Earth Day & Environmentalism: It's A Wisconsin Idea, Lets Keep It That Way

Wisconsin Senator Gaylor Nelson
created Earth Day back in 1970
On Earth Day - every April 22 - is a day for activism and awareness on environmental issues celebrated worldwide, celebration being the keyword where we observe and honor the earth and the environment in festive ways compared to regular activities that can often be seen as a more serious or even adversarial by the movement.

When we think of the environmental movement and states that are at the forefront we may think of California, Colorado, or even Oregon. But did you know that Earth Day was started by a Wisconsinite: Wisconsin then-Senator and former state Governor Gaylord Nelson? Through the work of Nelson and others, Wisconsin actually has a strong presence in environmentalism and being a leader in the celebration and protection of our world. We usually stay away from politics at Greater Milwaukee Men, honoring all men of all walks of life that are doing great thing, but on this and each Earth Day, we would do well to remember that this now global event had its roots with a son of our state, and the movement in general has been led by other sons of Wisconsin, and speak out against current legislation that seeks to curtail conservation efforts and education in the state.

You can read about Nelson's history as a leader in conservation and environmentalism elsewhere, such as the page about him such as the link above and at so I won't get into it all here, but one of the things I find most fascinating and inspiring is that from the beginning he wanted it to be by the world for the world, not a bureaucratic, government-run effort. "While Nelson established a small national office to offer support to the thousands of grassroots efforts, he firmly rejected a top-down organization. Instead, "Earth Day planned itself," he later reflected." the UW Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies says. Keeping a celebration of the earth down-to-earth and local is appropriate, especially for someone from our fine state.

Another person prominent in conservation was Aldo Leopold, whose name may be most remembered for the simple benches he designed and are seen in natural settings from backyards to national parks, if not for his seminal work: the book A Sand County Almanac, regarded as highly as Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Besides writing such an important work, Leopold worked for the U.S. Forestry Service and through his life work is considered by many as the father of wildlife management and the United States’ wilderness system.

But of course there are more people. Green Living has a list of 12 Environmentalists You Should Know, and of the 12 3 have ties to Wisconsin. Joining Nelson and Leopold on the list is John Muir, a Scotsman who emigrated to Wisconsin as a young boy. Muir is the founder of the Sierra Club, and like Leopold was instrumental in developing our national parks system most notably preserving the Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park. 

All three of these men, not surprisingly, have ties to the University of Wisconsin and its environmental studies. Muir attended UW Madison, Leopold was Professor of Game Management in the Agricultural Economics Department, and the university's Institute for Environmental Studies is named after Nelson.  At a time when our state leaders are cutting funding on environmental policies, including reducing the DNR staff, and the budget of our university system - going against the Wisconsin Idea policy that put education at the center of the state's activities - now is as good a time as any to remind everyone that Wisconsin has been and should always be a leader in conservation and environmentalism, and in an education system that has created men at the forefront of the movement. Let's not let current policy makers take that away from us.


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