Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy 40th, Earth Day!

The idea of Earth Day is more cogent to me this year because of my trip to China. I’m still mulling all the experiences, but one thing was very clear: the overwhelming pollution in Chongqing. A greyness hangs in the air, all the time. You wake up and it’s grey and it stays that way—you have no idea what time of day it is, because you can’t see the sky or the sun. Every day. For a New Yorker used to lovely blue days, it has an apocalyptic feel to it. The film Children of Men flashes in my mind.

This photo is outside of the convention center (with the wonderful Hi-Tech Fair blue mascots) and it could just look like an overcast day. The first few days I thought it was. But it became evident that this is pollution in the air that doesn’t change.

The current Green Movement’s roots are in Earth Day, a grass-roots movement that was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and produced by a consortium of people, with Denis Hayes as the chief organizer.

Earth Day before Facebook and Twitter
My Paley Center colleague Ron Simon has written a very interesting post about the phenomenon of Earth Day and the shooting at Kent State being days apart in a world before the instant connections of social media.

Money quotes:
"Earth Day was the largest demonstration in American history, drawing more than twenty million people into the streets of every community to appreciate the planet we shared and were rapidly polluting. The response from schools and local groups was overwhelming with everyone in agreement that the environment was deteriorating, but could be saved with concerted awareness. Teach-ins (now such an antiquated term) abounded, and the country found a new sensibility of the natural. It was the genesis of the green movement, which has profoundly affected how we think about our resources.


But the optimistic feelings of Earth Day quickly dissipated with President Nixon's announcement of the Cambodian invasion on April 30. Protest marches ensued the next day, but the lingering confrontation on the Kent State campus resulted in the noon shooting of four students by National Guardsmen on May 4. The news of those killings reached almost every student, high school and college, by evening. During the next and succeeding days the educational system was paralyzed by a student strike; almost five hundred schools were closed. War had never been so real for the student population."

The Earth Day organizers got the word out in a number of ways, including mass mailings (not very green) and radio. I know they got the word out to the Girl Scouts of America because I was a new Brownie, and our troop ended up picking up trash in a local park during that first Earth Week. You should pop over to Ron’s blog and read the interesting comments from people about where they were. One commentor was in Philadelphia, a ground zero for the movement, which included then-activist before he became the Unicorn Killer Ira Einhorn!

George Carlin's Not Having Any Of It

It can be easy to mock the green movement.

"I'm tired of f***ing Earth Day, I'm tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren't enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for their Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don't give a s*** about the planet. They don't care about the planet. Not in the abstract they don't. Not in the abstract they don't. You know what they're interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They're worried that some day in the future, they might be personally inconvenienced.

The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we're gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, 'cause that's what it does. It's a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it's true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn't share our prejudice towards plastic." (See the whole routine here.)

Maybe George never went to Chongqing. Maybe he never experienced that level of pollution. After 2 days of being outside of the filtered air of the wonderful Hilton Hotel, I became unwell. I’m not particularly sensitive to environmental factors, but all that chemical stagnation got to me.

So I’m open to trying to do what I can on a personal level and in the voting booth to keep my New York skies blue--sadly the most memorable of all time was on the morning of 9/11--and hopefully help the Chinese citizens reclaim theirs.

(Confetti from opening ceremony of Chongqing High-Tech Fair)


Juli said...

Ha! George Carlin is absolutely right! I am an environmentalist for entirely selfish reasons. I want clean air, water and skies so I can live. And you can live. And the rest of the planet can live.

If we keep effing up the environment, the earth will be fine-- without us. We aren't killing the planet, we are killing ourselves.

So for our own survival, what's a little inconvenience?

Thanks for the post about my blog!


M.A.Peel said...

Hi Juli. Yeah, the extreme condition of the environment is no laughing matter.