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Earth Day and beyond.

Earth Day 1970 gained its legendary success from the individual actions of the 20 million Americans who joined the celebration. One mayor helped plant trees. A governor picked up trash. Thousands of university students poured out for teach-ins. But after that glorious day in April 1970, something went wrong with the environmental movement.

Congressman Norm Mineta, deputy whip of the House, recalls that back on April 22, 1970, when he was vice mayor of San Jose, California, he drove to Booksin Elementary School to plant a grove of trees. Today the trees at the school are alive and well. But Mineta, reflecting on the intervening 20 years, says that instead of getting better, "Many environmental problems have gotten worse. "

Air and water pollution, deforestation, the landfill crisis, toxic wastes, and galloping development all demand attention as urgently as they did 20 years ago. Some of the gravest threats we face-global warming, ozone depletion-weren't even recognized in 1970 and thus are nowhere near being solved.

So, what went wrong?

Mineta notes that Earth Day inaugurated an era of public awareness of conservation issues. And no doubt that concern is growing-seemingly exponentially in the past year. Time ma azine reports receiving five times as much mail on environmental issues as it did only a year ago. AFA board member Carl Reidel, head of the University of Vermont's environmental program, relates that 240 students signed up this year for an introductory environmental course that attracted exactly half that number last year. Meanwhile, the national media are racing to produce environmental articles and documentaries to take advantage of the public's current attention.

But the burgeoning public concern doesn't seem to have made environmental leaders complacent. This year's celebration will definitely not be a happy, self-congratulatory commemoration of 20 years of increasing success; rather, Earth Day 1990 is more likely to be a review of how much remains to be done.

Dennis Hayes, who led the first Earth Day organization and who stepped away from a law practice to take charge of this April's event, has done some serious thinking about that 20-year period and what went wrong. He acknowledges the American conservation movement-including the early role of AFA-as a long and distinguished tradition. But despite the high hopes on Earth Day 1970 and despite the greater willingness of environmentalists to take to the streets since then, Hayes-who once headed the Solar Energy Research Institute and who still remembers marching down Fifth Avenue on Earth Day wearing a gas mask-says, "Those of us who set out to change the world are poised on the threshold of utter failure. Measured on virtually any scale, the world is in worse shape today than it was 20 years ago. "

What happened-and did not happen-between 1970 and 1990? For one thing, a long string of federal environmental legislation and court victories and an alphabet soup of federal environmental agencies and armies of environmental lawyers proved unequal to the task of cleaning up our country.

Among those involved in Earth Day 1970 and Earth Day 1990, and in the environmental crusade during the intervening years, the most interesting common conclusion is that Americans rely too heavily on the federal government. Encouraged by the quick response that followed the first Earth Day, we failed to realize that the government is also the largest polluter in the nation and often exempts itself from the same rules it requires industry to follow.

For 1990, the horizon of opportunity is defined by the individual and the changes each of us is willing to make, first in our own life and then in our neighborhood, our state, and our nation. just as AFA's Global ReLeafs initiative offers each of us the chance to take a first step toward a better environment, the organizers of Earth Day 1990 are looking first to individual action. They are going back to Earth Day's roots.

The presumption is that only determined individuals willing to act will take the steps that lead to more sustainable national policy. It is now clear that the easy solutions we looked for in 1970 do not exist. Instead, managing one's own life more responsibly is the first and most do-able step in the sequence that leads to change at the national level.

Though there will no doubt be a large number of new participants celebrating on April 22, 1990, also in attendance will be huge numbers of veterans of the first Earth Day, and this time they have an agenda. The organizers of Earth Day 1990 will see that the event marks the beginning of a green era in America-a trend already predicted by various market research firms-in which environmental concerns dominate the public consciousness and drive consumer decisions.

A second distinct break with the older thinking of Earth Day 1970 is a recognition that Americans will have to break a very old cultural habit and begin to plan effectively for distant problems. We have always been good at reacting and rather poor at long-term planning. Launch Sputnik and we will have NASA up and funded in a flash, but tell us the world will eventually run out of oil and nothing much happens. Similarly, we study global warming, ozone depletion, and other doubtlessly catastrophic events foreseen for the future, but we won't do much until the second shoe finally falls.

For example, the current ballyhoo over biodegradable plastics as a solution to the waste problem fails to recognize that mixing biodegradable plastics with other plastics renders them all impossible to recycle. Incinerators that reduce the volume of the waste stream by putting much of it in the air and concentrating the rest in ash that creates its own disposal problem, a nuclear weapons industry with a $150 billion cleanup bill, and agricultural practices that depend on chemicals that concentrate downstream are all aspects of our American willingness to forget about planning for tomorrow.

But perhaps the hardest lesson from Earth Day 1970 is that we did not ask enough of those who took part. The Earth Day 1990 generation of environmentalists must not only preach, they must practice, and we all know that won't come easily.

Research establishes that building more energy-efficient homes could cut energy consumption by two-thirds, that eating lower on the food chain (fish, veggies, etc.) could cut energy use in the food system by two-thirds, and that buying automobiles that are much more efficient relative to their size would cut gasoline consumption by half. We need only to do what we already know how to do.

Similarly, trees are too important for anyone in a sustainable world to use only once. They save energy when planted for shade or as a windbreak, and they are recyclable when used as fuel in efficient, clean woodburning applications.

Asking supporters to wean themselves from a dependence on government, to plan for distant problems before they go beyond the point of no return, and to adopt more responsible lifestyles may not be easy-and it certainly won't be wonderfully popular, but it remains the central plank in the Earth Day 1990 platform.

Equally encouraging, the organizers of this Earth Day have expressed a strong recognition that the environmental movement failed to diversify both in the people who share its goals and in the range of remains sadly narrow. The participation of minorities and women in meaningful roles has been slow to develop.

In the face of this kind of candid assessment, Earth Day 1990 has gathered what the New York Times described as the "broadest range of environmental groups ever assembled. " Congressman John Lewis, a veteran civil rights activist who spent Earth Day 1970 on a voter registration drive in the South, notes that his Atlanta district is racially and economically mixed-poor, rich, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, and Asians-but they all unite on one issue: the environment and, more specifically, trees. These diverse people are willing to translate their active interest in the environment into days spent planting trees.

Their involvement is what the Earth Day 1990 organizers want to generate throughout America, and their concern are what will create the green decade of the 1990s. As Congressman Lewis explained recently, "What we do as a nation, as a people, to protect and save not just American society but our whole environment will be the dominant issue of the 1990s. The concerns raised 20 years ago are still with us. The Earth is fragile, and we must continue efforts to protect the environment. "

Throughout the U.S., voters are recognizing their greater opportunity to make a difference on a local level, and they are pushing for environmental sensitivities once thought impossible to achieve. Minnesota has passed a law requiring 25 to 35 percent of the state's garbage to be recycled. Vermont has banned CFCS, while Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Massachusetts are all forcing cuts in acid rain. New York New Jersey, and the six New England states passed auto emission standards equal to the tough regulations already in effect in California, Texas has 90 percent of its public vehicles running on compressed natural gas, and New Jersey has announced a Global Climate Initiative.

These states, and numerous communities as well, are documenting the accuracy of the prediction of a green 90s. The new movement is a popular citizens' crusade requiring no particular credentials or membership-only a determination to act personally and responsibly.

For AFA members and supporters, there is much work to be done for trees, and it is trees that create the first entry step for many Americans into a larger environmental awareness and commitment. AFA sees the greatest need as being in our urban areas, where we are literally deforesting our own communities through neglect.

We need to plant 100 million trees in our towns and cities. The savings in energy, the improvement in air quality, and the increased property-tax income from planted areas could then serve as encouragement and a source of funding for other areas of the country.

This is only a tiny part of the great circle being drawn by Earth Day 1990, but it is one of the few positive steps that you and I can take right now and know we are stepping in the right direction, both for ourselves and for our children.

Global ReLeafe groups all over the nation are planning Earth Day 1990 activities, and Global ReLeafe and Earth Day 1990 have formed an active partnership. (See "Three of the Best ReLeaf Projects We Know" page TK.) So the prospects for a lot more trees being in the ground on the day after Earth Day are excellent, but there is more to it than that. Twenty years ago, two future congressmen working 3,000 miles apart on the first Earth Day knew nothing of each other, but they knew they were working for something greater than themselves. Today they both serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. The trees one planted are still growing, and the voters the other registered are still voting. Equally important, they are both still doing their best as individuals to be responsible stewards of this planet. That seems a reasonable model for all of us to follow in 1990 and into the 21st century as well. AF TEN WAYS TO SAVE THE EARTH 1. Insulate your home to combat global warming by reducing the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting buildup of carbon dioxide. 2. Turn off lights, buy energy-efficicnt bulbs and appliances, and turn air conditioners to a higher setting. 3. Buy energy-efficient cars and use car pools. Better yet, walk or use a bike or public transportation. 4. Eat lower on the food chain and buy in bulk to avoid excess packaging. 5. Recycle newspaper, glass, and aluminum, and start a garden compost pile. 6. Help stop the production and use of CFCS, which create 17 percent of the greenhouse effect and destroy the earth's fragile ozone layer. 7. Plant trees around your home to absorb carbon dioxide and cut down the need for heating and air conditioning. 8. Start an organic garden to reduce the use of chemicals and the energy-expensive transportation of commercially grown vegetables. 9. Shop ecologically till buying organically grown produce and products that will last, and use canvas or string bags instead of plastic. 10. Get involved and learn more about global warming by writing Global ReLeaf, American Forestry Association, P. 0. Box 2000, Washington, DC 20013. THE EARTH DAY AGENDA The organizers of Earth Day 1990 have assembled an agenda of goals for the "decade of the environment. " Here is a sampling of the Earth Day plank:

* A worldwide ban on chlorofluorocarbons within the next five years.

* A slowing of the rate of global warming through dramatic, sustained reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions-accomplished by higher standards for automobile fuel efficiency and the rapid adoption of a transportation system not powered by fossil fuels.

* A ban on packaging that is neither recyclable nor biodegradable and the implementation of strong, effective recycling programs in every community.

* A swift transition to renewable energy resources.

* A new sense of responsibility for the protection of the planet by individuals, communities, and nations. EARTH DAY EVENTS IN THE WORKS Planting a Billion Trees Every Earth Day participant is encouraged to plant and care for at least one tree. Teach-ins Students of all ages can learn about environmental issues via organized sessions at grade schools, high schools, and colleges. Public Gatherings Parades, demonstrations, and conferences will take place in cities worldwide. Media Impact The broadcast and television networks are encouraged to focus on the environment throughout April. Religious Events Sermons and services during the week of Earth Day will be dedicated to the moral imperative to restore the earth. Wearing of the Green Everyone is encouraged to don green attire to demonstrate their concern for the fate of our planet.
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Title Annotation:includes related information
Author:Comp, T. Allan
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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