Earth Day then and now

I remember the buzz about the first Earth Day. I was 13 years old and probably saw posters about the event in my school. I’m sure my best friend, Cynthia, had some involvement in it. Her parents were the most likely candidates to be environmentalists of anyone else I knew. I don’t remember what actually I did for Earth Day 1970, but I must have done something enjoyable because I remember wondering, years later, whatever happened to Earth Day?

First View of Earth from Moon (photo courtesy NASA)

The summer before the first Earth Day the world had seen the first image of our planet from the surface of the moon. Perhaps seeing that image made the inhabitants of Planet Earth see our planet as a more fragile place than we’d done before. I don’t remember being environmentally aware until the spring of 1970, but after that I became more conscious about protecting the Earth.

At first I think the emphasis was on littering. There were campaigns to not litter. I took it to heart and made sure I didn’t contribute to litter of any kind. After that I remember being aware of industrial pollution. In high school my friend Cindy Mahaffy and I made plans to protest toxic emissions outside a local factory with signs stating, “Don’t pour filth into the air, Air is the best thing that we can breathe.” (a line from Donovan’s song, “Spaceship Earth”).

Later in high school or perhaps junior college, I remember doing a report about solar energy and recall learning a lot about the subject. I also remember learning that switching to solar energy cost a lot of money for the folks who switched and realized, even then, that regular people were not even going to bother.

I became an ovo-lacto vegetarian in college and had big plans for my future. I’d live in a log cabin, grow my own food (including cows for milk and chickens for eggs) I wouldn’t have a television. The fact that I also wanted to live in a forest might have caused my crops to fail didn’t phase me at the time, but here I sit now, meat-eater, in a large brick house in the suburbs, with a television on every story, not to mention enough computers to furnish a small classroom.

But getting back to Earth Day thoughts — After college I don’t think I really thought much about the environment for a long time. I don’t remember recycling in Pittsburgh at all. I began eating meat again after college as well.

I took a class on environmental issues for teaching certification. That got me thinking again saving planet Earth, especially in respect to recycling for some reason. We began recycling even though curbside recycling was not an option. We’d save our cans and newspapers and take them to a drop-off station and feed the recyclables to large colorful receptacles with monster faces. It was kind of fun. I’d also embraced vegetarianism again thanks to a Mall event where PITA was featured largely. I also was incorporating lessons the environment into teaching.

In 1990 my husband and I were living in Alexandria, Virginia. It was the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day and Washington DC was hosting a huge Earth Day festival, complete with Tom Cruise. I wanted to see Tom Cruise. Oh, and I wanted to attend the festival for other reasons as well. It was Earth Day after all. An event I’d waited 20 years for. So we took the metro to the Mall, sat in the sun, heard Tom Cruise. Walked around a little and then walked home. It was a long walk. But it was Earth Day after all.

Earth from space 1972 (photo courtesy NASA)

Then one day, perhaps a very warm day in mid-winter or something, I realized that global warming was real after all. I’ve made some changes — compact fluorescent bulbs in a few lights, trying to remember to turn off lights and appliances when they are not being used and expanding my recycling to office paper and junk mail.

I’ve got a long way to go to reduce my carbon footprint. I’m not as bad as some, but also not as good as others. I keep the heat too high in the winter (but rarely use air conditioning in the summer). I drive where I could walk (but I don’t commute to work).

We’ve come a long way from that first Earth Day. It’s good to see that the concept has been embraced by many traditionally conservative groups, but some will never get it.

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