Earth Day

An Alum

When was the first Earth Day, and how is it connected to the UW?

Abe

Fifty years ago, a visionary University of Wisconsin alumnus started sounding the alarm about the impact of our choices, which were damaging planet Earth. His name was Gaylord Nelson LLB’42, and his mission to protect the environment changed the way we look at the world. After earning a law degree from the UW, he became a state senator, then governor of Wisconsin, then a U.S. senator. While reading a magazine article on Vietnam War “teach-ins” happening on campuses across the country, he decided to borrow that concept — but focus on the environment. On the first Earth Day — April 22, 1970 — more than 20 million Americans took to the streets and demanded change. It was successful beyond Nelson’s wildest dreams. Over the next 10 years, Congress passed 28 major laws protecting air, water, endangered species, and wetlands. There was more environmental legislation in those 10 years — known as the environmental decade — than in the history of our country. Learn more about Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day in our Thank You, 72 podcast with his daughter, Tia Nelson.