to President John F. Kennedy. The tour, which took place in September 1963, was overshadowed by other events. However, six years later, in the summer of 1969, Nelson got the idea for a national “teach-in” about the environment. Planning began for this teach-in, which was dubbed Earth Day and set for April 22, 1970. A call went out. And Americans responded.
Going into that first Earth Day, no one could have predicted what was about to occur. School children, college students, community leaders, public officials, and citizens mobilized a huge, grassroots effort. By April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans, or 10 percent of our nation’s population in that year, took part.
This demonstration for the environment brought about sweeping changes at the federal and state levels. Later that same year, President Richard Nixon established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Executive Order. In the years that followed, dozens of environmental laws were passed, protecting our coastlines, clearing our air, and cleaning
Today, more than three decades later, the successes of Earth Day are readily apparent. The worst of our day-to-day environmental problems have been addressed. However, we’re left with much to do.
This year, and every year, Earth Day rolls around as a reminder that we still have work to do. The founders of Earth Day believed that it would take many decades to “catch up”
The good news is that Earth Day—then and now—is about individuals acting to make a difference. Today, you can make that difference. Get involved. Reduce the amount of waste in your life—conserve energy, save water, and create less trash. Recycle all that you can, providing useful materials to the manufacturing process. And, spread the word, especially to children and youth. Someday soon this will be their environment. Show them how and why to take care of it now.
Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise
By Gaylord Nelson with Susan Campbell and Paul Wozniak
“Where our planet’s health is concerned, I have always believed that a public armed with knowledge is a public armed with the means and the determination to find a solution.”
“The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. All economic activity is dependent upon that environment and its underlying resource base of forests, water, air, soil, and minerals. When the environment is finally forced to file for bankruptcy because its resource base has been polluted, degraded, dissipated, and irretrievably compromised, the economy goes into bankruptcy with it. The economy is, after all, just a subset within the ecological system.”