Tracing Earth Day's roots
3:40 pm
Mon April 22, 2013

Tom Paulson: Letter and Mom prove I came up with Earth Day

Who came up with the idea for Earth Day? Depends who you ask.

If you ask Tom Paulson, founder and editor of Humanosphere.org, he’ll tell you it was he and his childhood friend who gave the idea to President Lyndon B. Johnson. And he’s got a presidential letter—and his mother’s word—to back him up.

Born in 1957, Paulson was 9 years old when he penned the Earth Day letter to the president with his neighbor, friend and fellow Cub Scout Brad Jones, who is now an attorney in Tacoma.

The boys received a response from the president’s personal secretary, who thanked them for their idea and extended the president’s best wishes. Paulson’s mother saved that letter—coffee-stained and footnoted in her proud writing— all these years.

“Mom and I were joking today that Brad and I don’t get the credit we deserve for inventing Earth Day!” Paulson said on Earth Day, letter and mother in tow.

Paulson and Jones grew up near a dairy farm in Bothell, which was quite rural back then. Paulson and his friends spent much of their time outside, and formed a close connection with nature. 

His mother, Connie Wagoner, said Paulson, a lover of animals and wildlife, pretty much lived to spend time outdoors. He’d often camp, and head out to hunt and fish with his father.

Paulson credits his teachers at the time for planting the seed that resulted in the letter to LBJ.  He said many of his teachers at the time were responding to social changes and tumult, including the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protests.

A local paper asked several children, including 7-year-old Tom Paulson, what they'd do if they were the mayor of Bothell. "I'd outlaw any more dentists' office," Paulson said.

“I think what we actually wrote, as I recall, was (calling for) a day to celebrate Earth,” said Paulson.

And that sentiment has continued to fuel him through the years.

“I write Humanosphere, and Humanosphere is all about helping people. But we’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t take care of the Earth, so we should be celebrating Mother Earth first and foremost,” he said.

Tom believes the younger generation can lead the effort to better honor Mother Earth.

“I think young people today are way more aware of the rest of the planet than I was. I was aware of nature and my immediate surrounds, but I think young people … are much more aware of the rest of the world and what’s going on there.

“So I’d encourage young people to encourage the rest of us —particularly us ‘oldsters’— to pay attention to the rest of the world. So my main thing is: let’s pay attention to the entire earth on Earth Day,” he said.

His mother agrees: “Lots of times, children think that they are so insignificant. But it’s worth remember that saying: an acorn is eventually a mighty oak.”

“Are you calling me a nut?” asked Paulson.

“Kind of!” said his mother, laughing.