Forty five years ago today– it was 1970, the Viet Nam War, civil rights and social unrest were front and center – a 25-year-old named Denis Hayes launched the first Earth Day in the U.S. as a teach-in, spurred on by the urging of his mentor, the late Sen. Gaylord Nelson. It was a teachable moment – and still is.
Wherever you are today, gives thanks for the wit, wisdom, and energy of the late U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson. The three-term Wisconsin senator proposed the first Earth Day as a loose network of local events based on the plans by college students in a number of locales to hold teach-ins in their own communities.
The first national day on the environment – April 22, 1970 – was intended to send a message to Washington that public opinion was solidly behind a bold political agenda on environmental problems. Sen. Nelson announced his intentions at a speech in Seattle on September 20, 1969, and several major media outlets immediately broadcast the idea to national audiences.
Nelson and his staff estimated 20 million Americans—from 10,000 elementary and high schools, 2,000 colleges, and over 1,000 communities—took action on April 22, 1970. Equally important, that first Earth Day helped build the grassroots momentum for clean water and clean air that resulted in major federal legislation.
Today, Denis Hayes, who chairs the Earth Day Network, looks at Earth Day at 45 – now a global event from the U.S. National Mall to worldwide activities in more than 170 countries – and shares his views in a Green Buzz interview.
University of Wisconsin System Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Denis Hayes and his wife Gale Boyer Hayes have published a new book, COWED: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture and Environment. Read the full interview
Bill McKibben’s remembrance of Earth Day in 2010