In 1969, as a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson came up with one of the most powerful ideas of his time: Earth Day. Inspired by the teach-ins dealing with the Vietnam War, Earth Day was an instant success, drawing 20 million participants the first year (1970). American Heritage Magazine called the first Earth Day “one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy.”
Nelson died at his home today in Kensington, Maryland, of cardiovascular failure, said Bill Christofferson, Nelson’s biographer and a family spokesman. He was 89.
“He died peacefully. His wife was with him,” Christofferson said.
Thirty-five years after the first Earth Day, April 22 is still a day on which many people plant trees, clean up trash and lobby for a clean environment.
A conservationist years before it became fashionable, Nelson was recognized as one of the world’s foremost environmental leaders. Then-President Clinton presented Nelson with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 for his environmental efforts.
“As the father of Earth Day, he is the grandfather of all that grew out of that event: the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act,” read the proclamation from Clinton.
Nelson entered public life in 1948 as a Wisconsin state senator from Dane County, a position he held for 10 years. In 1958, Nelson became only the second Democrat during the 20th century to be elected governor of Wisconsin.
I am aware of the controversy over two Earth Days, and two founders, so this is the “other” Earth Day …
For more background on the two Earth Days and their founders, read http://psychcentral.com/psypsych/Earth_Day