Earth Day 2004 Fact Sheet


The History of Earth Day


April 22, 2004 marks the 34th anniversary of the first observance of Earth Day.

Former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), Earth Day's co-founder, said he modeled Earth Day on anti-Vietnam War demonstrations called "teach-ins" that then were common on college campuses:

"At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment," said Nelson. "The response was electric. Telegrams, letters and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country."

As many as 20 million Americans participated in environmental rallies, demonstrations and other activities as part of the 1970 Earth Day.

Since that first Earth Day, the environmental movement has increasingly transformed itself from a largely grassroots citizen crusade to a professionally-organized and established special interest. Environmental organizations now employ 3,400 full-time employees, including leaders who often make annual salaries of $150,000 or more. Those groups also employ a small army of scientists, lobbyists, lawyers and public affairs specialists. In his book Undue Influence, environmental author Ron Arnold notes that the groups that comprise the environmental left are increasingly relying upon wealthy non-profit foundations to fund their extensive operations while actual dues-paying members are playing a declining role. A 1997 study found that non-profit foundations donated nearly $500 million to environmental organizations.1

The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, received over $11 million in contributions from a single foundation - The Pew Charitable Trusts - between 1991 and 2000.2

Some environmental groups have become increasingly extreme. Earth First! is a radical environmental group that advocates civil disobedience whose participants endorse "front-line, direct action to get results."3 Not radical enough, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) was created in 1992 after splitting from Earth First!.4 The FBI has labeled the ELF as "the number one domestic terrorist group."5 ELF claims responsibility for more than $100 million worth of damage since 1997.6


1 Ron Arnold, Undue Influence (Bellevue, WA: Merril Press, 1999), pp. 66.

2 "Natural Resource Defense Council," Financial statement provided by, downloaded from the Internet at on March 10, 2003.

3 "Earth Liberation Who?,", downloaded from the Internet at on March 13, 2003.

4 Richard Berman of the Center for Consumer Freedom to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, February 12, 2002.

5 Collin Levy, "Terrorist Buds," The Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2002.

6 "Diary of Actions," Earth Liberation Front, downloaded from the ELF website at on September 20, 2003.


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