The first Earth Day was a red letter day in the long, hard struggle to make being good to the environment … to the Earth … normal instead of a fringe idea held only by quirky college professors and stoned-out hippies. This year, the first significant health care insurance reform bill was passed and it will be a red letter event in a long, hard struggle to make universal quality heath coverage and care normal instead a fringe idea held only by Kenyan born socialist Negros from Chicago. Or whatever the teabaggers are calling it now. So today, at the beginning of a true change in how we do things, we can look back and reflect on another, similar (yet different) change in the way we do things.

If you listen to the right wing republican rhetoric just long enough to hear the topic shift a couple of times, the environmental movement will inevitably be brought up, in bitter tones. If you are below a certain age, you may hear this and wonder about it sometimes. Well, for years, the right wing fought environmental regulation tooth and nail. They fought it at the local and state level, the fought the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they fought environmentally friendly activities by all other government agencies. And they lost. Not a first. At first, they marginalized environmental conservation, demonized it as socialism and communism, explained how the apocalypse would come if we started to regulate industry. At first they held their ground. But eventually, they lost.

And they came to the debate armed and dangerous. The exact tactics of anti-environmentalists of the day were not the same as the teapartiers of today, but one got a very similar feeling. When a major national park was dedicated in northern Minnesota back in those days, a family of Yahoos living next door, who had opposed the park simply on the grounds that all gummit activities were evil, chainsawed a dozen or so thousand year old virgin white pines that were on their land and visible in the background of the dedication ceremony. So the dedication ceremony itself was carried out to the sound of a Bachmanesque fugue of chain saws and falling trees … trees that would have otherwise never been cut down, that would have stayed standing for hundreds of more years were it not for this Libertarian spite. Freedom trees. Dead freedom trees.

The right wing has never forgiven the progressives and liberals for the EPA and the massive shift this country underwent with the environmental movement.

And guess what. Progressive liberals old enough to remember have generally not forgiven the right wing for making the transition we all knew had to happen take 20 years instead of five.

And, of course, the transition is still needed, and is still underway. What we did then was important and under appreciated today: The air and the water are significantly cleaner now than they were in 1970. Had industry not been regulated, with increasing demands on manufacturing, things would have only gotten worse, and today, while things are better in the US and many other Western countries, we know that a significant amount of this extra demand is being met with dirty third world industry.

My first Earth Day was the first Earth Day. I remember those days well. I was a child warrior for the environment. I remember being disgusted with the river we lived near, which was always covered with dead fish and an oily slick, turgid, smelly, occasionally on fire. I remember being disgusted with the smoke belching out of the large apartment buildings we lived next to. I remember watching SUNY Albany Professor Robert Reinow, on Sunrise Semester, showing photos and films of Gary Indiana and seeing the haze outside and realizing, because the meteorology was good enough to know this, that some of the cause of my mother’s complaint about gray whites and dull colors if she hung her laundry out to dry came from the Rust Belt, between 500 and 1,500 miles away and upwind.

It all seemed so hopeless, yet there were things that could be done.

… continued …

Comments

  1. #1 Pete
    April 22, 2010

    Earth Day Predictions, 1970
    “We have about five more years at the outside to do something.”
    • Kenneth Watt, ecologist

    “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
    • George Wald, Harvard Biologist

    “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.”
    • Barry Commoner, Washington University biologist

    “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”
    • New York Times editorial, the day after the first Earth Day

    “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”
    • Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

    “By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.”
    • Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

    “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”
    • Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day

    “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”
    • Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University

    “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”
    • Life Magazine, January 1970

    “At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”
    • Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

    “Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.”
    • Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

    “We are prospecting for the very last of our resources and using up the nonrenewable things many times faster than we are finding new ones.”
    • Martin Litton, Sierra Club director

    “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’”
    • Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

    “Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”
    • Sen. Gaylord Nelson

    “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”
    • Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

    “We need more Rainbows and Unicorns. Yeah. That’s it. And Windmills too.”
    -Goretard

  2. #2 fitnessgamer
    April 22, 2010

    great!nice blog..we really need to triple our concern for our mother earth..we should preserve our natural resources.great job!

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    April 22, 2010

    Pete: I wonder what the point of your comment is.

    We were in fact doing nothing before the environmental movement finally caught political ground. You are probably too young to remember Had things continued, those predictions would have been close enough to be valid (maybe some right on, some half right, which is close enough for such thigs)

    But then we DID STUFF … Pete, I think your comment maybe an example of the right wing droning that I’m talking about, and it is just plain wrong,and misguided, and destructive, and kinda stupid to boot.

  4. #4 Aufwuch
    April 22, 2010

    Pete, I hear, will be at Glenn Becks burning trash w/styrofoam. Let’s hope they inhale…not really, won’t even wish that on the Beckster.

  5. #5 H.H.
    April 24, 2010

    I remember being disgusted with the river we lived near, which was always covered with dead fish and an oily slick, turgid, smelly, occasionally on fire.

    You grew up in Cleveland? Or did other rivers beside the Cuyahoga catch fire? And if so, why do we Clevelanders still get razzed about our burning river more than 40 years on?

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    April 24, 2010

    The Cuyahoga is not the only river to have caught fire in those days. It may be the only river that accidentally burned many many times. But rivers with major petroleum tankfarms and sluggish flow had similar problems.

  7. #7 Harold
    April 25, 2010

    If I read what “Pete” posted, he is trying to purvey the absurdities given by the “Learned” elite, and the “gloom and doom” prophesy given by Al Gore and his friends concerning global cooling or warming.

    You will have to excuse my ignorance here in that I haven’t seen or felt any of the changes to the climate that the doomsayer’s have been spitting out since I have been on this Earth.

    I do think that the “Earth Day” movement concerning cleaning up the earth is a good thing, I really hate seeing all of that trash laying everywhere I travel. I have participated in the cleanup when the lakes are lowered or the sides of roads. Most of the garbage I see could have just as easily been put in a trash bin, dump, or recycled.

    Just my two cents worth.