Earth Day: A Long Wisconsin Legacy

April 27, 2012 at 10:43 am Leave a comment

Earth Day this year was a great success by many different standards. Here is Madison hundreds of people enjoyed the multitude of activities around the city with their families and friends. Those who enjoyed Earth Day might describe it as a day to celebrate the environment and enjoy the fruits of its labor; but how many people know where Earth Day started? Why was it started? Well here is a little history about Earth Day and one influential person behind the movement.

It wasn’t until the 70’s that anyone really thought about the idea of sustainability, conserving the environment, or precautionary principle. The first Earth Day was much different than the one we just experienced. It was not filled with happy faces, large convention centers, recreation activities, or planting tree events. The First Earth Day culminated in protests.

Earth Day in 1970 at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall

The protests were all over the nation. City government officials gave speeches, protestors held signs describing their fears of pollution and environmental destruction, and people even pledged to make a change in their lives. Rallies occurred from the east to west coasts, cities shut down their streets to reduce air pollution, organizations put on demonstrations to showcase the amount of pollution that was going on. This was an epic day of activism.

Gaylord Nelson

Earth Day was inspired and founded by a Wisconsin Senator at the time, Gaylord Nelson. He was born here is Wisconsin in 1916 and was a forward thinker throughout his entire political career. He served three consecutive terms for Senator after he was governor in 1958. He advocated for environmental sustainability among other things. He was one of the first to speak out and get side-effect disclosures on oral contraceptives, the first in pharmaceuticals drugs. He also was a large proponent for small businesses and created the first modern White House Conference on Small Businesses. Gaylord Nelson was a dynamic man and has influenced Wisconsin for many years to come. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has named the Nelson Institute in his honor which houses the Environmental Studies and Science degrees to continue his legacy of interdisciplinary education.

Despite Earth’s Day beginning in the United States, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that it went global. The 1990 Earth Day involved over 200 million people in 141 countries. These mobilizations strengthened recycling efforts worldwide and foreshadowed the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro which shifted many people’s ideologies about what problems there were concerning our environment and the potential solutions. This Summit was the first of its kind in numbers and in scope of topics.

Earth Day since then has continued to be a day for organizations and businesses to showcase their new ideas and promote accountability for people’s actions. I hope you all enjoyed Earth Day 2012 and learned something new about its history. Hopefully, this will inspire you to keep moving forward and thinking of ways you can influence the world and community around you. Especially here in Madison there are hundreds of people willing to help and support you in your endeavors, so get out there and do something!


EnAct Intern Kelsey

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