By Carl Teichrib
The idea for Earth Day goes back to 1962 and Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Convinced that environmental issues needed greater exposure, Nelson suggested to President Kennedy that he embark on a “national conservation tour.” The following year Kennedy went on a five-day excursion promoting environmental conservation, but it never generated the political interest….”10
Only a few years later, during the height of the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, Senator Nelson hit on the idea of a national educational event to create environmental awareness; the “first national environmental teach-in.” This event, planned for April 22, 1970, was to be styled after the war protest movement, and it was aimed at capturing the interest and energy of young people – a generation going through one of the largest cultural shifts in the history of the United States. Not surprisingly, Nelson’s first Earth Day speech reflected this cultural shift, boasting that April 22 was to be the “birth date of a new American ethic that rejects the frontier philosophy that the continent was put here for our plunder…”11
Decades after the initial event, Nelson’s assistant who coordinated the Earth Day national teach-in campaign, Denis Hayes, told an interviewer that:
“We consciously set out to build a movement to bring America back together, and let everyone under the umbrella with a shared set of values.”12
New ethics and a common set of values were to guide this movement, and act as the inspiration for college students in their environmental advocacy. Remember, this was April 22, 1970, and the students of that era represent a wide swath of today’s political, business, academic, and religious leadership. Senator Nelson understood the potential power of tapping the nation’s youth.
Helping to make this inaugural Earth Day a success, a special book of essays was compiled through Friends of the Earth and distributed nation-wide to teachers and professors. Titled, The Environmental Handbook: Prepared for the First National Environmental Teach-In, April 22, 1970, this volume introduced a new set of social ideals that would point America to a better world. Tens of thousands of copies were distributed, and 20 million young people across the US celebrated what was to become a global movement: Earth Day.
But what of those values laid out in The Environmental Handbook? Were they based on the core Judeo-Christian tenets of Western thought and law? Did they support common sense conservation: erosion control, maintaining a balanced wildlife population, curbing toxic pollutants, or stemming the tide of invasive species?
Pollution was addressed, with a population control twist. Land use was also discussed, while demeaning “conventional cattle ranching.”
Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, contributed a doomsday scenario to ignite impressionable minds: By 1973 air pollution would be choking cities, causing single-event smog disasters with death tolls in the hundreds of thousands – all heralding the advent of a global air quality collapse that would make the “planet uninhabitable” sometime before 1990. By the mid-seventies, the US grain belt would be turning into the great Mid-western desert, wiping out food stocks. During this time period, Ehrlich speculated, America’s resource sector would be collapsing and a national “family planning” program would have to be set up alongside an international agenda to curb the human population. By the summer of 1979, the world’s oceans would be dead and all sea-based animal life extinct.13 Click here for footnotes and to read entire article.