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Global Scorning: Earth Day: Don't assume it's only about "flower power"

Michelle Udem

Issue date: 4/24/09 Section: Opinion
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Denis Hayes, an environmental activist and head of Environmental Teach-In, worked on the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
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Denis Hayes, an environmental activist and head of Environmental Teach-In, worked on the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

Images of flower power stickers and "radical" hippies may have been your first thought when Earth Day approached this past Wednesday. Or maybe you felt a little nostalgic and recalled drawing pictures of children hugging the earth back in elementary school. However, Earth Day organizers, and I, want to clarify this image for you. Earth Day is not simply a Hallmark holiday. It is not a variation of Mother's Day or Valentine's Day - Earth Day is a salute to awareness and education.

At its most basic, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the environmental movement in 1970. Founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, wanted to "shake up the political establishment and force this issue [environmentalism] onto the national agenda."

Recall that the '70s were a time of gas-guzzling and rising oil prices. This was also an era when smokestacks were unregulated and tainted the sky gray. Legal consequences and bad press were of little concern to big industries, since politicians were not yet sensitive to environmental regulation. Big businesses thrived without regard to externalities and consequences.

April 22, 1970 marked the beginning of change. Concerned citizens protested in the streets, parks and auditoriums all over America. About 20 million Americans demonstrated for a healthier and more sustainable environment. The Earth Day national coordinator, Denis Hayes, organized coast-to-coast rallies, involving thousands of colleges and universities to protest against the lack of political support for environmental issues and the absence of regulation on polluting industries. On this day, groups were energized against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, loss of wilderness, and the growing extinction of native flora and fauna. For the first time in history, all of these concerns were recognized as being related with the potential outcome of destroying this big blue planet. From this point in time began concerted and coordinated global efforts to save the planet and man from destroying himself with unabated poisoning of his environment.
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Fun Page

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  • Case Culture: Summer break shouldn't break your back
  • Editorial: Semester grades
  • Global Scorning: Earth Day: Don't assume it's only about "flower power"
  • Red, White, and Skewed: So many crises, so little time


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