||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
Gaylord Nelson to Speak|
April 20 at UW-Eau Claire
MAILED: April 6, 1999|
Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, will speak at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on Tuesday, April 20, at 7 p.m. in Schofield Auditorium. The event is free and open to all.
Gaylord Nelson was born in Clear Lake in 1916. His experiences as a boy growing up in northern Wisconsin helped shape his lifelong interest in the environment. Clear Lake offered him the chance to fish, swim, ice skate and explore. His day-to-day outdoor adventures piqued his interest in how nature works.
In 1948 he ran for the Wisconsin State Senate and won. He was re-elected in 1952 and 1956, holding the seat for 10 years. In 1958 he became governor, but he never forgot his roots of "rich land, clean air, safe water." He knew the importance of protecting wild places. In 1961 he began a 10-year, $50 million program to buy privately owned lands and preserve them as wildlife and recreation areas. The program was funded through a penny-a-pack tax on cigarettes and was the first program of its kind in the nation. The Outdoor Recreation Acquisition Program, as it was called, preserved hundred of thousands of acres for recreation areas, public parks and wildlife habitat. Without his vision, these areas that now belong to the people of Wisconsin might not exist today as wild places.
In 1962, after two terms as governor of Wisconsin, he was elected to represent the people of Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate. He believed that environmental problems needed national attention. "When I arrived as a senator from Wisconsin in 1963, there were probably only 20 members of Congress out of 535 who would have considered themselves environmentalists," Nelson said. When other politicians asked the new senator why he insisted on talking about such an unpopular issue, Nelson said, "Because people care. People care about the disappearance of their favorite childhood nature spots."
During the Vietnam War, Nelson decided to have a teach-in on the environment. "That's how the idea for Earth Day was born," Nelson said. He proposed it on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
April 22, 1970, saw the largest demonstration in human history. More than 20 million people took part, signaling the birth of the modern environmental movement. On that first Earth Day 29 years ago, 10,000 schools, 2,000 colleges and universities, and almost every community in the United States participated in events to celebrate and clean up the environment. School children cleaned up dirty streets, community groups planted trees. People picked up trash and cleaned up neighborhoods. The U.S. Congress adjourned for Earth Day so that members could attend teach-ins in their districts. All three major TV networks covered the events around the country. When Sen. Nelson proclaimed April 22, 1970, to be Earth Day, he gave birth to a historic movement. Each year since then, on April 22, Earth Day has been celebrated.
"The reason Earth Day worked," Nelson has said, "is that it organized itself. The idea was out there and everybody grabbed it. I wanted a demonstration by so many people that politicians would say, 'Holy cow, people care about this.' That is just what Earth Day did. Earth Day demonstrates the widespread concern for a livable world. It makes me believe for the first time that we can wage a successful fight to save the earth."
Millions of Americans were ready to take a stand for the environment. In the years after Earth Day, many state governments and the U.S. Congress passed new laws to keep the environment clean and safe, protect endangered species, and create parks, national forests and wildlife refuges.
In 1980, after 18 years as a senator, Gaylord Nelson lost his re-election bid. His interest in the environment remained strong. He joined the Wilderness Society, where he continues his work of protecting wild places.
"Earth Day can be the birth date of a new way of thinking," Nelson has said. "A way of thinking that says, 'This land was not put here for us to use up.' Earth Day can be the beginning of a way of thinking that says, 'Even a country as rich as ours must depend on the natural systems that preserve the air, the water and the land.'"
Contributing donors for the Gaylord Nelson event are Outdoor Recreation/University Recreation; the UW-Eau Claire departments of geography, biology, economics, library, English and philosophy/religious studies; UW-Extension (Lower Chippewa River); and Eau Claire Chapter Sierra Club.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: April 7, 1999