- President of the Bullitt Foundation
- Former anti-Vietnam War activist
- Affiliated with numerous environmentalist organizations
- Strong supporter of John Kerry for U.S. President in 2004
Born in Wisconsin in 1944, Denis Hayes was raised in Camas, Washington. At age eighteen he enrolled at Clark College but dropped out after his sophomore year and spent the next three years hitch-hiking around Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Hayes then returned to the U.S. and attended Stanford University, where he was elected student-body president and became an anti-Vietnam War activist. On one occasion, he helped lead more than 1,000 students in a campus takeover of a weapons-research laboratory.
After graduating from Stanford in 1969, Hayes attended the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He left school, however, when Democratic U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson recruited him to help coordinate and implement, along with Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich, the first-ever Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970—an event that is widely regarded as the launch point of the modern environmental movement. Earth Day has been celebrated annually on that same date ever since, and Hayes has maintained a prominent role in its orchestration.
In 1979 Hayes was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) in Colorado, a U.S. Department of Energy initiative that focused primarily on renewable-energy research and development.
From 1983-88, Nelson was a professor of energy engineering at Stanford University. In 1985 he earned a J.D. from Stanford Law School and then spent five years as an environmental attorney in Silicon Valley. He later became an adjunct professor of engineering at Stanford.
In 1992 Hayes was named president of the Bullitt Foundation, which directs its philanthropy almost exclusively to radical environmental organizations. He remains the Foundation’s president and CEO to this day.
In 1996 Hayes was one of the original 130 founders of the Campaign for America’s Future, along with such notables as Mary Frances Berry, Julian Bond, Robert Borosage, John Cavanagh, Richard Cloward, Peter Dreier, Barbara Ehrenreich, Betty Friedan, Todd Gitlin, Tom Hayden, Roger Hickey, Patricia Ireland, Jesse Jackson, Joseph Lowery, Frances Fox Piven, Robert Reich, Mark Ritchie, Arlie Schardt, Susan Shaer, Andrew Stern, John Sweeney, and Richard Trumka.
In 2002 Hayes joined a number of fellow environmentalists—including Brent Blackwelder, Randall Hayes, Fred Krupp, Carl Pope, Kathleen Rogers, Mark Van Putten, and Mark Ritchie—in signing an urgent “Call for Action” which cited “deep concerns about the uneven distribution of … economic gains among and within countries, the growing pressure on natural resources, and increasing pollution.” Most importantly, the document demanded a reduction of American “global warming pollutants,” the development and deployment of “renewable energy technologies,” and “increase[d] U.S. assistance to developing countries to protect their environments and the global environment.”
Hayes strongly supported his longtime friend John Kerry in the 2004 U.S. presidential race, stating that “the future of America very much depends upon defeating [Republican incumbent] George W. Bush and electing someone with the capacity for greatness.” By Hayes’s telling, Kerry possessed the ability to help America “lead the world into a super-efficient, renewable-energy era, ending the oil stranglehold and putting the brake on climate change.”1
Hayes views capitalism as an economic system that is inherently destructive of the natural world. At one 2002 conference, for instance, he said: “Under communism, prices were not allowed to reflect economic reality. Under capitalism, prices don’t reflect ecological reality. In the long run, the capitalist flaw—if uncorrected—may prove to be the more catastrophic.” Hayes believes that capitalism’s deadly ramifications can be reined in only by the “mechanism” of “government.”
In Hayes’s calculus, human population growth—because of the high levels of natural-resource consumption that accompany it—represents the “most worrisome” environmental problem of all. “With humans accounting, directly and indirectly, for 40 percent of the earth’s net biological productivity,” he writes, “we are squeezing other species into extinction at a catastrophic rate.”
During his career as an activist, Hayes has been a high-ranking official and/or governing board member with such organizations as CERES, Children Now, the Energy Foundation, the Environmental Grantmakers Association, the Federation of American Scientists, Greenpeace, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Programming Council for Public Television, the Ruckelshaus Center, the World Resources Institute, and the Worldwatch Institute.
The author of more than 30 books and pamphlets on environmentalism, Hayes has received awards for his activism from many organizations including the American Solar Energy Society, the Commonwealth Club, the Global Environmental Facility of the World Bank, the Humane Society of the United States, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Council of America, and the Sierra Club. Time magazine once selected Hayes as one of its “Heroes of the Planet.” The National Audubon Society named him as one of its “100 Environmental Heroes of the 20th Century.” And Look magazine designated him as one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century.”
1 Hayes donated money to Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Between 1992 and 2010, he also made contributions to numerous U.S. House and Senate candidates, all of them Democrats. Among these were Patty Murray, Barack Obama, and Jon Tester.