Earth Day: Conscientious Thinking Or Conspiracy Theory?
When Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin in the ‘70s, first suggested we observe something he called Earth Day, he could never have imagined that the whole planet would one day embrace his idea.
Earth Day has become the largest multinational day of secular celebration. Nelson also could never have imagined the inevitable backlash.
However one lands on the potential environmental threats to the planet–are they a problem or an exaggeration?–there’s one thing every Earthling must agree on:
This is a cool place to live. It would be a shame if anything were to happen to it, either from us or something like an asteroid.
At the very least, what Nelson gave us was a reason to reflect on our home, the people on it, and he gave us something to fight for one way or another
His resume reads like the American Dream.
Born in 1916, and raised in Wisconsin, Nelson majored in Political Science in college. He wasn’t just some long-haired bohemian. He served in the U.S. Army and faced action in Okinawa and World War II.
In 1948, the people elected Nelson as their governor in Wisconsin, where he served two terms. Then, he ran for the senate and scored a seat in 1962, where he served three terms.
In his time, Nelson was a voice for civil rights and liberties, this is true, but history remembers him for his contributions to the environmental movement.
In 1969, a huge oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California caused irreparable damage to the ecosystem. That event inspired Nelson to organize a peaceful “teach-in,” to educate people about environmental issues.
Prior to that time, environmental groups were quiet voices in the list of human affairs.
History Of An Idea
It was the 1960s before Americans began to question our impact on the environment.
Before that, industrial regulations had little to do with how they impacted the environment. There was no EPA, so rivers, the air, the land, these places were all fair game to dispose of whatever one wanted.
In `62, a book by Rachel Carlson, Silent Spring, highlighted the effects of pesticides on America’s soil. In 1969, a chemical fire in Cleveland on the Cuyahoga River added to the conversation, and then the oil spill off Santa Barbara.
Had it not been Nelson, the trend of events implied someone would speak up. Nelson harnessed his position and concern into an idea.
To organize the event, he enlisted Stanford grad, Denis Hayes to be his national coordinator and California’s Pete McCloskey, a Republican congressman (who once tried to unseat Nixon as the party nomination for president) as the co-chairman.
The trio built a staff of 85, who rallied every small group from every corner of the country speaking about environmental concerns.
Earth Day Is Born
On April 22, 1970, across the nation on college campuses and public spaces, Americans gathered to talk about the environmental impact of humans.
That day set in motion what would become the annual Earth Day celebration.
From that first battle cry, the United States would create the Environmental Protection Agency at home and a worldwide dialogue about our planet.
By 1990, it was a global celebration. As if one day weren’t enough fort the only planet we have, many countries have opted to celebrate Earth Week.
In 1995, President Clinton awarded Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts.
By the 2000’s, 184 countries would participate in the celebration. In 2012, the Earth Day Network achieved a goal set in 2010 of 1-billion trees planted, something even a critic of the EPA could appreciate.
Trees are awesome because oxygen.
The Climate Today
Whether one believes the Earth climate is warmer due to man-made causes, there is no denying the political climate of this issue is hotter than before.
For a time it seemed humanity’s gift to Earth would be a symbiosis, where we gave as much as we took. That momentum has taken a turn in the last decade.
We lost Gaylord Nelson in 2005. Were he alive today, he would rally louder than ever before. The recent public opinion does not reflect the trend of his efforts.
According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 42 percent of Americans believe that scientists have exaggerated climate changes. Today, no matter what anyone’s data says, there is someone who will argue it’s flawed.
For the non-scientists among us, it seems a confusing issue. Add to that our economic disparity and distrust for political parties, and the debate grows only hotter.
What was once an issue served by many voices coming together, has turned into a shouting match where nobody is can hear.
No doubt, these are challenging times for humanity’s home, but also for those humans who would call it that. Hopefully, this Earth Day we can at least agree on the core concept that we are all fans of this planet.
We don’t have any other options.