Earth Day was first proposed October 1969, at a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Conference in San Francisco by John McConnel. McConnell, a peace advocate, proposed a global holiday to honor the Earth and Peace with the first celebration to take place 21 March 1970, the first day of spring. His written proclamation was signed by then United Nations Secretary General U Thant. A month later a US Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, after being horrified by the massive oil spill in Santa Barbara proposed an Earth Day. His idea was for a national “teach-in” on the environment and he recruited support from Congressman Pete McCloskey and Harvard University’s Denis Hayes. It was Hayes who built up staff and coordinated national events. He also set the date we celebrate annually now, 22 April 1970, as it fell between Spring Break and Finals. Initially, Earth Day was focused on the US, but Hayes took it international in 1990 organizing events in 141 nations.
In 1995 President Bill Clinton awarded Nelson, now counselor to The Wilderness Society, the Presidential Medal of Freedom award for his “…lifetime commitment to environmental protection.”
I had it in mind to do an Earth Day blog post. Since early March I’ve been making notes, jotting down snippets of ideas but nothing was coming together. “Earth Day, 22 April, is now four days away” I thought “Well, I better sit down and actually write it!”
So here’s where the trouble lies, it all felt wrong…I had some good material, but it was all rather negative and taken together downright depressing.
I had some good quotes: A favorite, of course, the famous Pogo:
We see Pogo the possum in the Okefenokee swamp, surrounded by litter he proclaims:
“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Walt Kelly, 1970 Earth Day Poster
The below was said to be the inspiration for the title of Rachel Carson’s important Silent Spring:
I had started collecting snippets:
10 February 2017 a new inductee onto the Endangered Species List: The Rusty Patched Bumblebee.
The alarmingly large and growing glacial cracks in the Petermann Glacier, Greenland. This crack is near the middle of the glacier, not along the usual shoreline. The Larsen C ice shelf is cracking, now 100 miles long with only 20 miles to go before it breaks off which would create the largest recorded iceberg. The growth of the crack has recently rapidly advanced: 17 miles in two months. Both cracks are unusual and attributed to warmer ocean temperatures.
Long time opponent of the EPA? Now in charge of the EPA and still denying scientific fact.
I also discovered that there was a beautiful blue butterfly that is now believed to be extinct:
“The Xerces blue is believed to be the first American butterfly species to become extinct as a result of loss of habitat caused by urban development. The last Xerces blue was seen in 1941 or 1943 on land that is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.”
Then there is my personal fear of waking up some day to a “Great, really great resort and golf course, beautiful gold course”…in Grand Canyon…yes, far-fetched, but…
I recently read Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring which, along with her testimony before Congress at the invitation of the Kennedy administration, and her interview on “CBS Reports,” an hour-long television news program hosted by former war correspondent, Eric Sevareid, is credited with better controls on pesticide use and influencing many Environmental organizations and today’s “Environmental Movement”.
I’d been thinking we need a new Rachel Carson to do a book in the same vein but covering the latest damaging, even deadly pesticides/herbicides still in use today. Then I ran across an article suggesting that no such book could be as effective today: “The well-financed counterreaction to Carson’s book was a prototype for the brand of attack now regularly made by super-PACs in everything from debates about carbon emissions to new energy sources. “As soon as ‘Silent Spring’ is serialized, the chemical companies circle the wagons and build up a war chest,”” Later in the same article it is suggested that “today no single book on, say, climate change could have the influence that “Silent Spring” did…” one of the reasons cited: “…is the five decades of political fracturing that followed its publication. The politicized and partisan reaction created by ‘Silent Spring’ has hardened over the past 50 years,””
Well, the positives here are: “CBS Reports” and Sevareid went ahead with the televised interview despite the fact that several important advertisers threatened to take away their business if she appeared. The Kennedy administration ordered a study of the possible long-term effects of DDT and other pesticides, “specifically citing Silent Spring as a catalyst. And a year after its publication, Carson herself testified before a Senate subcommittee on pesticides.”
“The Environmental Protection Agency sees Carson as a founding inspiration; its official history site states: “There is no question…that Silent Spring prompted the Federal Government to take action against water and air pollution — as well as against the misuse of pesticides — several years before it otherwise might have moved.” Organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth trace their origins directly to Carson’s book.”
I’d love to be able to say Joni’s song no longer applies:
“Hey, farmer, farmer,
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
Please!” Joni Mitchell, 1970, Reprise
Well, we did succeed in ridding the use of DDT, thank you Rachel…but…
Well, anyway, I have thrown out much of my discussion of the destructive patterns and processes discussed in Silent Spring. Somehow I feel Earth Day should be a celebration, not a memorial service. That is not to say “ignore the problems” rather celebrate and look at the beauty around us and work to move forward with continuing to protect and enjoy it each in our own way. My way has been to shift more of our available charitable funds to the NRDC, communicating with my Senators and Congressman, recycle more, waste less and in planning our garden this year we are even more cognizant of the plants loved by bees and butterflies.
Maybe I’m channeling Oddball, played so well by Donald Sutherland in Brian G. Hutton’s Kelly’s Heroes, 1970:
“Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?”
So, taking Oddball’s advice, to celebrate Earth Day, we are plantng flowers, I’ve included a few photos of landscapes and critters, and wish to conclude with a grand thought from our 26th President:
“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
Happy Earth Day!
Wikipedia Earth Day Overview