Bring It On!

My First Earth Day

April 22nd, 2008 | by Omnipotent Poobah |

Smelling the Roses, 1970Thirty-eight years ago I was a high school student. College campuses were afire with more protests than you could shake a stick at. At the risk of sounding like a “these whippersnappers today…” speech, kids today really don’t appreciate exactly how much general upheaval there was.

At the beginning of my sophomore school year an earnest young college organizer came to our school to form an environmental club. The club was a way for those of us still needing permission slips to attend anti-war protests to get involved in something “radical”. Our parents figured this whole environmental thing was nothing but an extension of Lady Bird Johnson’s Beautify America campaign and it seemed a safe bet a state trooper wouldn’t whack us in the head for picking up trash. For our part, we were excited more by the prospect of being able to skip class for club activities than about picking up trash.

The organizer spent his time telling us about environmental products available in the Whole Earth Catalog. Clearly, one day we’d all shower with water heated by solar stills and build our geodesic houses out of the cast off hoods of cars. Beer bottles, presumably since there were always so many lying around the commune, also seemed like a futuristic building material. We’d all crap in bio-composting outhouses too. Later, as I grew up, those meetings made it easier to understand why our cars weren’t flying, our robots weren’t sweeping our floors, and why Tang was the penultimate triumph of the recently won space race.

Ah Mom!
Over the months, the club began to disintegrate. Long lectures about composting dinner scraps - like your Mom would allow that - didn’t much hold the interest of a bunch of young horndogs trying to recruit cute chicks for the mostly male club. But in mid-winter our organizer started to talk about a huge celebration called Earth Day that would be another Woodstock. In April, millions of kids would descend on Washington and celebrate the Earth in a way no one could have ever imagined. We asked what there would be to do and our organizer simply said “celebrate” in that doe-eyed way true hippies had back then. They didn’t need no stinkin’ plans, everyone just “went with the flow”.

Ya dig?

April 22 came around and we all piled into the organizer’s wheezing VW Microbus - which spewed more pollution than a coal burning locomotive - and headed for Washington. The traffic jam was horrendous. Cars boiled over and many of the more laid back simply stopped in the middle of the street and wandered away to swim naked in the polluted Potomac. We were sure the Earth was being celebrated somewhere in the Washington Metro area, but it was something we took on faith rather than actual participation.

As with many 60s-era revolutions, the club ran out of steam. Our organizer didn’t show up to our meetings. Word had it he’d met a girl with hairy legs and flowers in her hair and they’d packed up the Microbus to move to Haight-Ashbury. We discussed merging our club with the primarily female student poetry magazine - Rutabaga Fudge - but stopped short of a real merger when it became apparent that listening to poetry might actually be required. We still got out of class to attend meetings, although our only further activity that year was to show up on picture day, hold up our stomach-churning green eco-flag, and pile atop one another to flip off the camera.

We’ve Come a Long Way Baby
Earth Day has come a long way since then, but it’s still more about style than substance. They teach environmental science in high school now. The classes are long on making posters about the far-off promise of wind farms and convincing your Mom to change the light bulbs at home. People still gather to celebrate the Earth, but the crowds are considerably smaller and no one runs off to skinny dip in the Potomac. Poor Al Gore has risen above his former wooden self to make movies and start a television network, making him look marginally hip. He uses solar panels at his palatial farm and buys carbon credits to offset things like the pumps for the swimming pool, but the global warming naysayers are getting the last laughs as this Earth Day rolls around.

Today’s Earth Day is still more about picking up beach trash than solar energy or wind power, but everything starts small and takes awhile to catch on - although 38-years seems a little glacial even by American societal standards. Picking up beach trash is better than nothing and a few Moms may have even been convinced to swap out the light bulbs (but only when the incandescents burn out). We still aren’t building houses out of car hoods or remembering that the Whole Earth Catalog turned into a middle-class chain of department stores. Earth Day isn’t dead, but it sure needs some life support.

Solar-powered life support, if we can manage it.


Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

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  1. 3 Responses to “My First Earth Day”

  2. By manapp99 on Apr 22, 2008 | Reply

    So your first earth day was when the scientific consensus was that the biggest problem we faced regarding the climate was global cooling?

  3. By Ken Grandlund on Apr 22, 2008 | Reply

    Nice look back at how far we haven’t come.
    It’s amazing that still protecting the environment from our worst excesses has to be so political. Plainly, it’s just common sense to try to keep our air and water clean, our soils productive, and our energy as pollution neutral as possible. Sadly, the politics and consumer economy have subverted the real point of environmental conservatism.
    Still, there are many reasons to jump on the “green” bandwagon if you disagree with the environmental science. For instance…lower dependence on fossil fuels means less of your money going into the hands of people who despise your way of life.

    Happy Earth Day.

  4. By Jet Netwal on Apr 22, 2008 | Reply

    Being able to swim naked in the Potomac 40 years after the first Earth Day would be a sign of progress. Guess we aren’t there yet, OP.

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