Happy Earth Day 2019

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

I’m old enough to remember April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day. My memories of that day aren’t particularly strong – certainly not compared to other days that year: January 24, when my brother, my youngest sibling, was born, and May 4, the day of the shootings at Kent State, where my cousin was finishing her first year of studies.

The preceding autumn, my parents moved our family to Allamuchy, New Jersey, a small farming community. My father continued to teach (and coach) at a local high school. We lived down a 1200 foot lane off of Shades of Death Road, on a 12 1/2 acre farm, the corner of which was clipped by a highway that became US Interstate 80. Really the back of beyond – or as close as one could come and still be in the state of New Jersey.

My principal memory of the original Earth Day was watching a TV program about water pollution. Lots of film clips about foaming water – caused by phosphate detergents, IIRC. Memory’s a bit hazy – not altogether surprising, as I was only eight years old at the time.

Reading a bit about the history of Earth Day for this post, I learned that a speech Senator Gaylord Nelson delivered in September 1969 ultimately led to the first Earth Day the following spring, organized as a teach-in at Berkeley. Teach-ins sprung up during the latter part of the 1960s as a form of protest against the Vietnam War.

At least 20 million people participated in nationwide activities on the first Earth Day, and these were not limited to college campuses. Congress adjourned for the day.

Today, Earth Day Network – which coordinates global Earth Day activities – estimates one billion people in 192 countries around the globe will join in what it calls “the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.”

The world of the 1970s was very different from the one we live in today. For one thing, protecting the environment wasn’t an enterprise largely limited to any particular political party (nd rather imperfectly at that).

But  other aspects of that world we’d recognize. Government by executive order, for example, is far from a new phenomenon. In July 1970, President Richard Nixon, a Republican, created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in his Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970. Several functions previously carried out by other agencies would be moved to the EPA. Supportive committee hearings in both House and Senate followed.

From the plan:

With its broad mandate, EPA would also develop competence in areas of environmental protection that have not previously been given enough attention, such, for example, as the problem of noise, and it would provide an organization to which new programs in these areas could be added.

Imagine that. A Republican president, via executive order, creating a plan to protect the environment. And this didn’t happen that very long ago, nor even in a galaxy far, far away, but in these United States, and during my lifetime.

Shortly thereafter, the Clean Water Act (1972) and the Endangered Species Act (1973) followed. Executive orders weren’t a substitute for legislation, and Congress and the President could- and did – produce legislation, even at a time when the country was deeply divided and riven by protests over the Vietnam War.

By contrast to these bygone days when factions in both parties supported environmental protection, the Trump administration’s principal environmental priority has instead been to ease operating conditions for the fossil fuel industry (see here).

Yet that anti-environmental agenda has not gone unchallenged. As I posted yesterday here, judicial decisions  have rolled back, delayed, or suspended more than 40 of Trump’s environmental initiatives. Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and Senator Ed Markey have introduced a Green New Deal resolution (see Lambert’s post, here ). To be sure, the Democratic Party is divided on the issue of the Green New Deal (see here on the Anti-Green New Deal coalition).

Cities and states are also pursuing their own initiatives – with New York City passing its own Green New Deal plan last week (see here).

Although this post largely concerns the US, efforts to protect the environment – and especially, address climate change – are being undertaken today worldwide. In London, more than 950 people haven been arrested in a series of climate change demonstrations organized by Extinction Rebellion, according to the BBC.

This Year’s Theme: Protect Our Species

The theme of Earth Day 2019: Protect Our Species. On that score, we’re not doing a very good job, to say the least. Many creatures – bees, insects, whales, birds, sea turtles, sharks, fish, to name just some – have seen a collapse in their populations, along with more general destruction of coral reefs, plants, and trees.

Last year’s theme was End Plastic Pollution. And as regular readers know, I’ve posted often on the problems plastics pollutions pose – occasionally offering suggests of what could – and should – be done.

What Is to Be Done?

Now, as individuals, we’re limited in how much we can achieve on big issues like saving the earth. Governments must step in to protect the environment.

I’m gratified to see younger people, such as Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, trying to do something about the catastrophes that confront the planet. Too little, too late? Perhaps.

But there’s something to be said to sparing some thoughts as to what one can do to lessen the burdens we impose on the earth.

So, at the risk of being accused of indulging in mere virtue signalling, here are a few suggestions.

The UN has tweeted a list of steps one can take to reduce use of plastics. I think far more comprehensive changes are needed in how we create and use plastics. The aim should be to reserve them for applications where there is no good alternative, rather than continuing mindlessly to pollute the planet with unnecessary single-use packaging and countless water bottles. I’m terrified by the ubiquity of microplastics, and relying on the recycling fairy to get us out of this mess is a non-starter.

Reducing the use of plastics would help protect species such as birds, fish, whales, and sea turtles, which die when they ingest plastics. It would also reduce pressures on coral reefs (see  here).

But for those new to the plastics party, some of these suggestions are worth following.

The WWF has produced a 30-day Earth Day challenge and again, I find little to quibble with here:

One other point about protecting species: the size of  both bee and insect populations have plummeted. There are many members of the NC community who know far more about promoting pollinators than I do – so I hope they’ll pop up with some Earth Day suggestions in comments.

If you have a yard, plant a tree, or pollinator-friendly plants. If you don’t, perhaps there’s room for containers, or window boxes?

Happy Earth Day 2019!

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  1. John Zelnicker

    I was at that first Earth Day in Philadelphia, held on the Belmont Plateau of Belmont Park overlooking the city. It was a truly inspiring event.

    Although the environmental movement was still in its infancy there were other groups that had begun to sound the alarm about the burden that the human population was placing on the Earth. One was Zero Population Growth (ZPG), of which I was a member. Their focus was on the Malthusian prediction of over-population as the cause of the ultimate destruction of civilization. Their proposed solution (among other things) involved urging nations to bring down their birth rates to replacement levels, or just below that. This had recently become more plausible with the invention of The Pill, which was seen as a kind of panacea for the high birth rates of developing countries that were necessitated by high infant mortality, along with providing better pre- and post-natal care.

    Jerri-Lynn – May 4, 1970, is burned into my memory as I was in the newsroom of the student newspaper (The Daily Pennsylvanian) when the news of the shootings at Kent State came over the UPI wire. I ran over to the school’s basketball facility where an anti-war rally was going on and the announcement of the killings was met with stunned silence, to be quickly replaced with horror, anger, and tears.

  2. Anon

    I, too, am old enough to have experienced the first Earth Day. And to have experienced first-hand the Santa Barbara Oil Spill that precipitated the event. And supported the local environmentalist, James ‘Bud’ Bottoms (deceased Sept., 2018), who energized the local community with his spontaneous Get Oil Out (GOO) environmental leadership.

    Today (this weekend) the local community environmental council will present the largest & longest continuing Earth Day event(s) in California. This is the legacy of the vision/determination of Bud and his GOO crew.

    You, too, can have a legacy in Saving (Y)Our Specie. Walk and cycle to your local event.

  3. akaPaul LaFargue

    Here in Berkeley we are commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Battle for People’s Park. A large format book by Heyday Press will be released on May 15th, Bloody Thursday. That day various California “law-enforcement” authorities, unleashed by Gov. Reagan, shot and killed one bystander, blinded another and brutalized and arrested many who came to create a park by disassembling a university parking lot.

    As a direct result of that oppression, neighbors living near the land cleared to trench the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) began creating their own park. On that strip of land stretching four city blocks trees where planted, a kids playground was welded together, music performed and large communal dinners took place.

    They called it People’s Park Annex. Friends of Ohlone Park are celebrating that reclamation on June 1st. The City of Berkeley formally proclaimed the park land as Ohlone Park, in recognition of the first inhabitants, in 1979.

    The founding of Earth Day, in which Berkeley played a large role, cannot be appreciated without recognizing the grassroots occupation of communal space. While Earth Day in subsequent years became of opportunity for branding, today, with the rise of direct action movements throughout the world, to fight the corporations responsible for climate change, that original impetus will be reclaimed.

  4. Wukchumni

    I was in 3rd grade I think on Earth Day in 1970, and our school had ‘planted’ trash for us to find in the far reaches of the campus, which we dutifully did & picked up, and that’s my story.

    Earth Day in 1970 also coincided with the stock market crashing, and my dad being out of work for a year or so, as things settled. There was no Santa Claus that came and saved Wall*Street via QE back in the day, nosireebob.

    “In the aftermath of that crash, financial consultant Max Shapiro constructed a list of 30 leading “glamour stocks” and their fate. He picked 10 leading conglomerates (like LTV), 10 computer stocks (led by IBM), and 10 hot technology stocks (Polaroid, Xerox, etc.). In Dun’s Review in January 1971, he showed that the 10 conglomerates fell by an average 86%, the computer stocks fell 80%, and the tech stocks fell 77%.”


    The bigger story of Earth Day for me was the beginning of the end of awful pollution in Los Angeles. It took awhile to manifest itself, but thanks to the EPA et al and catalytic converters, with leaded fuel being a thing of the past, things cleaned up real well, when you consider there’s 2x as many people as when I dreaded going to recess outside sometimes-circa 1970, as my eyes would sting from the foul air all around me.

  5. Darius

    I also was in the third grade, in Prince George’s County Maryland. Our principal, a great old lady named Miss Donovan, sent us out into the surrounding woods and scrub to pick up trash. There was a lot of it.

    The weather was nice. It felt like cutting school. It felt like we were accomplishing something. It was a memorable experience that had a great impact on me, and does to this day.

  6. political economist

    >>”Trillions of microplastic particles are already in our oceans.”

    Really? This must be several orders of magnitude too low. I think a recalculation is needed.

  7. wilroncanada

    Nice day for Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, to be married in Victoria, BC to John Kidder (brother of Lois Lane, aka Margot Kidder). Transportation provided by “Electric Car Club of Victoria.

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