Many here in Missouri don’t know, but I used to be an environmental microbiologist in another lifetime. It seems so long ago! Consequently, I am always very excited when Earth Day approaches. I usually try to read new environmental books as soon as they hit the shelves, but they seem to come faster and faster these days. One that slipped by me is “The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation” by Adam Rome, published in 2013, so I picked it up this year to get me in the spirit. There’s so much I didn’t know!
Rome reports that before the first Earth Day in 1970, there was not an official environmental movement. Climate change was not yet a popularly known concept (scientists already knew but they were being cautious). The environment was actually considered “women’s work” as a part of housekeeping and was championed primarily by housewives and groups like the League of Women Voters. Other groups, like the Sierra Club and The National Audubon Society, came at the environment from a different perspective — conservation for the purposes of outdoor recreation. There were individual groups in different cities working on issues like smog and different polluted sites. Rome writes, “Earth Day did not just mobilize activists to demonstrate the growing power of their cause. In several ways, Earth Day helped to create the movement. Earth Day gave environmental activism a name. Earth Day also convinced many Americans that pollution, sprawl, nuclear fallout, pesticide use, wilderness preservation, waste disposal, and population growth were not separate issues.”
Events of the late 1960s made the time right for a cohesive movement to form. The war in Vietnam was raging on with all of the environmental destruction that went with it. Rachel Carson’s iconic book “Silent Spring” came out in 1962 and sent shock waves. The Civil Rights movement was heating up, many facets of which involved environmental issues. But the idea of Earth Day grew out of the interest and passion of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Nelson decided to bring the environment, overall, to the public’s attention with a “teach in.” He wisely decided to not go with a top-down approach and began involving different groups on campuses and in various cities. From there, it exploded. From the very first Earth Day, there was not just one event, but somewhere between 12,000-13,000 events! Although many colleges were included in some of the initial planning, it wasn’t long before high schools and elementary schools began to request information and ask to be included. Some of the most successful events (not all of them were successful) were in New York, Cleveland, Miami, Birmingham and Salina. Yes, you read that correctly. Salina, Kansas.
I find it incredible that Earth Day has become so huge, so expected, considering where it began. Columbia’s Earth Day celebration is this weekend, Sunday, April 24. (The event will be moved to May 1 if it’s raining – but the weather looks clear so far!) I love that it’s in Peace Park. On a related note, you can pick up a free tree seedling from the Missouri Department of Conservation for Arbor Day on Saturday, April 23, if you stop by the Columbia Public library from 10 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. or the Callaway County Public Library in Fulton from 9 a.m.- noon.
As usual, I have made a list of all my favorite environmental books (and a couple of DVDs) from the last several years. Happy Earth Day!!!!
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