On this Earth Day, April 22nd, I look back to the very first Earth Day – what triggered it, what happened where, and what it was like.
The year was 1970 and pollution was widespread. Cities like New York were shrouded in deadly smog and many rivers a polluted mess. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River literally burned.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, had educated readers about the dangers of pesticides, including DDT. Her outraged followers and many others took to the streets.
As an environmental student at Boston University I certainly remember the first Earth Day. Streets in Boston, New York, and elsewhere were packed with protestors chanting “Give Earth A Chance” and “Respect Your Mother”. Many were the same folks who’d protested the ongoing Vietnam War which didn’t end until 1975. It was a heady time.
One hopeful sign was the Clean Water Act signed by President Nixon in 1970. William Ruckelshaus was the first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator. EPA grew into a huge organization of engineers, scientists, environmental protection specialists, and others. Since my brother Tom worked in Boston’s EPA office for twenty-odd years I am based, but EPA’s air and water quality, chemical and toxics, and other programs have been pretty successful despite ongoing political, business, etc. pressures.
Despite these and other successes, our environmental future looks pretty dark to me. I wish I could say otherwise.
The dramatic linear increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is shocking. Since 1970, carbon dioxide emissions have increased by about 90%. Emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributed
On this Earth Day roughly 80% of the total greenhouse gas emissions increase since 1970. Agriculture, deforestation, and other land-use changes are the second-largest contributors.
I’ll not end this piece on a downer. In Maine, Earth Day promises to be a gorgeous spring day. I suggest we take some time outdoors to listen to recently arrived birds, touch a couple of venerable tress, and breath in the lovely spring air.
I remember the first Earth Day well. My friend and I rode my parents’ tandem bike to school – 15 miles – mostly uphill – which made coming back at the end of the day nicer. I also remember pollution inversions shrouding NYC and air so thick you could just about cut it. My NJ town had a perfect view of NYC from the top of the hill. We were eleven miles away, and there were days it was lost in a yellow fog. Glad those days seem to be done.