Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005) originated the idea for Earth Day in 1969. A year later, millions of Americans observed the first Earth Day with celebrations, demonstrations, “teach-ins”and “sit-ins.” Gaylord Nelson was a United States Senator.
Yes, there was a time when United States Senators and Representives were environmental leaders. Others included Senators Edmund Muskie and Henry Jackson, and Congressmen Richard Ottinger and Pete McCloskey. And so, while Earth Day is a time to celebrate and consider the wonders and state of the planet, it is time as well to consider the wonders and state of American politics, and ask the question, “Why, after 42 years of Earth Days, is it politically more risky for a United States Senator or House member to be an environmental leader?”