Former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson knew that if the environment was to be a priority on the national agenda, it would be the people, not the politicians, who put it there.
So, in 1970, Senator Nelson announced a nationwide grassroots demonstration on the environment; he called it Earth Day.
Thirty-eight years ago, the first Earth Day demonstration saw an overwhelming 20 million participants. The sheer numbers got the attention of Congress and led to the enactment of some of our most treasured environmental laws.
But as I said in an Earth Day speech at Edgewood College, we are a far cry from realizing Nelson’s dream of a world where our waters are unpolluted, our air clean, and our planet preserved for future generations.
We need, as I like to say, an Apollo-scale energy project.
When President Kennedy proposed the Apollo Project to the moon in 1961 he said, ‘I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.’
The same is true for an Apollo-scale energy project today. Just as our nation marshaled national resources then, we must do so now.
I’m proud to be a part of a Congress that’s taking this challenge seriously. This year we are gearing up to write major legislation and address the most pressing global issue of our time’climate change.
But ultimately, as Senator Nelson proved, it is up to the will of the people to save the planet. To that end, Earth Day has been an invaluable vehicle’ it continues to empower ordinary citizens to take direct action to improve, learn about, and advocate on behalf of the environment.
I know it can be hard to work toward, and sacrifice for, a future that we may not see. But to save our planet for future generations, we must. With strong leaders like Kennedy and Nelson as our inspiration, I trust that together, in this generation, we will be leaders in reversing climate change and preserving our planet.