Earth Day into Earth Lives

SUBHEAD: We don't really want to make any changes that would make us uncomfortable. Earth Day is about making the planet comfortable, not us. We must really embrace Earth Life. Image above: The original, official, Earth Week logo designed in 1970 by Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia. From ( By Juan Wilson on 19 April 2010 - Wisconsin U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson announced his idea for a nationwide teach-in on the environment in a speech to a fledgling conservation group in Seattle on 20 September 1969. The resulting Earth Week started well. It was centered in Philadelphia (4/16/70 to 4/22/70) and culminated in a day widespread events across the country. That first Earth Week was an astounding success. Media coverage of the final day's events included a one-hour special report on CBS News, with correspondents reporting from a dozen major cities and narrated by Walter Cronkite. It was titled "Earth Day: A Question of Survival". But Earth Week was soon reduced in most of America to Earth Day. Yet it was still effective. According to the "History of Earth Day" at (
"Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Environment was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news. Earth Day 1970 turned that all around.

On 22 April 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. Denis Hayes, the national coordinator, and his youthful staff organized massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts."

But, after 40 years I am sad to say that the overall results of the ensuing Earth Day efforts are a resounding failure. The event has faded into an inconsequential, politically correct, fiasco, even as the Earth's environmental problems have mounted. Before Earth Week and the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, I lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, famous for the many immigrant generations had passed through it. The place looked like Dante's Inferno. NYC had no waste management or recycling then. High-sulphur coal was burned for electricity and the unfiltered smoke was spread over surrounding residential neighborhoods. Household trash was burned in incinerators in apartment buildings. Any left over garbage was taken by barge, out past New York harbor, and dumped into the sea. Raw sewage from toilets was simply piped into the Hudson and East Rivers. Yes, things have improved in many ways. With EPA efforts most US cities are clean and breathable today. This has been enabled by the collapse of America's manufacturing economy and its transition to service industries. Unfortunately, service industries will not feed, or cloth or warm us. And that's the nub of the rub. Americans have a voracious appetite for stuff that requires the consumption of a quarter of the world's resources... they have to traded for dollars or taken at end of a gun muzzle. Keep in mind, 1970 was not entirely a political love-in. Just days after Earth Week the Nixon administration ordered the Ohio National Guard onto the campus of Kent State University, resulting in the slaughter of innocent students protesting the raging war in Vietnam. We were a nation divided and those divisions seem to have deepened. In the mid 1970's, after we withdrew from Vietnam, the OPEC oil crisis gave us a foretaste of what we face now. President Carter understood the problem of our energy crisis but was essentially laughed out of office for reducing federal highway speed to 55mph and suggesting turning down the nation's thermostats. Since 1980, with Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" pitch, we've have been in massive self-denial. Whatever national consensus we had on conserving the planet has dissolved into the partisan bickering of vested political/corporate interests. I believe this self-denial is why Earth Day has come to what it is today... A curriculum excuse for grade schoolers to make "Earth Day" art projects to be affixed to our 25-cubic-foot refrigerators that are stuffed with corn-syrup cola and frozen factory chicken-nuggets. We don't really want to make any changes that would make us uncomfortable. But Earth Day is about making the planet comfortable, not ourselves. That means transforming Earth Day into what I would call Earth Life. .

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