“The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.”

“The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.”

“All economic activity is dependent upon that environment and its underlying resource base of forests, water, air, soil, and minerals. When the environment is finally forced to file for bankruptcy because its resource base has been polluted, degraded, dissipated, and irretrievably compromised, the economy goes into bankruptcy with it.”

— Gaylord Nelson (Beyond Earth Day — Fulfilling the Promise, 2002)

Gaylord Nelson wrote this in 1993:

What was the purpose of Earth Day? How did it start? These are the questions I am most frequently asked.

Actually, the idea for Earth Day evolved over a period of seven years starting in 1962. For several years, it had been troubling me that the state of our environment was simply a non-issue in the politics of the country. Finally, in November 1962, an idea occurred to me that was, I thought, a virtual cinch to put the environment into the political “limelight” once and for all. The idea was to persuade President Kennedy to give visibility to this issue by going on a national conservation tour. I flew to Washington to discuss the proposal with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who liked the idea. So did the President. The President began his five-day, eleven-state conservation tour in September 1963. For many reasons the tour did not succeed in putting the issue onto the national political agenda. However, it was the germ of the idea that ultimately flowered into Earth Day.

I continued to speak on environmental issues to a variety of audiences in some twenty-five states. All across the country, evidence of environmental degradation was appearing everywhere, and everyone noticed except the political establishment. The environmental issue simply was not to be found on the nation’s political agenda. The people were concerned, but the politicians were not. [emphasis added by Muller]

After President Kennedy’s tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called “teach-ins,” had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me – why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?

I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air – and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office.

Five months before Earth Day, on Sunday, November 30, 1969, The New York Times carried a lengthy article by Gladwin Hill reporting on the astonishing proliferation of environmental events:

“Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems…is being planned for next spring…when a nationwide environmental ‘teach-in’…coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned….”

It was obvious that we were headed for a spectacular success on Earth Day. It was also obvious that grassroots activities had ballooned beyond the capacity of my U.S. Senate office staff to keep up with the telephone calls, paper work, inquiries, etc. In mid-January, three months before Earth Day, John Gardner, Founder of Common Cause, provided temporary space for a Washington, D.C. headquarters. I staffed the office with college students and selected Denis Hayes as coordinator of activities.

Earth Day worked lorazepam because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.


by John McConnell

June 21, 1970

Whereas: A new world view is emerging; through the eyes of our Astronauts and Cosmonauts we now see our beautiful blue planet as a home for all people, and

Whereas: Planet Earth is facing a grave crisis which only the people of Earth Can resolve, and the delicate balances of nature, essential for our survival, can only be saved through a global effort, involving all of us, and

Whereas: In our shortsightedness we have failed to make provisions for the poor, as well as the rich, to inherit the Earth, and our new enlightenment requires that the disinherited be given a just stake in the Earth and its future ~~ their enthusiastic cooperation is essential if we are to succeed in the great task of Earth renewal, and

Whereas: World equality in economics as well as politics would remove a basic cause of war, and neither Socialism, Communism nor Capitalism in their present forms have realized the potentials of Man for a just society, nor educated Man in the ways of peace and creative love, and

Whereas: Through voluntary action individuals can join with one another in building the Earth in harmony with nature, and promote support thereof by private and government agencies, and

Whereas: Individuals and groups may follow different methods and programmes in Earthkeeping and Earthbuilding, nevertheless by constant friendly communication with other groups and daily meditation on the meaning of peace and goodwill they will tend more and more to be creative, sensitive, experimental, and flexible in resolving differences with others, and

Whereas: An international EARTH DAY each year can provide a special time to draw people together in appreciation of their mutual home, Planet Earth, and bring a global feeling of community through realization of our deepening desire for life, freedom and love, and our mutual dependence on each other,

Be it Therefore Resolved: That each signer of this People Proclamation will seek to help change Man’s terrible course toward catastrophe by searching for activities and projects which in the best judgment of the individual signer will:

~peacefully end the scourge of war.

~provide an opportunity for the children of the disinherited poor to obtain their rightful inheritance in the Earth.

~redirect the energies of industry and society from progress through products…to progress through harmony with Earth’s natural systems for improving the quality of life.

hat each signer will (his own conscience being his judge) measure his commitment by how much time and money he gives to these purposes, and realizing the great urgency of the task, he will give freely of his time and money to activities and programmes he believes will best further these Earth renewal purposes. (At least 9 percent of the world’s present income is going to activities that support war and spread pollution. Ten percent can tip the balance for healthy peaceful progress.)

Furthermore, each signer will support and observe EARTH DAY on March 21st….(Vernal Equinox ~~ when night and day are equal throughout the Earth) with reflection and actions that encourage a new respect for Earth with its great potentials for fulfilling Man’s highest dreams; and on this day will join at 19:00 Universal Time in a global EARTH HOUR ~~ a silent hour for peace…..”


1. Alexander B. Grannis — New York Assembly;
2. Judith Hollister — The Temple of Understanding;
3. Luther Evans — Former Director General of UNESCO;
4. Estelle Feldman (Ireland) — 1970 World Youth Assembly;
5. David R. Brower — Friends of the Earth;
6. Arvid Pardo — Ambassador, UN Mission to Malta;
7. Margaret Mead – Anthropologist;
8. Eugene McCarthy — U.S. Senator from Minnesota;
9. John Gardner — Common Cause;
10. Mike Gravel — U.S. Senator from Alaska;
11. Hugh Scott — U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania;
12. Buzz Aldrin — American Astronaut;
13. S. O. Adebo (Nigeria) — President of UN Assembly;
14. U Thant (Ceylon) — United Nations Secretary General;
15. Maurice Strong (Canada) — UN Environmental Program;
16. Y. Fukushima (Japan) – Environmental Scientist;
17. Rene J. Dubos — Environmental Scientist;
18. Lubos Kohoutek (Czechoslovakia) – Astronomer;
19. Buckminster Fuller — Inventor, Scientist, Scholar;
20. Mark Hatfield — U.S. Senator from Oregon

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