A picture is worth a thousand words
When the 1968 Apollo astronauts rounded the moon for the first time the deepest impression was not the view of that barren, never-before-seen lunar landscape, but the sight of a dazzling, beautiful blue and white gem floating in the black vastness of space. The astronauts sent images home, and for the first time in the history of the world humans all around the world got a glimpse of their one celestial home.
Poet Archibald MacLeish described it in Time magazine, “to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now that they are truly brothers.”
These shots seen round the world helped coalesce, especially in the U.S., a burgeoning environmental awareness. The 60s and early 70s were heady times in this country for social activism, civil disobedience and grassroots organization. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (published in 1962) decrying the widespread indiscriminate use of pesticides was a New York Times best seller. Filled with passages like, “There is still very limited awareness of the nature of the threat. This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged. When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half-truth. We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts. In the words of Jean Rostand, “The obligation to endure gives us the right to know,” Silent Spring created a sense of urgency that lent itself to the passions of the times.
Some may argue that the city of San Francisco’s Earth Day celebration on March 21, (spring equinox) 1970, created by activist John McConnell was the first and/or original Earth Day. And while many consider McConnell the “father” of Earth Day, it was the massive (estimated 20 million participants) countrywide events that occurred on April 22, 1970, spearheaded by Sen. Gaylord Nelson D. Wisconsin that landed Earth Day and the environmental movement squarely in the center of the political socio-economic spotlight.
This early, fervent and widespread public support created the political capital that allowed for groundbreaking legislation like the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. And while that early passionate blaze has led to important political and industrial gains in the form of stricter environmental laws and policies, it is easy to see from here, in this land of nonpareil beauty and biodiversity, which is being choked under a heavy brown blanket of pollution, there is much still to be done.
The fact that our county and many of its neighbors, plus the “pristine” Great Smoky Mountains National Park, don’t even meet EPA standards for clean air 39 years after the first Earth Day means we’ve dropped the ball.
We need to fan those Earth Day embers back into a maelstrom of public outcry demanding that we and our children and their children deserve and shall have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.
Happy Earth Day!