Earth Day Evolves

So, there’s this article in the Star Tribune today (from the Washington Post) about Earth Day and how it’s different today than how it was 40 years ago.

I’ll highlight the parts that stick out to me, the rest is just historical fluff. I’ll vent at the end. Stay tuned…

(Here’s the link to the full article)

By DAVID A. FAHRENTHOLD and J ULIET EILPERIN Washington Post

Forty years ago, a few activists fired up Americans about environmentalism. Now, they fear the passion is gone.

WASHINGTON – Before Earth Day became what it is — a national ritual halfway between a street party and a guilt trip — it was a bunch of 20-somethings working in an office over a diner. It was 1970. They worked 15-hour days. They stuffed a lot of envelopes.

The original Earth Day emphasized “ecology” and goals such as reducing pollution and litter — along with a more anti-establishment vibe than today.

At the time, the Potomac River was choked with pollution-fueled algae blooms. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River had recently caught fire. Smog was so bad that, in 1966, it was blamed for killing more than 150 people in New York City. And even the bald eagle’s population had fallen below 1,000 nesting pairs in the continental United States, ravaged by the pesticide DDT.

“In 1969, most Americans couldn’t even define the word environment,” Hayes said. “By the end of 1970, a huge fraction of them thought of themselves as environmentalists.”

In the four decades that followed, the angrier, more ambitious environmental movement that sprang out of Earth Day made vast changes. New federal laws took on dirty air and poisoned water — and won.

Today the environmental cause is far more sophisticated, with thousands of environmental lawyers and advocates with advanced degrees and corporations rushing to advertise “green” products.

“But some of that passion that we had in 1970 has faded,” Hayes said.

The problems are more slippery: pollutants such as greenhouse-gas emissions, which don’t stink or sting the eyes. And current activists, by their own admission, rarely muster the kind of collar-grabbing immediacy that the first Earth Day gave to the causes.

“We won the argument that the environment needs to be protected,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “The conversation is now about at what pace do we need to reform, what are the most effective policy solutions we need to put in place, what the costs are going to be.”

Said Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, who took part in that first Earth Day: “We’re a strong interest group, but we have yet to have the kind of political clout you really need in today’s political world.”

My gripe:

“The problems are more slippery: pollutants such as greenhouse-gas emissions, which don’t stink or sting the eyes.” This statement encompasses the issue in this article. Forty years ago, the environmental problems were slap-you-in-the-face obvious. Americans were beyond disrespectful of “Mother Earth” and past the line of downright irresponsibility with pollution. One would be hard-nosed and even rebellious to disagree with the damage being done.

Today is a whole different story. It’s not a matter of a dead passion. It’s quite the opposite. While the activism may not grab you by your collar like the article suggested, environmentalism has grown into a shiite behemoth. EVERYONE is Green! Sarah and I were at Target this week and they were giving out green, reusable grocery bags Whenever we’re at Lunds and the bagging person asks if we want paper or plastic, they give us dirty looks if we say, “Plastic.”

The Green movement has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Everything is green. When a poorly researched movie wins a Nobel Prize (An Inconvenient Truth) and worldwide climate summits are being held — when an activist movement completely changes the world, I think it’s safe to say the passion has not died out.

Earth Day 40 years ago and Earth Day today may look completely different, but that’s because their success has surpassed their wildest dreams and they don’t even recognize their Green Baby.

While I may or may not agree with particular data or what seems like a Green religion, I can’t disagree with the impact of their movement. They have permeated not only American culture, but the entire world.

All in all, to sum up this whole BLAH of a post … I think it’s ridiculous for old activists to say “We’re not doing enough” or “We’ve lost our passion.”

Why not embrace and rejoice over their profound impact? Why not take a minute to consider the change they’ve instilled on the world, rather than scream discontentment or cry further foul?

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