Earth Day Turns 40
First Earth Day organizer recalls planet with no protection
As a child, Denis Hayes frequently woke up with a sore throat caused by poisonous gasses from a nearby paper mill. The mill dominated his town on the Columbia River Gorge in Washington State. As a grown man, Hayes decided to do something to protect the environment from those kinds of pollutants.
"There was no pollution control at all," says Hayes, who grew up to become the Executive Director of the first Earth Day. "We watched them pour all sorts of crud into this beautiful part of the river."
Hayes got his official start as an environmentalist when he was a graduate student at Harvard University. Senator Gaylord Nelson, who created Earth Day, asked Hayes to organize the first nation-wide celebration.
That was in 1970. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the young student's efforts. On April 22, 2010, millions of people throughout the world will take part in a day of awareness designed to protect the planet.
"We called it Earth Day, but it was really all about the United States," says Hayes. "By 1990, it was truly Earth Day—about the earth."
Hayes brought together groups of students from around the world to work with international Earth Day board members to begin implementing environmental changes. Some of their first projects included fighting dams, ozone depletion, and the epidemic of extinction. They didn't have Internet or email, so all the work was done by phone, travel, and letters.
By 1990, the group persuaded 141 nations to take part in an international celebration of Earth Day. Hayes considers this one his greatest legacies.
"I'm in my sixties, but any time I'm introduced, everybody always says, ‘This is the guy who worked on the first Earth Day!'" he said.
Hayes is still fighting pollution and working to save the earth. He recently started a project called "A Billion Acts of Green."
"We're asking everyone to register what they're doing on www.earthday.net, so they can see that their acts fit in with the acts of millions or even billions of other people," he said. Whether it's a big thing, like planting 100 trees or, a little thing, like recycling a plastic bottle, Hayes says it all makes a difference.
What else can you do to protect the earth? Says Hayes, don't buy a whole bunch of stuff you don't need.
"There's a tendency to see something you want and go out and get it," he said.
Even bothering your parents can help! Ask them whether they've insulated the attic to conserve energy. You can also request more vegetables and less red meat at the dinner table.
"Every mother and father on earth wants to be a hero to their children," says Hayes. "They will do these things for you if nudged a little bit."
If there's one thing that this environmentalist wants you to know, it's that our planet is a beautiful place and we need to keep it that way. He explains that there's a concept in biology called "Fouling Your Own Nest." Look at the birds on a telephone wire that let off little white "splats."
"They don't do that in their own nest," says Hayes. "Essentially, the earth is our nest."
Watch video of Kid Reporter Isabelle Quinn talking with Denis Hayes about organizing the first Earth Day and the importance of celebrating Earth Day everyday.
EARTH DAY @ 40
Celebrate 40 years of Earth Day and the fight to keep our planet clean on April 22. Scholastic Kid Reporters explore ways to make every day Earth Day in the Earth Day @ 40 Special Report.
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