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President Kennedy's Role in Creating Earth Day

Today, April 22, 2012, is Earth Day. Few people realize that President John F. Kennedy played a part in its beginnings.

Imagine a world without trees. What if the rain forests, and all of the exotic plants and animals that call it home, suddenly did not exist? In 1962, Gaylord Nelson decided something needed to be done to protect the environment. The work that he began led to what we now know as Earth Day.

Gaylord Nelson

“For several years, it has been troubling me,” Nelson wrote in a 1962 article, “that the state of the environment is simply a non-issue in the politics of our country.”

Nelson then headed to Washington, D.C., where he hoped to convince President John F. Kennedy to take a stand on environmental issues. Nelson first met with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who agreed that it was an important issue. It wasn’t long before President Kennedy heard Nelson’s concerns and agreed that action should be taken.

Robert and John Kennedy

The President set out on a five-day, 11-state conservation tour in September 1963. Although Kennedy‘s high-profile tour was not a success, Nelson was not ready to give up.

Nelson continued to speak to audiences across 25 states about the importance of the environment. Although his point of view began to catch on among most people, politicians still were not listening.

“The idea that became Earth Day,” said Nelson, “occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969.”

On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million demonstrators and thousands of schools and local communities participated in Nelson’s demonstration. The occasion made people sit up and pay attention to environmental issues. Word about the environment began to spread.

On March 21, 1971, the UN Secretary-General signed a proclamation establishing Earth Day as an official international holiday.

For more on President Kennedy and his legacy, read blockbuster novel, DESTINATION DEALEY: Countdown to the Kennedy Conspiracy.

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