In April of 1970, I was on the eve of graduating from Frank B. Kellogg High School in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was about to launch into a life of unknowns, with plans to attend George Washington University in the fall. When I reflect back on this time, the most meaningful and engaging event of my school career was organizing an environmental teach-in for Earth Day, which took place for the first time on April 22, 1970.
I was part of an activist group of students who planned an environmental teach-in for the entire high school student body. We prepared a slide-tape presentation which contrasted the beauty of nature with the devastation of pollution. We took pictures and presented them creatively with musical background, including Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles and the dramatic soundtrack from 2
001, A Space Odyssey— a popular Stanley Kubrick movie at that time.
On Earth Day, we invited speakers who addressed a variety of topics, including population growth, air and water pollution and chemical hazards. Despite my shyness, I boldly walked out in front of the entire student body to introduce Earth Day and the day’s speakers. I was proud to have my Aunt Betty Jerome, a Minneapolis pediatrician, make a presentation on population growth. This experience was a significant milestone for me and helped me gain confidence in my potential leadership abilities.
Within our high school student group, on our own initiative, we studied and shared what we learned with each other about the environment by reading books and talking to experts. We read the Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and the Population Bomb by Paul R. Ehrlich. We gathered tog
ether to “mindfully” observe the sunrise next to my home on Lake Owasso in Minnesota. We were highly influenced by thinkers of the day. In Silent Spring, Carson questions: “how do humans have the right to control nature; decide who lives or dies, and to poison or to destroy non-human life?” She exposed the impact of chemicals such as DDT on birds and other wildlife. In the Population Bomb, Ehrlich warned of the impact of massive population growth and ability of the planet to sustain life with enough food and resources. These were innocent, but formative moments in the early days of our youthful lives. We felt bonded by a meaningful cause of preserving our planet earth which was recently viewed during Apollo missions to outer space.
Earth Day was founded by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. As a child growing up in Northern Wisconsin, Nelson had a passion for nature and preserving the environment. He conceived of Earth Day by engaging groups of student activists. Across the country, groups of people organized environmental teach-ins at schools and colleges to raise awareness of environmental issues.
As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, 2021, we have an opportunity before us to support the health and well-being of ourselves, our children, grandchildren and all living things through multi-generational efforts. By all of us learning together about climate issues and solutions, we can form a network and take meaningful actions to support a sustainable planet. The urgency is NOW to take action at the local, state and national level. We CAN do this – we have the expertise!
The Paris Climate Accord established the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, with benchmarks each decade leading up to this date. President Biden has proposed legislation that would support green infrastructure while at the same time creating environmental jobs and a Civilian Conservation Corps. He is hosting an international climate summit on Earth Day.