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Gaylord Nelson: The Creator of Earth Day

When we talk about special days regarding being eco-friendly, I am certain that the first thing that pops up in our minds is Earth Day. Celebrated annually, Earth Day is undeniably recognised and celebrated (or at least known) in a lot of places.

However, do you know who is the founder of this special day? Well, if you didn't know, it was Gaylord Nelson, and if you did know, stay to read more about him.

WHO is Gaylord Nelson?

Born on the 4th of June, 1916 in Clear Lake, Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson was the son of a country doctor. Not only was he the father of Earth Day, he also played an important role in fighting against social injustice. He had established a large amount of funds for many societal issues such as education, unemployment, health care and many more. He advanced civil rights legislation and waged the War on Poverty with President Johnson. He had helped President Kennedy to undertake a national tour for conservation and the environment.

‘Conservation Governor’

He was elected to the US Senate and represented Wisconsin for 18 years in 1962. In his political career resonating with the greenery of the Earth, he was the first ‘Conservation Governor.’ He had struggled for many years to earn his colleagues’ interest in protecting the environment. April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day celebration. It was a day for people to speak out about their thoughts and awareness about environmental crises and fortunately, it was a great success. With that, Gaylord Nelson had helped us earn a lasting place for environmentalism in national politics.

However, the thing that had helped him to earn his name as ‘Conservation Governor’ was how he established a Youth Conservation Corps. The objective of this was to create environmentally-friendly jobs for over 1,000 unemployed young people. This not only helped us to protect and appreciate our environment, it also gave unemployed people a job to find a way to earn money. He fought to earmark $50 million for the Outdoor Recreation Action Program (ORAP). This is for acquiring land to be converted into public parks and wilderness areas.After many successes with projects established to fight poverty, he still did not give up on helping and making his colleagues understand the importance of taking environmental actions and preserving the beauty of nature.

His Believe

Gaylord Nelson had said that he believed that:

“Environment is all of America and its problems. It is rats in the ghetto. It is a hungry child in a land of affluence. It is housing not worthy of the name; neighbourhoods not fit to inhabit.”

More Effort for the Environment

He had sponsored the Wilderness Act and several key pieces of environmental legislation. In 1981, he left the Senate and continued contributing to conservation by being the Counselor of the Wilderness Society. In 1995, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the nation’s highest honour for civilians.

All his efforts had led to more environmental laws and actions, such as:-

  • Clean Water Acts

  • National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

  • Federal Pesticides Act

  • Clean Air Act

  • Environmental Education Act

  • National Hiking Trails and National Scenic Trails Acts

  • Establishment of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

  • Environmental Protection Act

To Honour Gaylord Nelson

Gaylord Nelson passed away on the 3rd of July, 2005. To honour Gaylord Nelson, the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness area in Wisconsin was built, to ensure that his contributions and efforts do not go unacknowledged.

To mark the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson had gave a speech, which he said: “The opportunity for a gradual but complete break with our destructive environmental history and a new beginning is at hand…. We can measure up to the challenge if we have the will to do so — that is the only question. I am optimistic that this generation will have the foresight and the will to begin the task of forging a sustainable society.”

He was the father of Earth Day and through all his contributions listed above and more, we can see the importance of the role he played in advancing environmental legislations and actions. We should always appreciate all the contributions that he had struggled with so that he could make the world greener and make sure that he and his efforts will never be forgotten.

We’ve always known about Earth Day, but never the creator and story behind it. After all he has done, Gaylord Nelson would never be forgotten.

Senator Gaylord Nelson


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