Gaylord Nelson, a former governor and U.S. senator from Wisconsin and the founder of Earth Day, died Sunday of cardiovascular failure. He was 89.
The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. 20 million people showed up for the celebrations, and it lead to rapid recognizance of the importance of conservation and environmental protection. The US Congress passed a number of laws related to conservation in the 1970s, including the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Act, and the Clean Water Act.
Earth Day leadership fragmented in later years, and divisions between grassroots activists and the leadership on approaches towards observance and conservation. An alternate Earth Day was also commenced and started in 1970, observed on the Vernal Equinox, usually on March 21. The United Nations Earth Day ceremony is held on this day.
Earth Day's significance may have dimmed, becoming a ritualistic observance of tolling bells, freshly planted trees and futile speeches, but the awareness of the fragility of our planet's resources has become almost second nature. Gaylord Nelson was a passionate conservationist, who was governor of Wisconsin from 1959 to 1963. He represented Wisconsin in the Senate until 1980, and the Reagan Republican resurgence.
He continued to be active in the Wilderness Society, becoming director in 1981. He focused on the population explosion, and the dangers to environmental resources. At an address to the Wisconsin legislature in 1999, he said, "'At the present, all nations in the world, without exception, are pursuing a self-destructive course of fueling their economies by consuming their capital ... by degrading and depleting their resources. 'The wealth of the nation is air, water, soil, forest, scenic beauty, wildlife habitat - take that away and all that's left is a wasteland."
Last year, he commented that the Bush administration had "failed to lead and actually sabotaged progress on crucial environmental problems." He said another term could "could upset 40 years of progress toward cleaner air, cleaner water, resource protection and a new environmental ethic,
THis year, on Earth Day, he wrote that "For the president to call for oil drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge is like burning the furniture in the White House to keep the first family comfortable", not the first in a career of confrontations with the establishment
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a comprehensive, detailed obit of Gaylord Nelson
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