Nelson, Gaylord

From Encyclopedia of Wisconsin Environmental History
Jump to: navigation, search
Question: How has Gaylord Nelson influenced environmental history in Wisconsin? 

“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; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit.”[1]

Gaylord Nelson, the Father of Earth Day is argued to be one of the most influential environmentalist, politicians, and activists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Nelson was born in the Northern woods of Wisconsin in 1916.[2] As a young man growing up, he always admired the land, the beauty it held, and the sanctuary it provided for animals. Following in the footsteps of ‘Fighting Bob’ La Follette, Nelson attended UW-Madison where he received his law degree.[3] After attending school, Nelson fought in World War II where he became the commander of a company of African American troops in the segregated Army.[4] He would later receive the Presidental Medal of Freedom for his efforts in World War II.[5] Nelson would then go on to serve on the Wisconsin State Senate, the United States Senate, as well as serve as Wisconsin's governor.[6] During his time as a political figure he would fight for environmental protection, conservation, and activism. His efforts are still remembered and celebrated today.

Wisconsin State Senate

After returning home from war, Nelson was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate in 1948.[7] While serving in the State Senate, Nelson was focused on the concerns of Wisconites in the 1950s. Many of them were concerned about the crowded and depleading state parks, pollution of the waterways, and most importantly the exploitation of their public resources by private industries.[8]

"The Conservation Governor"

Once his time was finished in the Wisconsin State Senate, Nelson was elected as the Governor of Wisconsin in 1958.[9] During his time as governor, Nelson fought to initiate the Outdoor recreation Acquisition Program (ORAP), which funded the purchase of a million acres of recreation and wildlife areas through the taxation of cigarettes.[10] He was also a major contributor to the creation and establishment of the single Department of Resource Development, as well as the Youth Conservation Corps. The Youth Conservation Corps would work to provide over 1,000 green jobs for unemployed young adults. Along with the establishment and creation of many programs, Nelson “established unprecedented high levels of public funding for education, healthcare, unemployment, highways, and urban and rural development.”[11]

United States Senate

Nelson was elected to the United States Senate in 1962.[12] During his time in the Senate, Nelson would work with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in implementing changes to better the environment. Nelson helped to raise awareness and action for conservation and the environment with President Kennedy, as well as waging war on poverty and fighting for the advancement of Civil Rights legislation with President Johnson. Along with helping the Presidents fight for their causes, Nelson also endorsed and encouraged programs such as Operation Mainstream and the Green Thumb Project. Operation Mainstream was a program that would set aside millions of dollars for the creation of conservation jobs. Along with that, the Green Thumb project was a program that would allow for training and classes about environmental issues and conservation efforts for the poor and elderly. During Nelson’s time in the U.S. Senate, he also spoke out against the growing defense budget for the Vietnam war, as he felt as thought it took away from the domestic issues that were pressing in the United States. With Nelson’s extreme ideas on environmental issues, he struggled with his congressional colleges taking him seriously.[13]

Creation of Earth Day

After seeing the destruction left by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California Nelson new that something needed to be done in order to insure that events such as this did not go unnoticed.[14] In a new approach and effort to raise awareness and to pressure politicians to act on environmental legislation, Earth Day was created. The day to celebrate the earth and recognize the environmental issues of the day was met with a flood of enthusiasm. The idea was started with the proposal to, “host teach-ins to raise awareness for environmental problems.”[15] The creation of Earth Day was a grass-roots effort; the first Earth Day is described as a community event gathering those of all ages. “An estimated 20 million Americans, young and old gathered on April 22, 1970 to confront the ecological troubles in their cities, states, nation, and planet – and to demand action from themselves and from their elected officials.”[16] According to Denis Hayes, the first Earth Day coordinator, “the first Earth Day was at least five times larger than any anti-war rally and 20 times larger than any Civil Rights rally that had come before it.[17] At the inaugural Earth Day, Nelson prepared these words about the importance of setting a day aside to focus on the environment. He stated “ The battle to restore a proper relationship between man and his environment, between man and other living creatures, will require a long, sustained, political, rural, ethical and financial commitment far beyond any effort we ever made before in any enterprise in the history of man.”[18] The creation of Earth Day kicked of the Environmental Decade, a period of 10 years in which a large number of environmental protection legislation was passed.[19]

Legacy

Nelson did not receive reelection in 1980; the Reagan Era of politics had begun. Although he lost reelection, he remained a figure in environmental politics as the Counselor of the wilderness Society until his death in 2005.[20] The legacy of one individual’s moment to fuel change is one that continues to live on.[21]Along with the legacy that Gaylord Nelson left, the legacy of Earth Day still remains strong all around the world. The creation of Earth Day in 1970 the holiday that started as a grass-roots campaign has ballooned into a worldwide event. In 1990 the growth of Earth Day was beginning to be seen; 200 million people in 141 countries participated in environmental activities in recognition of the day. In 2000 Earth Day continued to grow and became not only and event to recognize with other people but it became a focus on the internet; citizens from all over the world began contacting their representatives in person and online to demand clean energy. On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in 2010, 225,000 people brought Earth Day back to its roots and attended a rally at the National Mall in Washington D.C. in hopes of bringing America’s focus back toward environmental engagement.[22]

References

  1. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day. Accessed May 1, 2016. http://nelsonearthday.net/nelson/.
  2. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day.
  3. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day.
  4. "A Fond Farewell to the Father of Earth Day." Wilderness (December 2005): 59, accessed April 30, 2016, Environment Complete, EBSCOhost.
  5. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day.
  6. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day.
  7. Sandlin, Erin, "Senator Gaylord Nelson, Father of Earth Day" American Forests 121, no. 2 (Summer 2015): 54. accessed May 1, 2016, Environment Complete, EBSCOhost.
  8. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day.
  9. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day.
  10. Sandlin, Erin, "Senator Gaylord Nelson, Father of Earth Day".
  11. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day.
  12. Sandlin, Erin, "Senator Gaylord Nelson, Father of Earth Day".
  13. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day.
  14. Sorell, Amanda. "The Evolution of Earth Day." Mother Earth News no. 263 (April 2014): 16. accessed May 6, 2016 Environment Complete, EBSCOhost.
  15. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day.
  16. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day.
  17. Sandlin, Erin, "Senator Gaylord Nelson, Father of Earth Day".
  18. Sandlin, Erin, "Senator Gaylord Nelson, Father of Earth Day".
  19. Sandlin, Erin, "Senator Gaylord Nelson, Father of Earth Day".
  20. "Meet Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day." Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day.
  21. Sandlin, Erin, "Senator Gaylord Nelson, Father of Earth Day".
  22. Sandlin, Erin, "Senator Gaylord Nelson, Father of Earth Day".

Archival Resources for Further Research

University of Wisconsin - Green Bay Archives and Area Research Center

  • Mss 1020 Gaylord Nelson Papers (Box 2, 27,31, 126, 149, 156, 230, 231)
  • SC 456 Huffman Environmental oral history project (1 folder)
  • Tape 1123A Huffman Evironmental oral history project (UC 1123A/1-3, UC box 190)
  • M2010-122 Bill Christopfferson Papers (box 1)

Article History

Originated By: glucer27 (16-05-12)