Last week I wrote about some of my Earth Day heroines. So, this week I am writing about some of my Earth Day heroes. There are so many people that do so much for our planet and that much has been written about. That’s why I thought I’d write about those you don’t hear much about.
For starters, how often do you hear about the person who actually created Earth Day here in the United States? While I don’t usually count politicians among my personal heroes, I am making an exception here. Gaylord Nelson, the principal founder of Earth Day, is a politician that actually made a difference, and walked the walk.
While a senator from Wisconsin, he spent years unsuccessfully getting his colleagues in the Senate to do anything about protecting the environment. Inspired by the effect that teach-ins against the Vietnam War had, he changed his focus to getting the public involved, hoping that would pressure them to act. So, he proposed making April 22, 1970, a day for Americans to show their support by speaking out about their environmental concerns through one big environmental teach-in. Or, as he said, “Why not organize a huge grassroots demonstration, a teach-in, that would focus on what was happening to our environment?”
As they say, “the rest is history” and we now celebrate Earth Day each year at the same time. After leaving political office, Nelson worked as a counselor for the Wilderness Society until his death in 2005. In 1995, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Aldo Leopold is another inspiring environmentalist that many people have never heard of. Leopold was a conservationist, forester, writer, and educator. Many consider him to be the “father of wildlife management,” because he was one of the first to advocate conserving parts of the west, and to look at nature from an ethical standpoint.
He is probably best known for his book Sand County Almanac in which he calls for a “Land Ethic,” and which he hoped would educate the public and give them ideas on how they can be involved in this ethic. In the book he writes: “That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.”
In it, he wrote that we ought to think not just about human ethics, but of non-human elements in ethics, such as the soil, plants, water and animals. His philosophy of looking at these elements was fundamental to the creation of the modern conservation movement.
And, his influence extends to areas not often thought of as part of that movement including sustainable agriculture. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State is one of the nation’s best known sustainable agriculture centers.