Boomers Set to Celebrate Earth Day

This week the world will mark the 53rd anniversary of the first Earth Day. It was the bipartisan efforts of Senator Gaylord Nelson (D, Wisconsin) and Congressman Pete McCloskey (R, California) that led to establishing a national day to raise awareness of the effects of man-made pollution on our air, land and water. April 22, 1970 saw the launch of the first Earth Day. With the help of student environmental activist Denis Hayes, Senator Nelson and Congressman McCloskey were able to form a national network of teach-ins on college campuses. Additional environmental protests, demonstrations and talks were held on a local level throughout the country. Ultimately, 20 million people participated in the day-long event.

The day galvanized a nationwide movement that had begun with the release of Rachel Carson’s 1962 book on the dangers of DDT, Silent Spring. As a direct result of the widespread popularity of the first Earth Day, a bipartisan effort in Congress led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (signed into law by Richard Nixon). Immediately after its establishment, Congress passed numerous laws and regulations not only concerning the pollution of air, water and land, but requiring remedies to clean up any aftereffects of industrial development. In 1970, there was support for these efforts across every demographic in the country.

In 1990, Earth Day went global. That day set the stage for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit. Today the United Nations remains a steady voice in advocating for environmental protections in countries large and small.

This year, an estimated 1 billion people will take part in Earth Day activities.

In honor of our shared boomer history, Mister B presents to you this Earth Day playlist of music from the boomer years.

Pollution – Tom Lehrer (1965)
Mister B still remembers this one:

If you visit American City
You will find it very pretty
But there are two things you must beware
Don’t drink the water
And don’t breathe the air

Shapes of Things – Yardbirds (1966)
A plea six decades ago is still prescient today:

Please don’t destroy these lands
Don’t make them desert sands

What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong (1967)
Envisioning a place where we all want to live, Satchmo sang:

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell (1970)
How can you not take these great lyrics to heart?

They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum…
Don’t it always seen to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Nature’s Way – Spirit (1970)
To the point:

It’s Nature’s way of telling you
Something’s wrong

Out In the Country – Three Dog Night (1970)
The lyric says it all:

Before the breathin’ air is gone
Before the sun is just a bright spot in the night time

Pollution – Bo Diddley (1971)
His guitar punctuated the lyrics:

We gotta keep America clean, honey
(We got to stop pollution)

Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) – Marvin Gaye (1971)
Both a lament and a prayer:

Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas (Have mercy, please have mercy, Father)
Fish full of mercury (Please have mercy, Father)

Don’t Go Near the Water – The Beach Boys (1972)
Part of their environmental concept album, Surf’s Up:

Oceans, rivers, lakes and streams
Have all been touched by man
The poison floating out to sea
Now threatens life on land

Mr. Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra (1977)
A song that speaks about hope for a better day:

Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why
You had to hide away for so long (so long)
Where did we go wrong?

Mister Boomer has posted about his personal experience on the first Day Day, and other environmental concerns. For additional reading:
Boomers Remember the First Earth Day
Boomers See Climate Change By Their Own Experiences

How about you, boomers? Did you have a connection to Earth Day or environmentally-conscious music?

Boomers Remember the First Earth Day

This “pause,” as the governor of New York has labelled our multiple-month home sheltering, has caused us to examine many things. One is, the fact that the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day was celebrated this past week without crowds of young people yelling at the Establishment to do something now, was sorely missed by Mister Boomer.

The anniversary reminded him of his Earth Day experience fifty years ago in April of 1970. Mister B has told the story before, how he and his sister made an Earth Day flag of green and white stripes with a Greek Theta symbol in the area that holds the stars on the national flag. It was something he saw somewhere, and wanted to copy the design, because the following day — Earth Day — he was to lead a bicycle parade for two miles to his high school. It worked well enough, suspended on the makeshift flagpole that he carried throughout the route.

Along the way, cars would honk at the parade of a few dozen teens on bikes, flag waving in the breeze, but it is still unclear to Mister B if they were honking in solidarity for this new national day of awareness or honking to get the group out of the way. Possibly a little of each.

Once the parade reached the high school, students, teachers and the principal were outside the school to greet them. Bikes away, students and teachers made their way into the awaiting classes. At 11 am, there was a scheduled school assembly outside in front of the building. Students filed out and sat on the grass to hear from some environmentally-minded science and art teachers. The principal came over and asked Mister B if he wanted to run his flag up the flagpole. The grommets he had hammered in the night before were perfect receptors for the clips of the flagpole. In a quick minute Mister B’s handmade Earth Day flag was waving under Old Glory.

It may seem a very liberal thing for a school to do back then, but history as well as personal memory tells us the mood of the country had changed since Rachel Carson’s publishing of Silent Spring in 1962. Living in an industrial city, every person in the school experienced air and water pollution on a daily basis, so it was a topic of great interest. At Mister B’s parochial school, the aims of the environmental movement were in direct harmony with religious teaching.

Here we are, now, in a situation that has made us stop and look out at what is happening on the other side of our windows. What is immediately evident is there are fewer cars on the roads, and many more birds chirping all through the day. Yet, despite awareness to the issue of pollution being raised for fifty years, the fact that reports indicate a thirty percent drop in nitrous dioxide pollution in the United States since the shelter-in-place orders were given a little more than a month ago, clearly show we have a long way to go to protect ourselves and our environment.

What memories do you have of the first Earth Day, boomers?