Lessons From Africa: Part 3

There is one last thing I want to point out from the things that we could learn from Africa, really any poverty stricken area, and that is how to prioritize.

As Americans we are extremely, extremely blessed. Sometimes I see it as a blessing and sometimes I look at as a curse, especially now as our consumerist society is causing us so many problems environmentally, economically and fundamentally. We’re buying things that we can’t afford, our priorities are so out of whack. I mean even when people are about to get their lights shut off the last thing they want to do is give up their iphone 500 that they just bought a week ago when it first came out. We threw the other one away without a second though of what the damage it would do in the landfill or to what we could to do with it instead, like recycle or upcycle it in some way.


Even when they can’t feed their kids they’re going out and buying a new Hummer instead buying a bicycle. There isn’t really anything really wrong with either of those things, except the Hummer, but they’re both luxuries and it seems like it’s the last thing people are willing to give up. Africa doesn’t have the luxury of being addicted to anything because they can’t even get what they want. Except now I hear about schools in Africa getting laptops and it’s like, “What?! They can’t even afford food and you think they need a laptop?”

We’d rather go out and buy cigarettes and bear instead of buying ourselves or our kids food. Who am I to talk? I’ve never been addicted to either one and that’s simply because I saw what idiots people turned into when they decide it’s cool to be addicted to something.

We even go out of our way to destroy the planet by getting bottled water because the water from the tap just isn’t good enough even though it’s the same exact thing and people in Africa have to walk 6 kilometers or 3.7 miles just to water. Half the time it isn’t even clean water. Eighty percent of diseases in the developing world are caused by contaminated water

While us Americans are taking our 30 minute showers, leaving the water running while we’re brushing out teeth, watering the herd of cattle that we’ll eat so much of that it will make us sick, and we’re using between 100- 175 gallons of water every day. That is just at home. The UK uses 35.66 gallons and the average person in the developing world uses 2.64 gallons of water every day.

It is estimated that 5.3 billion people, two-thirds of the world’s population, will suffer from water shortages by 2025.


Two- They’re creative because they have to be. Unlike most Americans who can pretty much just snap their fingers and have whatever suits their fancy, they have to come up with a way to use whatever they have, in some parts it’s probably trash left by tourists or something, and use to make what they need. Every time I go to the store, which is as rarely as possible because there is nothing I hate more, I see a few of things. One, I see the ads, the stupid crap people are trying to convince me that I need. It sickens me. Two, I see all the crap that people are buying. I really shouldn’t be judging, but I just can’t help it. And really I don’t care. These people are walking around with their blinders on and most people know what they’re buying is junk, but they don’t care. Those who don’t know are just as bad. They’re not talking responsibility for their life. They’re trusting some government to tell them what is good for them instead trying to make an informed decision. Everybody pays for the poor decisions that any individual makes. Someday it will be through healthcare, but for now we’re paying with through a polluted environment. It takes a bigger toll than anybody could probably guess. The third thing I see is how much of the crap in that store I could make myself. Make myself and probably even things others are throwing away. Make a bookshelf out a pallet, make a cat scratcher out of some old unloved boxes. It’s pathetic how lazy we’ve gotten. People in Africa have to make shoes out some pop bottles and cloth.

All of it makes me just to want to throw myself on the shelves and scream at the top of lungs. Why not? All the kids do it in the toy isle? Probably not for the same reason, but still. By the end of my trip I’m just waiting for someone to run into me so I can punch them out or yell at them to freakin open their eyes. Just to let you know, I’ve never done either one, but I’m sure I feel much better if I did.

I’m sorry for being so rantish. This isn’t to say that we should feel guilty or that it’s wrong for us to be so well off, but the problem comes when we start to take it for granted, when we don’t appreciate and when we don’t even think about it. When we blindly make based on greed and money it becomes a problem and it’s an insult to those who have nothing.

Lessons From Africa: Part 2

From the very beginning, Africa has opposed colonization, but I could only find examples dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.  There were many reasons for their resistance, but for our purpose, I’ll on focus on the economic reasons.

“During this time period economic opposition was often not well organized. However, there were attempts in the 1920s and 1930s by mine workers in southern Africa and port workers in West and East Africa to organize into unions. Of greater impact were the less organized but more widespread efforts of African farmers to resist colonial demands on their labor and their land. Amall scale African farmers in Mali quietly, but effectively, resisted the attempts by colonial officials to control the production of cotton.”

Around this specific time period started World War I. Despite their opposition, most of Africa had been colonized. Africans that had come from Britain or France were recruited to help the allies. The reasoning of the Allies? Soldiers would be helping protect the world against the evils of Fascism and Nazism. Africans came back asking the question, “Why should I give my life to keep Europe and America free, when I am not free in my own country?”

“To the ordinary African, life as a colonial subject was hardly better than life under Fascism or Nazism.”

By the end of the 1960s, all but six African colonies had pulled away and demanded independence.

“For many years, the white settlers in these colonies had the right to vote. They used this vote to elect representatives who passed laws that protected the power of the European settlers and discriminated against Africans. African nationalist leaders believed that if franchise was the right of all citizens, the majority population would use their vote to bring in majority, independent African rule.

The settler colonial governments responded to the non-violent constitutional demands of African nationalist parties with laws that banned all political protests and with violence. Repressive legislation allowed the settler governments to arrest and imprison the leaders of the banned African political parties.”


I stumbled onto an article that talk about Uganda herders are nomadic. They are nomadic because water is scarce and pasture is scarce, but mostly because it’s part of their way of life. Uganda policies are trying to prohibit them from doing this. Why? So they can modernize this group of ‘ill-educate’ nomads and replace them modernized and commercialized farming methods. They plan to use the land to grow biofuels and as mining areas.

“This, say critics, will only increase conflict and hunger, force more young people to move into cities, and will destroy a rich way of life that has proved resilient and economically viable.

In fact, research by the International Institute for Environment and Development in London shows that nomadism is ideally suited to Africa’s semi-arid lands, especially as they are now experiencing increasing droughts, floods and unpredictable rains. It found that the nomadic cattle of west Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya produced more and better quality meat and generated more cash per hectare than “modern” Australian and American ranches.”

I read another article that talked about the idea that there is no true democracy. It was titled, “Why Africa Must Trash Western Liberal Democracy?…..& Their Way of Life Too?” It compared Libya to America to see which had a better system. The criteria of the best system (best because there is no perfect) is based on philosopher ideas from the 1700s or so. Because of the way our system is set up, we are more susceptible to corruption and the like. It made some good points and your thoughts will probably depend on what you love or hate about each system. It’s just something to think about.

I said all of this to say that maybe, just maybe they live that way because it works for them. Just like in America when the government gets too involved in the economy things start get messed up, maybe when we push our beliefs on other countries things get messed up for them. Africa clearly has a lot of problems now, but I think that many of them weren’t caused by the country’s inability to take care of themselves, but the result of people trying to take care of them.

The Libya protests that happened not too long ago suggested that they were completely happy with their situation at that time. It wasn’t the government that they hated, but their dictator Gaddafi.

The European colonization is said to have had a devastating effect on them. It disrupted any kind of natural order they had. That’s where it started and everything kind of snowballed from there, but you can read about that in the link.

The extreme poverty just seems to negate any chance they have of having a democratic system. Despite the billions of dollars that America and European counties have poured into the place, corruption seems to creep back in through the African leaders unwillingness to step down from power.

I think we can learn a couple of things from this. One, that democracy may not be the answer for everyone. Several African countries live in a decent place and several more could with the right leaders. They seem to know what system would work best for them. They could do better eventually, but it’s not something can be pushed. America has the tendency to push their ideas and beliefs on others, sometimes for the good of the other country and sometimes for their own agenda.

Two, I think we could end similar to Africa if we’re not careful. Not exactly how Africa ended up in that place, but the same place nonetheless. Some corporations have more money than the country does and they use that money to buy their way in policies.

Three, we should appreciate our government. I believe we are extremely blessed to have this form of government, but I’m starting to feel as if it slipping between our fingers. The way it was several years ago with the American dream and all that was a good place to be and we not have live it the same was as was initially intended, but the fact that we still have it within our grasp is still something to be positive about. Africa never had that. It would be such an insult to those who never had that chance to give it up without a fight.

Greener Prisons: Part 2

I talked a little last time about how prison should be a horrid place. It should be a place that they never ever want to come back to no matter how difficult their lives get. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case.

I’ve heard talk about the ‘inhumaneness’ of prisons. I don’t think ‘humane’ should be applied to prisons. Ever. Once you kill someone, once you rape someone, once you torture someone, you should be stripped of all your ‘rights’. Murder, rape, whatever other things that strip someone else of their basic right to live are things that are all, for the most part, universally unacceptable. I honestly have no idea how this would happen, but I guess there is a chance that this sense would skip some people and if it did then we have a serious, serious problem. Whether people really don’t know that these things are wrong or whether they just don’t care is a question that I don’t have the answer to. In any case, prison should be a place where serious thought is given to how a person could or should change their life.

Prison should be a punishment. It should be the worst place on Earth. It should give them a shock in their system and gives them a reason to think about the path they are on and give them a reason to change. Of course, none they can’t change if we as a society never give them a chance. Throughout their time in prison they should be able to work their way up through a reward system. They should be shown what it is like to have responsibility, to have some trust them and get rewarded when they show promise. Usually prisons have a system in place where they are rewarded with a job or into a lower security prison. Those are two good options I guess unless they want to be lazy and not work, but I don’t think they really give prisoners enough coping skills to prepare them for the outside world. That’s why I like prison programs. The programs teach them new skills that they can use when they get out, makes them work maybe even to the point that they’re so exhausted they don’t energy to fight, helps them learn about responsibility or teaches them to handle their emotions.

Green programs have an added bonus. Several of these articles say that the benefits of the programs are that environmental technology and products are becoming more popular. The programs give prisoners skills that will help them out of prison.

Washington and Oregon have pretty good programs. Oregon seems to have a pretty good general understanding of what works when reducing recidivism. They even have some of the lowest rates in the country. Belfair, Wash. has a butterfly research program. Selected prisoners raise rare butterflies and help the college with their research. The prisoners are co-authored on any published research. One prisoner even said that she found her purpose. That’s what it’s all about, people. Cedar Creek, the same one I mentioned yesterday, is raising bees and endangered frogs.

Cedar Creek

Italian honey at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in rural southwest, Wash.,



Ohio is also has some green programs in place. It saved over $13,000 in 201 by sorting waste into recycling and composting piles.

Some prisons have gardens (some prisons go as far as to make them organic gardens) Of these I think gardening is my favorite. There are actually studies done about the neurological effects of gardening. For inmates it would probably help even more. It would give them a feeling of control to be able to create something like that and be the owner of even a tiny patch of ground. It would give a feeling of accomplishment. Oftentimes, the prisons will sell the produce or give it homeless shelters. The fresher the produce the more nutrients it has. Sometimes negative feelings come from a lack of nutrients, so this could also help them once they get out of jail. Also, it would help them because they have to spend less money on food.


Inmates check on plants in one of the organic gardens at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Washington


If prisons have any kind of green policies in place, the usually include alternative energy, which they sometimes use to heat water, recycling and compost sorting, and some have rain water collection systems and use the water to flush toilets.


These prisons are doing better than some of us are. I say it may be time to step up our game.

One Man’s Quest to be Penniless

I hope to be like this man some day. Maybe not totally like him, but more like him than I am now.  This isn’t the first story like this that I’ve heard. It was a movie that watched, Into the Wild. I was hugely inspired. There a few things that I’m holding on too tightly to for that to happen, but since I have been doing this I have let go of somethings that I never thought I could and also there are a lot of things I still have to learn how to do.  It’s a process of being so tired of being under someone else’s control. One day that day will come when I am done, worn down. He’s a quite inspiring fellow and I found hope in this story. The original site I got this from said that 26% of the people that read this story found it inspiring,too. 11% found it depressing and 4% found it boring. Anyway, here’s his story. http://abcnews.go.com/Business/utah-caveman-quits-money/story?id=16273605

Daniel Suelo is 51 years old and broke. Happily broke. Consciously, deliberately, blessedly broke.

Not only does he not have debt, a mortgage or rent, he does not earn a salary. Nor does he buy food or clothes, or own any product with a lower case “i” before it. Home is a cave on public land outside Moab, Utah. He scavenges for food from the garbage or off the land (fried grasshoppers, anyone?). He has been known to carve up and boil fresh road kill. He bathes, without soap, in the creek.

In the fall of 2000, Suelo (who changed his name from Shellabarger), decided to stop using money altogether. That meant no “conscious barter,” food stamps or other government handouts. His mission was to “use only what is freely given or discarded and what is already present and already running,” he wrote on his web site, Zero Currency.

The question many people wonder: Is he insane, or a mooch, or simply dedicated to leading a simple, honest, dare we say, Christ-like existence?

They’re good questions. And depending whom you ask, the answers vary.

Suelo wasn’t always a modern-day caveman. He went to the University of Colorado and studied anthropology, at one point considering medical school. He lived in a real house, with four walls, a window and a door, and shopped in stores, not their dumpsters.

But over time he says he grew depressed, clinically depressed, mainly with the focus on acquisition. “Every time I made a resume for a job, signed my name to a document, opened a bank account, or even bought a banana at the supermarket, I felt a tinge of dishonesty,” he said.

He was born into an Evangelical Christian home in Grand Junction, Colo., and took his religion seriously. Eventually, he started wondering why “professed Christians rarely followed the teachings of Jesus–namely the Sermon on the Mount, namely giving up possessions, living beyond credit and debt–freely giving and freely taking–giving, expecting nothing in return, forgiving all debts, owing nobody a thing, living beyond payback of either evil-for-evil or good-for-good, living and walking without guilt (debt), without grudge (debt), without judgment (credit & debt), living by Grace, by Gratis, not by our own works but by the works of the true Nature flowing through,” he said.

Although he considered himself a Christian, he discovered that the same principles applied to Taoism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Mormonism, Shamanism, and Paganism.

One year he went to Alaska and worked on the docks. But that, too, he says, felt dishonest. Instead, he and a buddy decided to live off the land—spearing fish, foraging for mushrooms and berries. (Think Castaway, but with snow). Suelo (which means soil in Spanish) eventually hitch-hiked back to Moab with $50 in his pocket. By the time he arrived, his stash had dwindled to $25. He realized that he only needed money for things he really didn’t need, like snacks and booze.

He began toying with the idea of living full-time without money. He traveled to India, and became fascinated by Hindu Sadhus, who wandered without lucre and possessions. He considered joining them, but then he realized that “A true test of faith would be to return to one of the most materialistic, money-worshipping nations on earth, to return to the authenticity profound principles of spirituality hidden beneath our own religion of hypocrisy, and be a Sadhu there,” he said. “To be a vagabond, a bum, and make an art of it – this idea enchanted me.”

And soon, that’s exactly what he did. He says he left his life savings—a whopping $30—in a phone booth, and walked away.

But he didn’t do it in a vacuum; he maintained his blog for free from the Moab public library. Rather than just sitting on a mountain and gazing at his navel, he wanted to have an impact on others, to spread his gospel.

In 2009, Mark Sundeen, an old acquaintance he’d worked with at a Moab restaurant, heard about Suelo through mutual friends. At first, “I thought he must have lost his mind,” Sundeen, 42, said in a telephone conversation. But then he began reading his blog, and grew intrigued. Sundeen divides his time between Missoula, Mont., and Moab, where he was once a river guide, and he paid a visit to Suelo’s cave.

Gradually, he said he realized that much of what Suelo was saying made a whole lot of sense. This was right around the time the economy crashed, and “It felt like a lot of what he was saying was prophetic,” said Sundeen. “That money is an illusion, an addiction. That resonated with me after the collapse for the economy.”

Sundeen was so intrigued that he decided to write a book about Suelo, The Man Who Quit Money, which was published in March.

While the book reviews have been generally positive, Suelo has come under fire by some who say he’s a derelict, sponging off society without contributing. They are valid criticisms: This is a guy, after all, who has gotten a citation for train hopping (what would Jesus say about that?). And he’s not opposed to house sitting in winter–not exactly living off the land.

And besides: How is he actually helping others by going without? It’s not like he’s solving world hunger, or curing cancer.

Sundeen disputes these arguments. “He doesn’t accept any government programs—welfare, food stamps, Medicare,” he said. “The only ways in which he actually uses taxpayer funded derivatives is walking on roads and using the public library. So in that regard he’s a mooch–he’s using the roads and not paying taxes. But if you try to quantify the amount of money he’s taking from the system—it’s a couple of dollars a year, less than anyone’s ever used.”

Instead, he is actively promoting “his idea that money is an illusion,” Sundeen said. “The Fed just prints it up, it doesn’t mean anything and it’s going to lead us down the road to serfdom.” Suelo simply doesn’t want to contribute to that, and so he lives life on his own terms.

That said, Sundeen wouldn’t live the way Suelo does. “The appeal to me is the living outdoors part, but I feel like I got my feel of that working as an Outward Bound guide,” he said. “At this point I have other priorities.”

Suelo, for his part, has no plans to bring money back into his life. “I know it’s possible to live without money,” he said. “Abundantly.”

Occupy May Day

Happy May Day. Maydays aren’t usually happy and I suppose this one isn’t supposed to be either, but I’m pretty happy. Occupy is attempting to make its come back today.

“May Day is an international day of celebration to honor the labor movement. This year the Occupy movement has made a call for mass action—the May First General Strike (#M1GS): a day without the 99%. A general strike is a way to build and demonstrate the power of the people. It’s a way to show this is a system that only exists because we allow it to. If we can withdraw from the system for one day we can use that day to build community and mutual aid. We can find inspiration and faith—not in any leaders or bosses but in each other and in ourselves. Over 115 US cities have organized in solidarity with this call to action,” http://www.occupytogether.org/

This day will be used to ask for “for migrant rights, jobs for all, a moratorium on foreclosures, and peace – and to recognize housing, education and health care as human rights, and calls for the building of a broad coalition to make that a reality.”

I’m not exactly a support for all those, but they’re not all bad. Without getting into the complexities of Occupy and what they believe or do not believe or whether this is a good or stupid idea…blah, blah, blah, I will tell you exactly why I love Occupy Wall Street.

1)      This is the probably my biggest reason. Americans have gotten soooo lazy and so comfortable. The country has been falling apart for years. The government keeps throwing away our money, corporations are gaining more and more control and we’re just sitting by, letting it happen. It’s disgusting. Finally, people are getting up, getting angry, doing something, anything whether it’s stupid or not, it’s just something. Finally people are standing up for themselves. Gosh, it’s so freaking amazing. It’s a game changer to say the least. That is the most important thing that I love about Occupy Wall Street.

2)      Corporations have lobbyists and bribing money and it’s about time we have something. That something used be called congress, but it seems like that idea was burned along with our money.  If this thing doesn’t die out like it did in winter, whether it was a mutual agreement or just happened, then I think it could have a huge and lasting impact. We just got to stay with it.

3)      Everyone has a place. Occupy, for the moment, is a grassroots campaign. People can step up; find their place as the leaders they never thought they could be. If people think that this idea is stupid then they can come up with their own idea. People can organize their own movements. I think part of the reason that we’re so ‘lazy’ is because we’re comfortable, but also because we’re afraid. We haven’t been outside our comfort zone that we’re afraid to fail, of being wrong. I feel bad for the kids growing up, who have never had a scraped knee, or felt the burning of growing muscles. It’s good for us to be uncomfortable. It means we’re growing, except with a less cheesy line.

4)      It’s bringing us together. Having a common enemy or a common goal always brings a nation together. For the Romans it was Gladiatorial games, for some countries it’s other countries. We all need it. Having goals, I hesitate to use enemy because I don’t want it to be an us vs. them mentality, will unite us and it will make us productive. And it’s not just America, it’s the whole world. The whole world is standing up for themselves. I love it.

5)      Connected to the last thing is the idea that we’re learning how to work for something. People want the ‘American Dream’, but I think often times we forget that we actually have to work for it. Whether we are thinking about this way or not, the Occupy movement is teaching us that we have to work for what we want. The politicians, the companies, the banks are not going to hand us what we want, but we’re going to have to fight for it. We can’t just go to work and get a raise, we have do something that gets noticed in a good way.We can’t just go to school and expect to be handed the whole world when we get out. Going to school is nothing compared to real life. We have to prove that we can do more than memorize a bunch of useless facts and that we can also put those facts into practice. And about student debt, some people work through college, some don’t. Those who don’t shouldn’t expect to walk out and have money thrown at them. You have to earn it. That includes more than working and sitting at a desk, memorizing useless facts. Testing is hard, but it’s not real life. Also, students should stop lollygagging around.  “Approximately 57 percent of first-time students who sought a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and enrolled at a 4-year institution full time in fall 2002 completed a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent at that institution within 6 years. By comparison, 55 percent of students in an analogous cohort who began seeking a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in fall 1996 graduated within 6 years.” http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=40 Unless they’re working too much, dropped out, or just can’t afford it, students should be out in four years. Period. Do that and they would have less debt. This is a subject that has many different variations and I’m interested in researching more about it, so I may have an update with this soon.

 Back onto the real subject, I could list hundreds more, but I would consider these my major reasons. So, how are we supposed to celebrate this wonderful ‘holiday’. Well, take the day off for one. No going to work, no buying, no selling, no going to school, no nothing. It works because of us. Let’s remind them of why they should appreciate it.

  1. Move Your Money:      If you haven’t already, May Day is as good as any to move your money out      of a national, corporate bank into a local bank or credit union. Support      your local community and break up the “too big to fail” Wall Street banks      that threaten our economic system. Learn more about moving your money      here: www.moveyourmoneyproject.org
  2. Have a Potluck: Share a meal with others and talk about subsidized      agriculture and factory farming or make a meal with friends to serve      to local homeless people a la Food Not Bombs.
  3. Start a Personal/Community Garden: On May Day, start or pledge to start a personal or      community garden. Growing our own food means independence from corporate      farms. This is one more way to take yourself out of a system bent on      keeping us complacent.
  4. Have a Free Store/Fair: Get together and share your unwanted items with others.      As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. You could be helping      someone who was about to go out and buy a (fill in your item here)      anyway.
  5. Ride your bike to work/carpool with friends: Ride your bike or arrange a carpool to work. When you      do this you are lessening our country’s dependency on outdated, unclean      energies.
  6. Screen a Movie:      Invite your friends or neighbors over to watch a documentary. After, have      a discussion about how it relates to your values or the ideas of Occupy. You can watch political documentaries online at the following links for      free:


  7. Have a Skill Share: Give a free class to share your skills and knowledge. This could be as simple      as giving a knitting demonstration or as complex as teaching someone a new     language.

Have a great May Day

Turn up the heat: Environmentalists should join Occupy on May Day


For a moment last fall, it felt like the “post-hope” era was coming to an end. Protesters in Egypt and Tunisia had won nonviolent revolutions, Occupy Wall Street offered us our own national rallying cry against the deep structural inequity threatening our democracy, and over 1,200 Americans took part in the biggest act of civil disobedience in the history of environmentalism. Maybe we’d all finally get off the internet and start directly confronting those things we’d been waiting for President Obama to fix for us since January 2009.

But then, as quickly as it began, it started to feel like it was over. Egypt’s revolution turned sour. Obama started waffling on Keystone. Occupy encampments all but disappeared. The Republican primaries came around and we watched in bemused horror as one climate-change-denying corporate stooge after the next pranced and preened for the opportunity to duke it out on live TV…

View original post 966 more words

History of Earth Day

Happy Earth Day, everyone! I struggled with the question of what to write on Earth Day. I haven’t been doing or studying these things for very long, so I’m not really sure what is expected of me on this special occasion. What do a write about to help celebrate the Earth when I try to do that almost every day? I only could only think of one thing that might be appropriate and that was to give homage to the history of Earth Day and its founding fathers and mothers.

It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that was perfectly legal. They could not be taken to court to stop it.

The EPA had not been born then, there was no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act, and no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.

The idea of Earth Day can largely be contributed to Gaylord Nelson.  As a senator, Nelson contributed to important liberal reforms but struggled for years to interest his colleagues in environmental protections. So he turned instead to the people, proposing April 22, 1970 as a day for Americans to speak out about the environmental crises they faced.

“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,” said Senator Gaylord Nelson

“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,” said Senator Nelson.

For the past few years, college students had been staging teach-ins to educate their campuses about the war in Vietnam. What if, Nelson wondered, students used the same forum to raise environmental awareness, and what if they coordinate their events to fall on the same day, grabbing headlines and sending a strong environmental message to the Capitol? His proposal was met immediately with overwhelming support. The national media widely broadcast the plans for this so-called “Earth Day” and Nelson’s office was flooded by enthusiastic letters.

For the first time, the Earth Day stage gathered together the diverse constituents of the modern environmental movement: youthful idealists, liberal Democrats, middle-class women, scientists, professionals, and representatives of conservation groups, labor unions, and churches. They all gathered, young, old, to confront the ecological troubles in their cities, states, nation, and planet—and to demand action from themselves and their elected officials.

“Earth Day worked 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,” said Nelson.

Addressing the Earth Day 1970 audience in Denver, Nelson proclaimed, “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human being and all living creatures.”

Disinterest on Capitol Hill had long stifled ecological concerns. But after April 1970 a growing environmental awareness nurtured ten years of groundbreaking legislation, which became the bulwark of modern environmental law.

The first Earth Day was effective at raising awareness about environmental issues and transforming public attitudes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Public opinion polls indicate that a permanent change in national priorities followed Earth Day 1970. When polled in May 1971, 25 percent of the U.S. public declared protecting the environment to be an important goal, a 2,500 percent increase over 1969.” Earth Day kicked off the “Environmental decade with a bang,” as Senator Nelson later put it. During the 1970s, a number of important pieces of environmental legislation were passed, among them the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Another key development was the establishment in December 1970 of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was tasked with protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment—air, water and land.

The Clean Air Act included Nelson’s amendment setting a deadline by which cars must include emissions-reducing technologies. The Clean Water Act of 1972 incorporated Nelson’s proposals to offer businesses low-interest loans to install pollution controls and $25 billion in grants to municipalities to build sewage treatment plants. In the same year, Nelson oversaw the passage of a ban on dumping in the oceans and Great Lakes.

His long fight against pesticides propelled forward when the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) forbade all nonessential uses of DDT and agreed to Nelson’s requests to ban aldrin and dieldrin and curb the use of the herbicide Agent Orange. Nelson led Congress to provide funding for alternative pest control methods and helped establish the precautionary principle with the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Nelson continued to pursue an ambitious conservation agenda as well. Having already secured the “wild and scenic” designation for Wisconsin’s Saint Croix, Namekagon, and Wolf Rivers as well as the federal preservation of the Appalachian Trail, in 1970 Nelson was able to realize his dream of bringing the Apostle Islands into the national parks system. Nelson, long opposed to the ecological damage wrought by the Army Corps of Engineers, played a role in the first defeat of a Corps project—damming the Kickapoo River—on environmental grounds. And, to the wildlife conservation assured by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, Nelson added legal protections for predators and marine mammals.

Five years after the first Earth Day and just months after Nixon’s resignation, President Gerald Ford made a proclamation declaring March 21 as Earth Day.

For environmentalist John McConnell, it was vindication for what he considers to be his hijacked holiday. McConnell actually coined the term Earth Day and launched his own event in San Francisco on the 1970 equinox, a full month before Nelson’s took place.

The two events share the same basic message but McConnell’s is recognized as the official global Earth Day by the United Nations. The U.N. refers to the April 22 event as “International Mother Earth Day.”

The Environmental Decade came to an abrupt end with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Nelson, like several of his liberal colleagues, lost his seat. In his final weeks in office, he pushed through the preservation of 100 million acres in Alaska and, in his last legislative act, added 1,000 acres to the Saint Croix Scenic Riverway. He drastically cut the EPA’s budget and even had Jimmy’s solar panels taken off the roof of the White House. Some believe Attorney General Edwin Meese told him that solar panels didn’t project the image of a super power. On the upside, Reagan is credited with helping save the ozone layer. According to my environmental science teacher, Reagan was known as the environmental rapist. Wouldn’t be a nice way to go down in history?

At the 28th celebration of Earth Day, Clinton laid out an ambitious environmental agenda. His plan was to protect the Redwoods, keep mining out of Yosemite and finally put the entirety of the Appalachian Trail under public control. As far as the funding was concerned, Clinton’s response was very ’90s: “The money is there, the economy is in good shape, the budget is going to be balanced.”

President Carter became the first president to speak at an Earth Day rally. He also appointed Denis Hayes, coordinator of the first Earth Day, as head of the Federal Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI).

Eleven years Carter’s Earth Day proclaimed April 22, Earth Day, and 5 years after that President Ford took a swing at it. Congress passed Joint Resolution 119, establishing Earth Day as April 22. This time it was George H. W. Bush’s chance to proclaim in the name of Mother Earth.

Why all the date change? Around March 21, is when the spring equinox falls, so some believe it was changed to avoid connecting the event to the equinox, often considered a pagan holiday.

Since 1970, Earth Day celebrations have grown. In 1990, Earth Day went global, with 200 million people in over 140 nations participating, according to the Earth Day Network (EDN), a nonprofit organization that coordinates Earth Day activities. In 2000, Earth Day focused on clean energy and involved hundreds of millions of people in 184 countries and 5,000 environmental groups, according to EDN. Activities ranged from a traveling, talking drum chain in Gabon, Africa, to a gathering of hundreds of thousands of people at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Today, the Earth Day Network collaborates with more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries. According to EDN, more than 1 billion people are involved in Earth Day activities, making it “the largest secular civic event in the world.”

Nelson remained a national figure in environmental politics as Counselor of the Wilderness Society until his death in 2005. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor for civilians, in 1995. In the speech he gave that year to mark the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, he kept his gaze on the horizon:

“The opportunity for a gradual but complete break with our destructive environmental history and a new beginning is at hand…. We can measure up to the challenge if we have the will to do so—that is the only question. I am optimistic that this generation will have the foresight and the will to begin the task of forging a sustainable society.”

On Earth Day 2009, President Obama declared that America had to make a choice. It could either continue to be the leading importer of oil, or become the leading exporter of clean energy.

So there we have it, the history of Earth Day. The good, bad and ugly things it wentthrough. I hope everyone has a fabulous day.