The History of Earth Day: Tribute to Gaylord Nelson and My Tree-Hugging Dad

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It’s April 22nd, and people around the world are celebrating Earth Day, a day dedicated to environmental protection and awareness. I have memories of celebrating as a kid, but it got me curious about how Earth Day came to be. The story behind this day has a wonderful connection to my dad and is as inspiring as it is important.

Earth Day was founded by Gaylord Nelson, a former Governor and U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, who was passionate about the environment. After witnessing the devastating effects of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, Senator Nelson was inspired to create a national day to focus on environmental issues. His idea was a day where people from all walks of life would come together to learn about the environment and take action to protect it.

The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, an inspiring success, with millions of Americans participating in rallies, marches, and programs, beginning a wave of environmental activism. This grassroots movement led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of landmark laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

Earth Day is extra meaningful to me because of the work of my dad, Carl Scholz, who was an activist and tree hugger way before it was cool. As a teenager, he was influenced by meeting one of his heroes, Aldo Leopold, a renowned ecologist and author. Later in life, he was appointed by Gaylord Nelson to the Wisconsin Natural Resource Commission.

Leading to one of my dad's proudest moments as one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against 15 paper mills under the Clean Water Act. This lawsuit, which aimed to clean up the Fox River, was a cause close to his heart. He recalled even as a child, being concerned about the condition of the river, and he was pleased when they won the lawsuit in 1989. The final dredging of the Fox River was completed in 2021.

Their dedication and hard work serve as a reminder of the impact that individuals can have on the world around them. This is one example of hundreds of acts of conservation that my father reacted to and then acted to change.

This Earth Day, as we reflect on the history of this important day, let’s remember the vision and determination of people like Gaylord Nelson and my dad, Carl Scholz. Their passion for the environment will continue to inspire generations of activists and serves as a testament to the power of individuals to make a difference. They are proof that anyone can, in small or big ways, make a difference for our environment.

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