We Once Gathered 20 Million Strong To Protect The Environment

Every person has the inalienable right to a decent environment.”

Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day

I vividly remember the first Earth Day in 1970. As a junior in high school, I watched with great pride as the nation took action to clean up our polluted air and waterways because of one man – my Senator, Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin.  American Heritage Magazine called the first Earth Day, which drew 20 million U.S. participants “one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy.”  We gathered 20 million strong in an era without cell phones, social media or the Internet.  That’s how strongly we felt about protecting the environment.

Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day

Wisconsin is poised to make its mark again for one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy with the recall of current governor Scott Walker.  But it’s April, and a time to reflect on Nelson, Earth Day, the environment, climate change, and why we have so forgotten the words of that remarkable man from Clear Lake, Wisconsin, who had such an impact on how we viewed our planet and our roles as stewards of the earth.

Have you never heard of Gaylord Nelson?  Or do you need a refresher on just what a debt of gratitude we owe him?  We invite you to peruse the Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day web site as well as The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.  He is also one of 23 individuals featured in my book Wisdom of Progressive Voices.

One of my favorite quotes from him:

“The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.”

Just how far have we wandered from our environmental commitments?  Forget for a moment the headline grabbers such as the Keystone Pipeline or the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster, or the conservative argument that climate change doesn’t exist. On a “smaller scale,” here’s a sampling of what we found in just a quick review of news sites last week:

It may seem the lessons of Earth Day and the wisdom to understand the importance of protecting our environment have faded. But, we at Wisdom Voices will spend the month of April reflecting on those who are still valiantly fighting to keep the ideals of a clean environment and stewardship of our plant at the forefront of our conversation in a time when rhetoric, greed and disinformation seem to dominate.

Thomas Linzey, Executive Director and co-founder of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, is our April Progressive Profile. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, founded in 1995, provides free legal services to community-based environmental organizations, helping to change the paradigm by giving local communities a say in what happens in their own backyard. The CELDF is a principal adviser to residents, citizens groups, and municipal governments struggling to transition from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over corporations.

We also are planning to talk to the Aldo Leopold Foundation, who continues the great work and heritage of one of our country’s greatest environmentalists.  And we hope to talk more with the team from OnTheCommons about the work they are doing to rekindle the fact that air and water are part of the commons and not some profit system for corporations.

Who else should we feature?  Do you have a favorite local, state or regional organization you’d like to see featured?  If so, leave us a reply below or send us an email at info@wisdomvoices.com.

We need to promote and (financially) support those who still practice and keep alive the great words of Gaylord Nelson:  “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”

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