The first “Earth Day” Celebration was held on April 22, 1970. I was a senior in High School in a small town in the Yakima valley. Our “celebration” mainly consisted of cleaning up our town by planting flowers, painting garbage cans, picking up trash—and burning it!
The photos in the yearbook show cheerful and industrious groups of students, many of the girls with bouffant-styled hair held in place by fluorocarbon-propelled hairspray. The participants had their cars parked nearby—late 1960s pickups and “muscle” cars.
Hanford, Exxon Valdez, Gulf Coast, Shrinking Polar Caps, Global Warming, Oceans filled with islands of plastic trash . . . Sorry, kids—somewhere along the line we appear to have dropped the ball.
A Newspaper headline from The New York Times proclaimed:
EARTH DAY: All for it—now let’s DO something!
The article indicated: Conservatives were for it. Left-liberals were for it. Democrats, Republicans and independents were for it . . . It was Earth Day, and like Mother’s Day, no one in public office could be against it.
The local paper included an article by AP press writer Arthur Everett, with the headline:
Generations unite for clean world
Youth joined hands with age across the generation gap
Wednesday in a singular celebration of Earth Day, pleading for a halt to pollution lest it destroy the (world) man lives in. Across the nation, trash was gathered, streets swept, ponds and parks cleaned, trees and flowers planted.
The article also described many of the “celebrations” taking place, including:
- Protesting internal combustion fumes by having a mock burial of a gasoline engine in Oklahoma City.
- Protesting air quality by wearing gauze masks at a High School in Joliet, Illinois and placing a gas mask on the Trojan mascot at USC in Los Angeles.
- In the Miami area they dumped yellow dye into sewage treatment plants to trace the seepage of wastes into waterways.
- To call attention to oil slicks created by off-shore oil wells a group calling itself Environmental Vigilantes dumped crankcase oil into a reflecting pool at the San Francisco office of Standard Oil Company.
Earth Day is still alive and well 40 years later. But many local celebrations still seem geared towards cosmetic events such as Beach Cleanups and planting trees, and if you perform an internet search for the term "Earth Day" you may find sites selling Earth Day gifts such as Organic Cotton Apparel for Dogs and Ralph Lauren Polo™ Canvas Totes.
But it isn't all about "prettifying" communities and commercialism. The Earth Day Network (EDN) grew out of that first event over 40 years ago and has “partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement.”1 So I can be cautiously optimistic when I drive my fuel-efficient vehicle to the store and try to buy locally-grown food to place in my reusable grocery bags. Every day should be Earth Day.
Now, kids: let me tell you about another movement which apparently has been ignored in the past 40 years: ZPG (Zero Population Growth) . . .
1. It is still true: if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem.