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Reflections on Senator Gaylord Nelson’s Vision for Earth Day

Gaylord NelsonBy John Cronin

Often in these pages we quote Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, founder of the first Earth Day. (See here, here, here, and here.) His April 22, 1970 call for decency and respect toward all living things, and for a universal commitment to human and natural rights, was the purest expression of Earth Day’s blueprint for American environmentalism.

He saw the plight of the impoverished and of the endangered through the same lens:

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 that is not worthy of the name; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit.

He asked a new generation of environmentalists to share his vision of “an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.” Here we reprise the reflections of six EarthDesk friends on Senator Nelson’s call, and its special relevance today.

ED Paul Tonko

All Americans, and indeed all of humanity, have a right to clean air and water, safe and sustainable food, and reliable and secure shelter. Twenty-first century environmentalism must reassert its embrace of those ideals. More

Honorable Paul Tonko, Representative, Twentieth Congressional District, NY

ED Safina

The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig, which blew out in a fireball on April 20, 2010 and burned for two days, sank into a mile of water in the Gulf of Mexico on the 40th anniversary of Gaylord Nelson’s Earth Day speech. More

Carl Safina, Founding President, Blue Ocean Institute, co-chair Center for Communicating Science, Stony Brook University

ED richard ottinger

With the revelation of the threats posed by human-caused climate change, Senator Nelson was prescient in declaring that environmental protection is vital to every aspect of life, to poverty, civil rights, peace and human dignity. More

Richard Ottinger, Dean Emeritus, Pace Law School; former U.S. Congressman.

ED Joe Roman

Senator Nelson’s question remains: Are we willing to expand the rights of human beings to other species? Can we get to zero extinction? More

Joe Roman, Conservation Biologist, University of Vermont; author, Listed: Dispatches from America’s Endangered Species Act

ED Manna Jo

Senator Gaylord Nelson’s vision for Earth Day was closely aligned with Clearwater’s founder Pete Seeger, and with Dr. King, who had been assassinated two years before Earth Day 1970. More

Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director, Clearwater; Ulster County Legislator.

ED Revkin

In calling for the pursuit of Gross National Quality in place of Gross National Product, Senator Nelson foreshadowed a building global shift from quantitative goals to qualitative ones. More

Andrew Revkin, Senior Fellow, Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies; NY Times Dot Earth blogger.