First, some sad news: a great hero (the founder, some say) of the modern environmentalist movement has died.

MILWAUKEE – Gaylord Nelson, the folksy Democratic senator from Wisconsin who helped start the modern environmental movement with the creation of Earth Day 35 years ago, died Sunday. He was 89.

For more, including the “bipartisan” part of this diary, join me below the fold:

Fifteen years after he left office, Nelson received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 for his environmental efforts from then-President Clinton.

“As the father of Earth Day, he is the grandfather of all that grew out of that event: the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act,” read the proclamation from Clinton.

In 1958, Nelson became only the second Democrat during the 20th century to be elected governor of Wisconsin.

He used a penny-a-pack tax on cigarettes to allow the state to buy hundreds of thousands of acres of park land, wetlands and other open space to protect it; an idea that became a model for other states.
In the Senate, Nelson championed conservation policies, including legislation to preserve the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail and create a national hiking system.
“It suddenly occurred to me, why not have a nationwide teach-in on the environment,” Nelson said. He announced his idea at a speech in Seattle in September 1969, and it “took off like gangbusters.”

For the first Earth Day in 1970, tens of thousands of people filled New York’s Fifth Avenue, Congress adjourned so members could speak across the nation, and at least 2,000 colleges marked the occasion.

“I wanted a demonstration by so many people that politicians would say, ‘Holy cow, people care about this,'” Nelson once said. “That’s just what Earth Day did.”

Growing up in the northern Wisconsin town of Clear Lake, Nelson said he learned to love the outdoors “by osmosis” and learned frugality from his father, a country doctor who conserved paper by writing on the back of drug advertisements.

What a great man.

Now, as I was flipping through the Yahoo headlines, I also came across a story about the 2008 presidential field.  It’s mostly a rehash, and the author seems not to be familiar with the citisenship requirements for president, since Arnold Schwarzenegger is named as a contender without any mention of a constitutional amendment.  But I did find this part pretty interesting:

Another Republican contender, Senator Chuck Hagel is one of the administration’s most ardent critics on the subject of     Iraq, saying in a recent magazine interview that George W. Bush’s White House “is completely disconnected from reality,” in its Iraq policy and offering the blunt assessment that Washington is “losing” in its effort to stem the insurgency there.

Hagel is also out of step with his party in his zealous support for strong environmental policy, and was a leading figure in a recently-adopted Senate measure to help bring about a reduction in green house gases.

I had already noted many times that I just find it hard to dislike Hagel.  He comes across in interviews as a genuinely decent man who has no truck with Rove/Bush style politics.  And that was before I had any inkling about his environmental record!  This may make me a traitor in the eyes of some, but at this point, I’d have to say that if Hagel managed to win the GOP nomination, I’d breathe easy from that point on.  I’d feel confident that whatever the result of the general election, our nation–and our world–would be guaranteed to be in better hands than they are currently.

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