I still have my slightly worn and yellowed copy of Earth Day - The Beginning : A Guide for Survival (compiled and edited by the National Staff of Environmental Action and published by Bantam Books in 1970 for the first Earth Day). I remember heading on April 22, 1970 to the far south side of Chicago to observe the thick smoke pouring from the stacks of the now-closed steel mills. I also remember the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day and the rush of corporate America to commercialize the holiday that grew out of a grassroots teach-in. “Think globally, Act Now” I thought should have been the slogan in 1990, and yet here we are today, nearly thirty years hence, with a President and a Congress that question basic science.
The problems of caring for and preserving our environment are not new, but the methods of destroying it seem to grow more rapid and more powerful every year. On March 13, 1909, Progressive Magazine founder Fighting Bob La Follette, writing about Teddy Roosevelt’s efforts to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the United States Forest Service, wrote:
“These questions are not of this day only, or of this generation. They belong to all the future. Their consideration requires that high moral tone which regards the Earth as the home of a posterity to whom we owe a sacred duty. The idea will enoble any people upon which its real significance once more fully dawns.”
The April 1970 issue of The Progressive was a special issue for the first Earth Day. Extra copies were printed and given to organizers and activists for a variety of events. Additional copies of the magazine were made available at a discount, and readers were encouraged to give copies to: “those who influence policymakers— your church study group, your students or teachers, your local newspaper editors, your minister, priest, or rabbi, your union staff and members, your state legislators and local officials, and others who can be helpful in the struggle to restore the environment and guard against future destruction.”
The issue featured a series of articles by key environmental thinkers, as well as a prologue and a final article on actions and resources prepared by the magazine’s staff. Today, for this year’s Earth Day, we share excerpts of some of those articles:
Action for Survival: A Prologue by the Editors
…It may sound apocalyptic to suggest that man and the nature he corrupts are speeding toward extinction. But the harsh reality, as emphasized by many of our hard-headed experts, is that a new Four Horsemen— Overpopulation, Pollution, the Famine of Resources, and Nuclear War—are riding relentlessly on their mission of destruction.
The process of ravaging our planet has been going on for a long time. The obsessive American hunger for growth, more creature comforts, and an ever fatter Gross National Product—no matter how great the price for polluting and pillaging our national heritage—has contributed significantly to the mounting crisis in our segment of the earth. To question the sacred assumption that economic growth is always an unmixed' blessing is, as The Wall Street Journal noted recently, "to threaten the American dream itself."
But the dream has become a nightmare. A runaway technology, whose only law is profit, has for decades corrupted our air, ravished our soil, denuded our forests, and polluted our water resources. The result is an environment assailed by noxious doses of fumes, sewage, smoke, noise, filth, chemicals, ugliness, and urban decay. And the crisis is compounded by a steadily rising population in defiance of all sense and science.
…To think of cleaning up the environment without emphasizing the social structure at least as much as the physical strikes us as an exercise in self deception. Neither means much without the other. A polluted political system which enables a handful of senile Southerners to dominate, through the seniority system, the law making body of a supposedly free people is a political system which finds racism, poverty, and poisoned rivers equally congenial in its scheme of things.
Readers of this special issue will note the strong emphasis of our contributors on the links between the challenge on the environmental front and these other problems. For example, they cite the war in Vietnam as a major obstacle to meeting the environmental crisis. It is significant that such men of science as George Wald, Paul Ehrlich, Barry Commoner, and David Inglis, and men of politics such as Mayor John Lindsay and Senator Gaylord Nelson—all contributors to this issue —are among the country's most outspoken critics of the Vietnam war and of the enormously swollen U.S. military budget. The true ecological crusaders and the peace crusaders have a common objective—a world to save from war, poverty, racism—and pollution.
Youth Speaks Up - Earth Day: A Beginning by Denis Hayes
Articles on ecology generally tend to lead off with lists of disasters. But the shock effect of disasters is gone. Today such lists may even be counter-productive. They suggest we have a number of specific problems we must address. We don't. We have THE PROBLEM. All ecological concerns are interrelated parts of the problem of perpetuating life on this frail planet, and our approach to them must be holistic. It is absolute folly to continue to pursue piecemeal solutions— when we know full well that the pesticides, the detergents, and the dams are all fouling the same river.
This is not to say that the new ecologists oppose patchwork improvements—only that we're fairly indifferent to them. If bandages and baling wire make life a little better, that's fine. But the cosmetic alterations being offered by our politicians and our industrialists don't really speak to THE PROBLEM at all. They are the kinds of marginal compromises that a skillful player makes to keep control of the game. The precedents are clear.
Other social movements have tramped across the dusty American stage. Many began in search of fundamental change; all failed. Our movement must be different.
…We can't be bought, because we demand something the existing order can't produce. We demand a lower productivity and a wider distribution. We demand things which last, which can be used and reused. We demand less arbitrary authority, and more decentralization of power. We demand a fundamental respect for nature, including man—even though this may sometimes result in "inefficiency."
Dissident groups accentuate different concerns, but our fundamental goals tend to be shared: ending exploitation, imperialism, and the war-based economy; guaranteeing justice, dignity, education, and health to all men. A focus on one concern does not mean a neglect of the others: We are able to seek more than one goal at a time. Those of us who have fought against the war will continue to do so until it is ended; those who have sought racial justice will not be satisfied until it is realized.
All these goals fall under a single unified value structure. This value is difficult to articulate, but posited most simply it might read: "the affirmation of life."
…"We affirm life —a life in harmony with Nature." And that's what April 22 is really all about.
Thousands of campuses and communities all across America will be taking part in Earth Day. Each will focus its attention upon the degradation of its local environment. Each will try to develop a holistic strategy for improvement. Some local groups are going to be "We can't be bought because we demand something the existing order can't produce." reasonably moderate; others will be much more militant. None has any illusions about turning America around in one day, or one week, or one year. But it's a beginning.
April 22 is a tool—something that can be used to focus the attention of a society on where we are heading. It's a chance to start getting a handle on it all; a rejection of the silly idea that somehow bigger is better, and faster is better, world without limit, amen. This has never been true. It presumes infinite resources, and it presumes a mastery by Man over Nature, and over Nature's laws. Instead of seeking harmony, man has sought to subdue the whole world. The consequences of that are beginning to come home. And time is running out.
That is what April 22 is all about.
Denis Hayes, a graduate of Stanford University, is entered at the Kennedy School of Government and the Law School at Harvard. He is now on leave to serve full-time as the national coordinator of Environmental Action.
Salvation: It's Possible by Barry Commoner
With startling suddenness environmental pollution has jumped to the top of the agenda of public concern. A short time ago the condition of the environment was largely a subject for discussion among scientists; although some of us did venture from our laboratories to alert the public and legislators to the problem, until recently the response was one of polite attention, but little demand for remedial action. Now, suddenly, things are different: Environmental pollution is a major public concern.
The immediate reasons for this concern are not difficult to detect, for they assail our senses every day: Our eyes smart with smog; our cars throb with the noise of automobiles, aircraft, and construction tools; we are assailed by the odors of polluted waters and the sight of mounting heaps of rubbish.
Less apparent than the fact of pollution is what can be done about it. The problems are enormous in size: Cities are running out of places to dump garbage, and a lake as large as Erie has been nearly totally polluted. The problems are bewildering in their complexity: If we expand sewage treatment facilities, the effluent nourishes aquatic plants and we only intensify the pollution caused by rotting masses of algae; if we incinerate garbage, we intensify air pollution; if we attempt to control smog by means of exhaust devices which reduce waste fuel emission, we worsen the pollution caused by nitrogen oxides.
The degradation of the environment in which we live has become a pervasive, intractable, discouraging problem. It clashes noisomely with the magnificent progress of the age, with the marvelous competence of our new machines, with the rising productivity of our factories and our farms, with the new inventions that have revolutionized communications and management.
Why has a society which is so enriched by the progress of technology now become so impoverished in the quality of the life which that technology supports? What are the causes of this dismaying phenomenon? What lessons can be learned from the environmental crisis that might help us survive it?
…. What can we do to avert the environmental crisis? I have tried to describe the nature of the environmental crisis, and to illuminate, from what we now know, its fundamental causes. In brief, we are in a crisis of survival; for environmental pollution is a signal that the ecological systems on which we depend for our life and our livelihood have begun to break down and are approaching the point of no return.
My own estimate is that if we are to avoid environmental catastrophe by the 1980s we will need to begin the vast process of correcting the fundamental incompatibilities of major technologies with the demands of the ecosystem.
… The environmental crisis is a grim challenge. It also is a great opportunity. From it we may yet learn that the proper use of science is not to conquer nature, but to live in it. We may yet learn that to save ourselves we must save the world that is our habitat. We may yet discover how to devote the wisdom of science and the power of technology to the welfare, the very survival, of man.
[Barry Commoner is director of the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at Washington University. He wrote Science and Survival, available in Viking Compass paperback.]
The Profits in Pollution by Ralph Nader
The modern corporation's structure, impact, and public accountability are the central issues in any program designed to curb or forestall the contamination of air, water, and soil by industrial activity. While there are other sources of pollution, such as municipalities dumping untreated or inadequately treated sewage, industrial processes and products are the chief contributors to the long-term destruction of natural resources that each year increases the risks to human health and safety.
Moreover, through active corporate citizenship, industry could soon overcome many of the obstacles in the way of curbing non-corporate pollution.
…The toilet training of industry to keep it from further rupturing the ecosystem requires an overhaul of the internal and external levers which control corporations.
… The battle of the environmentalists is to preserve the physiological integrity of people by preserving the natural integrity of land, air, and water. The planet earth is a seamless structure with a thin slice of sustaining air, water, and soil that supports almost four billion people. This thin slice belongs to all of us, and we use it and hold it in trust for future earthlings. Here we must take our stand.
[Ralph Nader is the outspoken public advocate who came into national prominence four years ago with his book, Unsafe at Any Speed. This spring Grossman will publish the reports of "Nader's Raiders" on pesticides and on air and water pollution.]
The 'New Citizenship' for Survival: An Interview with Senator Gaylord A. Nelson conducted by Erwin Knoll
EK: You have referred to the 1960s as a time of "a great awakening" to the environmental crisis. Why has this awakening come now, after years of indifference and neglect?
GN: Before the 1960s it was still possible for people to delude themselves that the environment was not a problem—that space was virtually limitless, at least in the United States; that the rivers and lakes were abundant and the resources more than plentiful. There were those who warned that reckless disregard for the environment would spell disaster, but they were ignored.
By the 1960s, however, with prosperity and the population boom reaching an unparalleled peak, it became rapidly apparent that the landscape was in trouble. Expansion and construction were in full swing, industry was enjoying massive growth and success, and life was more comfortable for most Americans. Bulldozers were rumbling and tearing away at the landscape to make space for the suburban developments sprawling concentrically out from the core cities. Tentacles of concrete stretched and criss-crossed in all directions to make room for the ever-growing number of automobiles.
We began to see graphically in the 1960s that the rivers, streams, and lakes—even the oceans—would not exist much longer if society continued to look upon them as bottomless receptacles for sewage and wastes. We also began to see the gathering of clouds of poisonous gases formed by the fumes of millions of automobiles and from countless smokestacks spread across the countryside, until it was almost impossible to find fresh, clean air anywhere.
The 1960s were a time when the environmental crisis facing mankind was no longer something that could be considered the problem of future generations. It was the survival problem of this generation, here and now.
EK: What are the most urgent steps we must take now if we are to preserve our environment?
GN: The immediate step must be a move against municipal and industrial pollution of the air and water. Coupled with that we must move to rid America in the 1970s of the massive pollution from five of the most heavily used products of the affluent age in which we live. With firm Federal action, these five problems can be solved, and their solution can have an important impact on the crisis. The areas are: the internal combustion automobile engine, hard pesticides, detergent pollution, aircraft pollution, and non-returnable containers.
EK: It seems to me you are suggesting that this environmental issue can serve as the vehicle for creating a genuine new politics in America.
GN: I think it will, and I think it is doing that right now. There is no issue on any campus in America that is drawing the crowds of students and townspeople that the environmental issue is drawing at this time. The issue is there, and the activity will continue to increase all across the nation concerning this issue.
EK: Is it fair to conclude, then, that you are optimistic about our chances of reversing present trends toward ecological disaster?
GN: Well, I am tremendously encouraged by the dramatically escalating concern of the people of this country over environmental deterioration—a concern that has just begun to find its expression in the past two years, and especially in the past year. If it can maintain its momentum, I see some reason for optimism. But the difficult and expensive decisions are still to be faced, and I think it's too early to say how we will face them.
[Senator Gaylord A. Nelson, Wisconsin Democrat, was a leading spokesman for conservation and environmental protection long before the cause became fashionable. Now in his second Senate term, he has sponsored dozens of bills designed to combat pollution and to protect and expand the nation's natural resources. He is co-sponsor with Representative Paul N. McCloskey, Jr., California Republican, of the National Teach-in on the Crisis of the Environment to be held on April 22.]
When the People Speak Up —The Editors
Although the crisis of survival is man-made, the chances of survival and the achievement of a balance between man and nature are also in man's hands. Pollution and destruction have been the trademarks of our lust for profit and growth, but in recent years there have been signs—slight, to be sure—that an enlightened populace, mobilized for political action, can halt if not reverse the poisoning of our environment.
We have brought together below a few examples of modest success achieved by an aroused people confronted by environmental challenge. These examples are not intended to indicate that the struggle ahead will be an easy one. Far from it. But they do suggest that an organized, militant community can achieve a measure of success in its own area even as the larger struggle is fought out on the national and global fronts.
…Student Power: The brightest hope for progress on the environmental front rests with American youth who this year have enrolled by the tens of thousands in local, state, and national campaigns to restore and preserve the quality of life. In the best traditions of the democratic process they are educating the citizenry on environmental needs, supporting political action to reduce pollution of air and water, and campaigning for conservation of scarce land resources.