"May there only be peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life." —United Nations Secretary-General U Thant, 1971
April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, came on the heels of the Vietnam peace movement. This was a volatile era of monumental social change fueled by sit-ins and teach-ins, demonstrations, rallies and a changing political consciousness. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson modeled the first U.S. Earth Day as an environmental "teach-in." Over 2,000 colleges and universities, roughly 10,000 primary and secondary schools and hundreds of communities across the United States participated.
It was also the first time we saw the famous picture of the Earth from the moon taken by the Apollo astronauts. It was then that many of us first saw the earth in its entirety and likened it as Secretary General U Thant did to a spaceship. Or even more eloquently by astronomer Carl Sagan who remarked:
" ... Every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived (here) — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves."
Earth Day "brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform," noted Senator Nelson. Legendary singer activist Pete Seeger performed and was the keynote speaker at the Washington D.C. event. Ali McGraw and Paul Newman attended the New York City event.
Senator Nelson gave credit to the first Earth Day for persuading U.S. politicians to pass important environmental legislation. Many important laws were passed by the Congress in the wake of the 1970 Earth Day, including amendments to the Clean Air Act, laws to protect drinking water, wild lands and the ocean. Many of these laws are being attacked right now in Congress.
"Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level." Senator Nelson said. "That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself. Earth Day has become the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated in 175 countries by more than 5 million people.
Earth Day is a day for visioning how we humans want to interact with our mother planet. Imagine what our world would look like if all of us 5 million people put our minds together:
—Grocery shopping would be weekly trips to local farms to meet the people face-to-face who feed us.
—Buildings would be energy efficient, and some even produce their own electricity. Perhaps whole neighborhoods produce their own electricity and food and share a "cul de sac community garden and wind turbine."
—Cars are traded in for bicycles, as public transportation improves, and downtowns become more vibrant and walkable.
—Farmers plant wind turbines in farm fields for a second harvest of renewable energy.
—Recycling becomes a way of life as public receptacles appear on street corners and in schools.
—Asthma becomes a disease of the past as air quality improves, and buildings are made from materials that don't pollute.
—Local economies thrive as "green collar" jobs create opportunities for native sons and daughters to find lucrative careers and affordable homes in their own hometowns.
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at [email protected] To find out more about Shawn Dell Joyce and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.