By Eilene Lyon
Today we celebrate Earth Day, an international event that takes place in nearly 200 countries around the globe, involving roughly a billion participants.
Throughout the 1960s, environmental legislation was going nowhere, as Americans roiled about our participation in the Vietnam War. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, an environmental champion, decided to create a national teach-in event, modeled after the anti-war protests.
Given how much cleaner our air and water are today, we sometimes get complacent about how bad it used to be – and could be again in the future. Denis Hayes, then a 25-year-old Harvard Law student, was the organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970. He reminded us in 2010 what it was like back then,
“In Los Angeles, for simply breathing, it was the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. We had rivers that were catching on fire, lakes that were dying. The national emblem the American eagle was on the verge of extinction.”
That first event finally pushed political action into the limelight. By the end of the year, the U. S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) had been formed, and anti-pollution laws started to get passed, namely the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act.
A few potential instigations for this event were the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, yet another fire on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River, and this earth-rise picture captured by NASA astronauts.
Image credit: NASA
The most quoted line from Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip is:
“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
But many don’t realize that line was created for a poster for the very first Earth Day in 1970. Kelly used it again in a 1971 Earth Day strip.
Pogo was one of my favorite comics growing up. My Grandma Halse had a couple of books of Pogo compilations. The genius of Walt Kelly (1913 – 1973) was his ability to make political satire fun for children as well as adults. Pogo, an opossum living in the Okefenokee Swamp, and his many animal friends had a delightful down-south vernacular that charmed and amused me. Kelly claimed that each character represented different aspects of his own personality drawn to extreme. Whatever his secret, he created a strip that has endured over time.
The Earth Day Network, which organizes Earth Day each year, also promotes year-round environmental activism. They partner with over a hundred thousand schools around the world, providing curriculum to use throughout the school year.
Likely there is an Earth Day celebration and activities in your community. But we should all think of every day as Earth Day. Think about how you can have a lasting impact. Help educate your friends and family about the need to care for our earth. And find ways to minimize your impact on the environment, such as driving less, recycling, and replacing your light bulbs.
https://fresnoalliance.com/earth-day-2011/ (pogo poster in color)