Denis Hayes

Photograph of Denis Hayes

In 1970, Denis Hayes was National Coordinator of the first Earth Day, which is often credited with launching the modern environmental movement. Hayes was International Chair of Earth Day 1990, and chaired Earth Day 2000.

An environmental lawyer by training, Hayes headed the federal government's Solar Energy Research Institute during the Carter Administration and has taught engineering at Stanford University. He is now President and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, a $100-million Seattle-based environmental foundation. He is also Chairman of the Board of the Energy Foundation and serves on the boards of other environmental groups.

Hayes has been honored by the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Solar Energy Society, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, and was selected by Look magazine as one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th Century.
Photographer: Therese Frare

I'm not sure I have a profession. At various times I've been a lawyer in San Francisco, a professor of engineering at Stanford, the director of a national laboratory (SERI). I'm currently President of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental foundation in Seattle.

My spouse, Gail, my law-student daughter, Lisa, our Newfoundland, Celie and I all live in Seattle.

This is tough because I consider everything to be "environmental," and I have eclectic tastes. Books that influenced me deeply in my youth, e.g. Silent Spring or John McPhee's The Curve of Binding Energy, are now conventional wisdom. Books I've learned something from recently include The Third Chimpanzee, by Jared Diamond; The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright; The Fragile Species, by Lewis Thomas; and From Gaia to Selfish Genes, edited by Connie Barlow. David Quammen's The Song of the Dodo is a terrific introduction to island biogeography. I've never had trouble empathizing with primates, whales, or elephants, but in The Beauty of the Beastly, Natalie Angier has me identifying with things I'd often squashed without thought. Edward Tenner's Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences is provocative, and Our Stolen Future, by Colborn, Dumanoski, and Myers, could be our era's Silent Spring.

That would be

Solo back-packing in redwood forests; tropical reef diving; whitewater rafting anywhere.

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Every year I am astonished by the achievements of all the Goldman Prize winners. For sheer intellectual courage in the face of zealots of all persuasions, I'd rank E. O. Wilson up there with Darwin.


". . . the gross national product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for the people who break them.

The gross national product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads. . . .

And if the gross national product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. . . .

The gross national product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; and it can tell us everything about America -- except why we are proud that we are Americans."

-- Robert F. Kennedy

Human population growth. If everyone currently in the world aspires to consume at the same level as, say, the average Swede does, the human population already exceeds the planet's carrying capacity. With humans accounting, directly and indirectly, for 40 percent of the earth's net biological productivity, we are squeezing other species into extinction at a catastrophic rate. But because the population issue is inextricably linked to such political third rails as immigration, abortion, racism, religious objections to contraception, and Social Security, our politicians resolutely ignore it.

Earth Day 1970. It forged traditional conservationists into a union with newer constituencies worried about urban and industrial issues, thus giving birth to the modern environmental movement.

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