Earth Day

i remember the first Earth Day.

I was a high school junior in California. Somebody—I don’t know whether it was teachers or administrators or students or some combination—organized a full Earth Week at the school. We had several assemblies every day of the week, with speakers and films on every aspect of the environmentalism then under discussion—air and water pollution, solar power, energy conservation, population control, and more.

The only assembly I remember, though, was one where some legislator had sent a staffer to discuss population control. The staffer contended that population was not an environmental issue, that the world could and would support however many humans there were, apparently because God gave us the earth. He further maintained that it was all women’s duty to have as many children as physically possible for as long as they could bear children. Asked to clarify his statement, he only said that it should be within wedlock, of course, but people should definitely marry as young as possible in order to populate the earth. There was lots of muttering at that point, but not much argument—I think we realized there wasn’t much point.

But aside from that one oddity, I remember Earth Week as fairly exciting. It was a brand new concept that we could change the world, and we were young enough to believe that whatever we could imagine we could make happen—now that everyone realized what needed doing, it was only a matter of time until it was done. 1970 was, after all, the year that the national EPA was created and the California Environmental Quality Act was enacted. If I’d been asked then what the United States would be like in forty years, I would have said that we’d be a mostly paperless society, that we’d get most of our power from solar and wind systems, that cogeneration in manufacturing operations would be commonplace, that water and air pollution would be non-existent, and that the nation would be served by a web of high-speed rail linked to local light-rail and trolley systems.

We don’t believe any longer that organizing and marching in protests and demonstrations is the same as doing something, but I miss all that energetic optimism. We could put it to good use.


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