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Wed Apr 22, 2020, 01:33 PM

The Man Who Started Earth Day

Denis Hayes is the Mark Zuckerberg of the environmental movement, if you can imagine Mark Zuckerberg with a conscience and a lot less cash. Like Zuckerberg, Hayes dropped out of Harvard to start an eccentric and unpromising venture. Zuckerberg’s was called Facebook, which he launched in 2004; Hayes’ was called Earth Day, which he founded in 1970. Both grew into something far bigger and more significant than their founders ever imagined. And while Facebook has become a tangled web of cat GIFs and manipulative political ads, Earth Day has grown into a secular holiday recognized by billions of people and which has no goal beyond building a better world.

Hayes is a child of the Sixties. He grew up in a small town on the Columbia River in Washington state, where his father worked in a paper mill and Hayes saw firsthand the toxic consequences of the collision between industry and nature: dirty air, spoiled streams, dead fish. He drifted through college, bummed around in Asia and Africa, and thought deeply about the role of humans in the natural world. When he returned to the U.S., he enrolled in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he happened to meet with Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, who was looking for someone to organize a national teach-in about environmentalism. Hayes took the job and helped transform the teach-in into the first Earth Day, on April 22nd, 1970, which attracted more than 20 million people and gave birth to the modern environmental movement. Virtually overnight, burning rivers and vanishing birds were tragedies Americans cared about. And voted on. Thanks largely to the momentum created by Earth Day, the early 1970s saw the passage of the most important environmental legislation in U.S. history, including both the Clean Air and Clean Water acts.

Not surprisingly, Hayes was an early advocate of renewable power. During the Carter administration, he was director of the Federal Solar Research Institute in Colorado — until it was gutted by President Ronald Reagan. Since 1992, Hayes has been president of the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle, which funds a wide range of environmental and climate-related organizations in the Pacific Northwest. But as Earth Day celebrates its 50th anniversary, Hayes stands out not just as an environmental pioneer, but also as a reminder of how much can be accomplished with the right mix of idealism and pragmatism.

When you were planning Earth Day, did you imagine that 20 million people would show up, that it would be that big?

Well, our wild-eyed aspirations in the early days was to enlist not just college students, but adults, and school kids, and everybody. Our aspirations were patterned upon the events of the 1960s. The March on the Pentagon, the Poor People’s March, the Selma March. We hoped to have it in maybe eight or 10 cities. But in the end, I think we were in essentially every city, and almost every town, village, crossroads in America. That’s when the numbers started to become so staggering. The first time that I recognized it was going to be enormous was when I was in New York City, where Mayor John Lindsay gave us Fifth Avenue. He put police barricades across all cross streets and gave us more than 40 blocks of Fifth Avenue. When I climbed up on this platform to give a talk and looked out, 60, 70 feet in the air, and looked at the sea of people, it stretched out over the visual horizon. I couldn’t see the end of the crowd. That’s when I realized, “Oh, my God, this is really big.”

-more-

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/denis-hayes-interview-50th-anniversary-earth-day-987606/

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Reply The Man Who Started Earth Day (Original post)
Yo_Mama_Been_Loggin Apr 2020 OP
DBoon Apr 2020 #1
bucolic_frolic Apr 2020 #2
littlemissmartypants Apr 2020 #5
SheltieLover Apr 2020 #3
murielm99 Apr 2020 #4
littlemissmartypants Apr 2020 #6

Response to Yo_Mama_Been_Loggin (Original post)

Wed Apr 22, 2020, 01:38 PM

1. Excellent NYT article too

If you don't mind me referring to my prior post: https://www.democraticunderground.com/1127137360

NYT article: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/20/climate/denis-hayes-earth-day-organizer.html

Earth Day is a legacy of the much-maligned Boomer generation. Many of us in middle school, high school, and college made it a success.

There is an excellent book detailing the story of the many young activists who made this happen, "The Genius of Earth Day" : https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780865477742

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Response to Yo_Mama_Been_Loggin (Original post)

Wed Apr 22, 2020, 01:39 PM

2. Earth Day 1970

On the first Earth Day, 1970, I was handed a seedling at school. That seedling spent 3 years in a coffee can, was planted, and moved to another house. Today it's about 75 feet tall, a Norway Spruce, laden with cones most years, and still growing:

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Response to bucolic_frolic (Reply #2)

Wed Apr 22, 2020, 07:54 PM

5. Wow! That's awesome! ❤ nt

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Response to Yo_Mama_Been_Loggin (Original post)

Wed Apr 22, 2020, 01:49 PM

4. I remember the first Earth Day.

I remember sitting in the TV room of my dorm. We put up posters. We got people to participate. I was a bit surprised that so many people responded.

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Response to Yo_Mama_Been_Loggin (Original post)

Wed Apr 22, 2020, 07:57 PM

6. This was a very big deal at my high school.

I remember making posters, organizing marches and actually having cookouts on the day of celebration. I just wish we could have done more.

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