In 1970, headbands were in, Simon & Garfunkel topped the charts, and Denis Hayes, a graduate student at Harvard, read about a fledgling environmental movement. Determined to volunteer, he flew to Washington, DC, with the intention of organizing Earth Day at Harvard. Instead, he became the organizer for Earth Day across the entire United States.
Inspired by the role of teach-ins in anti-war and civil rights protests, US Senator Gaylord Nelson started the Earth Day movement as a “national teach-in on the environment.” The movement swiftly gained popularity, and today Earth Day is celebrated in more than 190 countries.
We sat down with Denis Hayes to discuss the first 49 years of Earth Day, the evolution of the movement, and how energy—and efficiency—play a huge role in climate action and a sustainable future.
What was it like to be the national coordinator of the first Earth Day?
It was like riding a Tesla with the pedal to the floor. The acceleration was from zero to 1,000 in a matter of months. Early community meetings often had fewer than a dozen people. But April 22, we had 20 million participants, with more than one million in Manhattan alone!
My hope—in some large measure realized—was that Americans would come to see that they had a “right” to a clean, healthy environment, and that the law would guarantee that. The first Earth Day was passionate and intense, and it led directly to a wave of change. Clean Air Act. Clean Water Act. Endangered Species Act. Marine Mammal Protection Act. EPA and NOAA. Superfund. On and on…
About ACEEE: The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors. For information about ACEEE and its programs, publications, and conferences, visitaceee.org
The Green Living Guy, Seth Leitman is a green living expert, celebrity and Editor of the McGraw-Hill, TAB Green Guru Guides. Seth is also an Author, Radio Host, Reporter, Writer and a Environmental Consultant on green living. The Green Living Guy writes about green living, green lighting, the green guru guides and more. Seth's books range from:
# Build Your Own Electric Vehicle by Bob Brant and Seth Leitman (2nd and 3rd editions)
# Build Your Own Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle by Seth Leitman
# Build Your Own Electric Motorcycle by Carl Vogel
# Green Lighting by Seth Leitman, Brian Clark Howard and Bill Brinsky
# Solar Power For Your Home by David Findley
# Renewable Energies For Your Home by Russel Gehrke
# Do-it-Yourself Home Energy Audits by David Findley
# Build Your Own Small Wind Power System by Brian Clark Howard and Kevin Shea
# and more green living books to follow.