by Terri Winder
Since last week’s column, it has come to my attention that there are (at least) a few people who really don’t like Earth Day. They have seemingly sorted the day into a pile of unappreciated rejects, along with Flower Power, Tree Huggers, and Hippie beads.
Now, I readily recognize that the day was first conceived during the same time period that produced brightly colored plaid polyester slacks for men—and while that definitely raises suspicions, it doesn’t make everything to do with the ‘70s bad.
Admit it; some of you were even born during that decade.
There is much we can learn from the founders of Earth Day.
For instance, Denis Hayes, the chief organizer. Back in 1970, at the first convention, he said, “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”
Okay, so maybe he was wrong—or maybe not. My teenagers are always telling me they’re starving to death. We need to give the guy a break; he was only 26 at the time and being influenced by older, supposedly much wiser people, like Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University biologist who predicted, “The population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”
Senator Gaylord Nelson, who appointed Hayes to organize the first Earth Day, sagaciously quoted an expert: “Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”
Just think, if they had just made all of the United States a critical habitat at that time perhaps there would still be sage grouse running around San Juan County today.
And then there’s George Wald, a biologist at Harvard University, who chimed in with his prediction, “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
During those years, they were rightly worried about pollution. In the January, 1970 issue of Life Magazine, readers were told, “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half…”
The term Global Warming had not yet been coined. Instead, they were worried about something ecologist Kenneth Watt put into words: “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years.
If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”
I’m not sure what reversed that trend. Maybe it was the heated discussions of the experts, or all the hot air from politicians. Or, perhaps it was simply ordinary, God fearing people getting hot under the collar over doomsday prophecies.
So, what can we learn from the founders of Earth Day? First, that life is never as dire as others say it is, and it would behoove us all to just chill (pun intended).
Second, we can all overcome past mistakes. (Despite his dismal record as a seer, Denis Hayes has had an illustrious career.)
And third, there is something good to be found in everything, if only we’re open minded enough to discover it. Even brightly colored plaid polyester slacks. I think.
Maybe I’ll have to get back to you on that one.