Earth Day Deja Vu

Today is Earth Day and the specter of pollution and decayed infrastructure in our country, made worse by years of government neglect while spending on a war that has dragged on for years, may seem like problems that are unique to our time.  But on the original Earth Day in 1970, the U.S. faced a very similar set of problems, with air and water pollution poisoning our country causing health problems, making the cities increasingly unliveable, while the Vietnam War divided the nation.   The only thing that fundamentally differentiates today with 1970 is that now, in addition, we are also up against the existential threat of climate change.  The Green New Deal, and its broad sweep and big goals, seems hauntingly similar, in fact, to what the organizers of the first Earth Day had in mind as the goals for the movement they hoped to begin with the set of rallies and protests around the country.

According to the Earth Day Network:

  • “The idea for a national day to focus on the environment came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.”
  • Senator Gaylord Nelson said in his speech that day, ‘Environment is all of America and its problems.”  He called for an environmental Congress to be elected later that year and for sweeping changes to laws and government’s focus with the environment as the organizing principle.

On that first Earth Day, twenty million Americans protested across the country calling for a healthy and sustainable environment.  Many local groups that had been fighting pollution in their cities and communities banded together, realizing they shared a common set of values and objectives.  It also did something especially remarkable — it garnered support from a majority of Americans — Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city dwellers and rural farmers, and business and labor leaders. And the results of the first Earth Day were equally remarkable.  Within a year, President Nixon created the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and Congress passed landmark environmental protection laws such as the Clean AirClean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. “It was a gamble,” Gaylord recalled, “but it worked.”

Why This Matters:  It would be wonderful to think that the movement that spawned the original Earth Day, could be experiencing a rebirth today.  What is clear from watching the Cronkite news reports from the Earth Week 1970 is that we seem to have hit a similar point of environmental crisis. The question is can this generation rise to the occasion as they did fifty years ago and pass the kind of game-changing laws and spending (i.e. the Green New Deal) that are needed now to set us on the proper course for the next fifty years, which are arguably even more critical to our future as a planet?  #EarthDay

What You Can Do: The North Face and several other organizations launched a campaign to make Earth Day a national holiday because “when people take time to appreciate Earth, they feel more connected to it and are more likely to protect it.”   More than 100,000 people had already signed the petition — they hope to get 150,000 signatures this week.  You can sign their petition here.  

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