April 23, 2010
I had the good fortune to attend the Earth Day conference in Madison on April 20-21. The celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day was hosted by the UW-Madison Gaylord Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies. An impressive program featured nationally, and even internationally, renowned individuals including attorney and environmental activist Robert Kennedy, Jr., author Margaret Atwood, Plantwalker John Francis, SC Johnson CEO Fisk Johnson, Wilderness Society President William Meadows and Tia Nelson, daughter of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, the former Wisconsin Governor and US Senator.
Many of the speakers and other attendees at the conference commented on the profound influence that the very first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, had on their lives. The germ of Senator Nelson’s idea was to have environmental “teach-ins” at universities across the country. As the concept caught fire and more and more people poured into the organizational ranks, a public relations firm in New York worked with a group of graduate students to create a name for the event and Earth Day was born. Over twenty million people participated in the first Earth Day event in the United States, the largest public demonstration in the country’s history. And now, two score years later, the event will be celebrated in over 180 countries with approximately ˝ billion people involved.
For me, there were many “take-aways” from the conference, too numerous to mention here but among some of those thoughts are the following:
- The amazing difference one person’s actions can make in the world. One never truly knows the effect one’s efforts will have as the ripple of a singular action may result in a tsunami of action in the future.
- If you understand and the love the place you live, you are more apt to protect it.
- Everyone must develop an “ecological conscience” and understand the consequences of decisions and actions related to consumptive behaviors.
- Having a plan is not leadership. Having a plan and then implementing a plan is meaningful.
Finally, a quote from the Man from Clear Lake that I use frequently when speaking about the Riverway came to mind several times during the conference, particularly, on the second day when the focus was on the future. Gaylord Nelson once said, “The ultimate test of a man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”
This quotation seems quite fitting for the Riverway as we work to protect and preserve the scenic beauty and natural character of the lower Wisconsin River valley for future generations. In my estimation, the value of the Riverway project increases with the passage of time and may not be fully realized until fifty or one hundred years when someone paddles down the river and offers a soft word of thanks.
Links to some of the past & present Earth Day speeches & articles:
President Obama's Earth Day Speech ~ 4/22/10
Bill Nye "The Science Guy" ~ 4/22/10
Gaylord Nelson's Speech on the First Earth Day
The May 1970 Issue of Gaylord Nelson’s Senate Newsletter
New York Times Article on Earth Day