Is Earth Day a Communist Plot?

Rumors that Earth Day Honors Lenin and Communism Still Circulate

Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870 - 1924), in his office.
Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

There is a persistent and recurring rumor among the perpetually paranoid—those who spend most of their waking hours in an outpost far to the right of rational thinking—that Earth Day is more red than green, more about communism than conservation.

What Is the Link Between Earth Day and Communism?

As a proof point, advocates of this idea are quick to point out that April 22, the date chosen for the first Earth Day in 1970, is also the birthday of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin—the Russian revolutionary and politician who became the first head of the new Soviet state after the October Revolution of 1917. In 1970, April 22 was the 100th anniversary of Lenin's birth, providing even more AHA! moments for people who see communists and/or socialists hiding behind every newly planted tree on Earth Day.

The real motivation for all of this overheated rhetoric about the supposed tie between Earth Day and Lenin's birthday seems to be an attempt to characterize environmentalists as closet socialists who are bent on destroying capitalism and restricting the ownership and control of private property with subversive things such as national parks and wildlife refuges.

Does Earth Day Promote Communism?

Earth Day 1970 was initially conceived as a teach-in, modeled on the teach-ins used successfully by Vietnam War protesters to spread their message and generate support on U.S. college campuses. It is generally believed that April 22 was chosen for Earth Day because it was a Wednesday that fell between spring break and final exams—a day when a majority of college students would be able to participate.

U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the guy who dreamed up the nationwide teach-in that became Earth Day, once tried to put the whole "Earth Day as communist plot" idea into perspective.

"On any given day, a lot of both good and bad people were born," Nelson said. "A person many consider the world's first environmentalist, Saint Francis of Assisi, was born on April 22. So was Queen Isabella. More importantly, so was my Aunt Tillie."

April 22 is also the birthday of J. Sterling Morton, the Nebraska newspaper editor who founded Arbor Day (a national holiday devoted to planting trees) on April 22, 1872, when Lenin was still in diapers. Maybe April 22 was chosen to honor Morton and nobody knew. Maybe environmentalists were trying to send a subliminal message to the national subconscious that would transform people into tree-planting zombies. One birthday "plot" seems just about as likely as the other. What's the chance that one person in a thousand could tell you when either of these guys was born?

Is the Earth Day-Lenin-Communism Link Having Any Effect?

OK, let's say for the sake of argument that the original Earth Day organizers chose April 22 with the intention of honoring Lenin and linking environmentalism to communism, and that keeping Earth Day on April 22 is part of some communist agenda. So what? What effect is this theoretical link between Earth Day and Lenin and communism actually having? If nobody is getting that message, then what's the problem?

Some 20 million Americans turned out to celebrate the first Earth Day, which is often credited with passage of the Clean Air Act, the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and many other important political gains and environmental safeguards. Since 1970, billions of people around the world have celebrated Earth Day and continue to do so each year. Are they all secretly paying homage to Lenin and his philosophy? Are they all communist dupes or, worse, what purveyors of this notion of a Lenin-Earth Day link like to call "watermelons" (green on the outside, red on the inside)?

If people want to stand up for private-property rights and free enterprise, no problem. But they ought to find some way to do it without attacking the goals of the environmental movement or by claiming that Earth Day is a communist plot. It just makes them look silly.