In Celebration of Earth Day

Earth Day, 1970

All of us here in Rossmoor are old enough to remember the first Earth Day.  Like many other institutions, it had its founding here in Northern California, which is often called the birthplace of the environmental movement.    In 1969, there was a UNESCO conference in San Francisco at which a peace activist named John McConnell proposed a day to honor the earth.  The idea was picked-up by then Senator Gaylord Nelson as a day for environmental teach-ins.  April 22, 1970 was selected to be the day.  Denis Hays was the first organizer, working out of Senator Nelson’s D.C. office.

Prior to 1970, environmental concerns were growing, but the political establishment had not paid much attention.  Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” was a wake-up call for many of us.

April 22 was selected as the date for the event…largely because it was free from conflicts with spring vacation and college finals weeks.  It was soon discovered that the day happened to be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladimer Lenin.  Some suspected that this was not a coincidence and that this was a “communist trick.”  The Daughters of the American Revolution and the FBI picked-up on the possibility and all of the 1970 organizers were carefully scrutinized.

In spite of J. Edgar Hoover’s doubts, the event was exceptionally successful.  Two thousand colleges and universities and about 10,000 public schools took part.  It brought 20 million Americans out into the sunshine to   see peaceful demonstrations on how to live more lightly on the earth.

It is interesting to note that many of the speakers at the first Earth Day were not very optimistic about the future of the planet.  Here are some of their predictions:

  • Denis Hayes, the chief organizer wrote: “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”
  • Dr. Dillon Ripley, head of the Smithsonian Institute believed that within 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 per cent of all species of living animals  will be extinct.
  • Paul Ehrlich, a prominent Stanford biologist, wrote that between 1980 and 1989, 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans will starve to death.
  • Ecologist Kenneth Watt stated, “the   world has been chilling sharply for about 20 years.  If present trends continue, the earth will be 11 degrees colder by the year 2000.” (Note: I have been unable to verify this and Mr. Watt cannot be located.  He is probably in hiding somewhere.)
  • Life Magazine wrote: By 1085 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight hitting the earth by one-half.

Thankfully, these learned men were a bit off the  mark.  Maybe their stern warnings were a wake-up call to Americans and actually   helped prevent the predictions from coming true, or maybe it is just tough to predict the future.

Rossmoor’s Earth Day, 2016

From this humble start, the celebration has grown into the largest secular holiday on earth.  By 1990, the event was observed in over 140 nations, and now that number has grown to over 190..virtually every nation on the globe.  Over a billion people participate each year.  Not all Earth Day events actually happen on April 22.  For example, Sustainable Rossmoor will be sponsoring the First Annual Rossmoor Earth Day on April 15…a day more often associated with tax returns than energy conservation.

Plans for the event here are still being worked on, but this columnist can guarantee that it will be a day you won’t want to miss, with exhibits on everything from electric cars to organic wine. There will be movies, speakers, food, commercial exhibitors and a chance for our environmental clubs to show off their programs.  Mark your calendars.

This article originally ran in the Rossmoor News on February 2nd, 2016 authored by Bob Hanson.

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