Earth Day at 37
Day the First – launched in April 1970 with 1500 events mostly on college
campuses by enormous student energy – led the television network news and made
the covers of the national news magazines.
Day the Thirty Seventh – in April 2007 – was broader based than the First Day
but in many ways more debased by corporate greenwashing, and political posturing
marinated in corporate campaign cash.
comparison of the two periods, both characterized by a surge in ecological
recognitions of perils and possibilities, is instructive.
1970, the environmental arousal focused on pesticides, air and water pollution,
with attention to workplace toxics contributing to occupational diseases. Widely
publicized were the inversions in the Los Angeles area, chocking with vehicles,
and the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland where seeping petroleum slicks were
sometimes set on fire – on the river!
action goals were legislative authority directing the federal executive agencies
to regulate and reduce permissible pollution. Compared with today, legislation
passed through Congress at a torrid pace. Objecting corporate lobbyists were
the bills enacted into law were the water pollution and air pollution statutes,
the drinking water safety act, the establishment of the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
prevalent and visible were millions of Americans calling for action that
Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford signed them into law with strong
statements of support for their promised purposes. He rode the wave rolling
across the country to Washington, D.C.
results were measurable. The ouster of lead in gasoline and paint reduced the
level of lead in peoples’ bodies. Levels of vinyl chloride in the bodies of
industrial workers disappeared. Asbestos was close to being banned for most
commercial purposes. The first mandatory fuel efficiency standards for motor
vehicles were issued in 1975 to be met by 1985 at the average fleet mark of 27.5
miles per gallon.
came the corporate counterattack replete with money, muscle and daily
propaganda. Regulation was blamed for everything save spots on the sun.
Deregulation became the mantra that rewarded more and more elected politicians
who performed the requisite courtesies and bows. By 1980 the Democrats had
joined the race for business campaign cash with the Republicans. The Reagan era
began, led by an ex-actor who said that most air pollution came from
apologists started writing reams of materials about public-private partnerships
and marketplace trading of pollution credits. They compromised government’s arms
length responsibilities with joint ventures where taxpayer monies were used by
Washington, D.C. to subsidize collusive auto industry research, for example,
under the Clinton Administration. These projects went nowhere, wasting billions
of dollars and shielding in the process auto company exposure to regulation and
to the antitrust laws.
massive environmental stall had begun. Less technology-forcing regulation, less
enforcement and less overdue lawmaking to provide ethical-legal frameworks for
new risks coming from genetic engineering, nano-technology and the relentless
use of many invasive new chemicals in the human environment.
there are reports of many more global Earth Day events, including the global
warming networking of Al Gore. Awareness of both the sustaining role of oceans,
rivers, air quality, forests, prairies and the enormous costs of their damage or
displacement is understood by many more people then in 1970. Consider the
remarkable roll-back of the tobacco industry’s deliberate addiction of their
customers at an early age.
are rushing to give themselves a clearer environmental image with chain stores
taking on more organic food and spreading their environmental labeling of
products. More so-called green buildings are under construction. Companies like
General Electric are talking a good game, but they are working to bring back
nuclear power with all its costs, risks and taxpayer
all the greenwashing, the auto industries are still on Congress blocking
improved fuel efficiencies for motor vehicles which presently are the lowest
since 1980. Electric generating plants – often burning coal – have not
significantly changed their gross design inefficiencies of bygone
coal barons are still blowing off the mountaintops and widening the land areas
they are strip-mining. Asthma rates among children are climbing. Land erosion
can gauge the lack of progress three ways.
the country moving expeditiously to make existing “best practices” the overall
practice throughout the economy?
we applying the insight of Professor Barry Commoner that prevention is better
than tepid often evaded controls of specific, harmful pollutants, as we did
when we took the lead out of paint and gasoline?
we have a massive conversion agenda, led by leading politicians for solar
energy in all its efficient forms, including wind power, and for the dramatic
improvements in energy efficiency now readily available for
For the most part, the answer to these questions is