Earth Day 2002 Fact Sheet: The History of Earth Day

Former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day’s co-founder, modeled Earth Day on anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called “teach-ins,” that were common on college campuses. “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,” says Nelson. “The response was electric. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country.” As many as 20 million Americans participated in environmental rallies, demonstrations and other activities in the 1970 Earth Day.Since the first Earth Day, however, the environmental movement has increasingly transformed itself from a largely grassroots, citizen crusade to a professionally-organized, established special interest. Environmental organizations now employ 3,400 full-time employees, including leaders who often make $150,000 or more, as well as a small army of scientists, lobbyists, lawyers and public affairs specialists. In his book Undue Influence, Ron Arnold notes that environmental groups are increasingly relying upon wealthy non-profit foundations to fund their extensive operations while the members themselves play a declining role. Non-profit foundations donate at least $400 million a year to environmental advocacy and research.

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