By George B. Kauffman
Earth Day, the world’s largest secular holiday and the only event celebrated by more than a half billion people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities is sponsored by many national and international organizations with outreach programs showcasing the positive contributions that environmental science makes to improve the health of our planet and its citizens.
In 1969, the wide extent of the anti–Vietnam War demonstrations convinced the late U.S Senator Gaylord Nelson (D–Wis.) and U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey (R–Calif.) to organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment, leading them to found the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. In today’s insidious hyper-partisan atmosphere such bipartisan agreement on anything would be impossible.
Nelson announced his idea for a nationwide teach-in day on the environment in a speech to a fledgling conservation group in Seattle on Sept. 20, 1969, and then again six days later in Atlantic City to a meeting of the United Auto Workers. He hoped that a grassroots outcry about environmental issues might prove to Washington, D.C., just how distressed Americans were in every constituency. Denis Hayes was the principal organizer of the first Earth Day nationwide.
On Sept. 29, 1969, in a long, front-page New York Times article, Gladwin Hill wrote
Rising concern about the “environmental crisis” is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems, analogous to the mass demonstrations on Vietnam, is being planned for next spring, when a nationwide environmental “teach-in”…coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned.
In the winter of 1969, a group of students met at Columbia University to hear Hayes talk about his plans for Earth Day. This New York group agreed to head up the New York City part of the national movement. The big break came when Mayor John Lindsay agreed to shut down 5th Avenue for the event.
The first Earth Day marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement and made the hitherto esoteric term ecology a household word. Approximately 20 million Americans participated. Hayes and his staff organized massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values. In response to the activity spurred by the first Earth Day, President Richard M. Nixon (a Republican!) helped to amend the Clean Air Act of 1970, which has drastically improved our air quality, reducing nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead by 46%, 71%, 79% and 92%, respectively.
Mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting the status of environmental issues onto the world stage, Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. As the millennium approached, Hayes agreed to spearhead another campaign, this time focusing on global warming and pushing for clean energy.
The Earth Day Network (EDN) was founded by Hayes and the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970 and by other national organizers to promote environmental activism and year-round progressive action, domestically and internationally. EDN members include NGOs, quasi-governmental agencies, local governments, activists and others. They focus on environmental education; local, national and global policies; public environmental campaigns; and organizing national and local Earth Day events to promote activism and environmental protection. The international network reached more than 19,000 organizations in 192 countries, whereas the domestic program engaged 10,000 groups and more than 100,000 educators coordinating millions of community development and environmental protection activities throughout the year.
In observance of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day (2010), the EDN, which has helped create Earth Day organizations worldwide, created multiple global initiatives, ranging from a Global Day of Conversation with mayors worldwide, focusing on bringing green investment and building a green economy; Athletes for the Earth Campaign that brought Olympic, professional and everyday athletes’ voices to help promote a solution to climate change; a Billion Acts of Green Campaign (act.earthday.org), which aggregated the millions of environmental service commitments that individuals and organizations around the world make each year; and Artist for the Earth, a campaign that involves hundreds of arts institutions and artists worldwide to create environmental awareness. At least 1.5 billion people participated in these global events and programs.
A special field—green chemistry—develops environmentally benign chemical products and processes in the context of renewable resources. See my article, “Green Chemistry—What It Is and What It Isn’t” in the January 2011 issue of the Community Alliance (fresnoalliance.com/wordpress?p=2358).
In her official proclamation, Mayor Ashley Swearingen cited the following reasons for declaring April 22, 2013, Earth Day in the City of Fresno:
- Earth Day, begun as an annual event on April 22, 1970, focused public attention on pollution and environmental concerns and made the hitherto esoteric term ecology a household word; and
- Many national organizations are celebrating it with outreach programs showcasing the positive contributions that environmental science makes to improve the health of our planet and its citizens; and
- Many Earth Day community-sponsored events promoting environmental awareness and education are held to communicate with a wide audience in the San Joaquin Valley; and Improving the Valley’s air and water quality is an urgent necessity.
Among the numerous organizations sponsoring Earth Day activities, the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific organization, observes Earth Day with a program emphasizing the positive contributions that chemistry makes to our environment and the health of our planet. Chemistry contributes to a sustainable earth by recognizing and quantifying environmental pollution and by developing environment-friendly products and processes such as recyclable plastics, cleaner-burning fuels, phosphate-free detergents and environmental monitoring.
The ACS joined the Earth Day celebration on April 22, 2003, and since then it has sponsored annual Chemists Celebrate Earth Day (CEED) events (portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content). This 10th year’s theme, “Our Earth: Handle with Care!,” highlights the general topics of water, air, plants/soil and recycling. The ACS provides resources, products and hands-on activities for educators to spice up classroom and laboratory presentations, making available previously published articles and games and sponsoring an illustrated haiku contest for K-12 students and a video contest for college and university students.
A poem (no longer than 400 words), one per student from Madera, Fresno, Kings or Tulare counties, must be submitted to the ACS Earth Day coordinator, Melissa Golden (559-278-6822, email@example.com) by April 3. Entries will be displayed at the new Kuppa Joy Coffee House (518 Clovis Ave., Clovis) on April 20 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. The Fresno State Chem and Geology Clubs will carry out a hands-on science experiment showing how water is cleaned as it passes through the earth’s layers, at the same place and time.
On April 27 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, in Room 109 of the Science 2 Building of the Fresno State campus at a meeting of the local San Joaquin ACS Section, the winners of the top poems, who will advance to the ACS National Illustrated Poem Contest, will be announced, along with an awards ceremony for the Chemistry Olympiad Competition. Professor Stephen A. Rodemeyer will be the featured speaker.
During the past few years, we’ve seen an increased concern with solar energy, air, water, global warming, climate change, environment, alternative energy, oil, carbon or carbon dioxide, ice caps, polar bears, ozone, smog, greenhouse gas emissions, recycling, waste management, biomass conversion, biofuels, ecology and others too numerous to mention. I optimistically—but cautiously—think that we’ve finally reached a tipping point worldwide on the media’s and public’s recognition of the environment and our role in preserving it. It’s about time!
Nevertheless, as progressives, we mustn’t content ourselves with relying only on the efforts of those who have already embraced environmentalism—of “preaching to the choir,” so to speak. We must reach out to convert others to our point of view.
ExxonMobil, General Electric, Toyota, Schlumberger and other disbelievers in global climate change, which for years have lobbied against tougher limits on air pollution, climbed on the bandwagon and tried to “greenwash” their former anti-environmental reputations. Despite its role in the Gulf of Mexico disaster, British Petroleum has the audacity to tout itself as “Beyond Petroleum.”
The George W. Bush administration, while spinning a web of pro-environment propaganda, rolled back three decades of bipartisan environmental protections in its efforts to benefit its corporate clients in the oil, gas, coal and other industries at the expense of a clean, healthy and safe environment. On a wide range of issues, for example, global warming, childhood lead poisoning, mercury emissions, climate change, reproductive health, nuclear weapons, energy policy and Arctic drilling, it distorted and censored scientific findings that contradicted its policies.
In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place.” Federal courts have repealed most of the Bush administration’s clean air regulations, driven by politics not science. However, Obama’s recent ambivalent attitude toward the environment has been disappointing, and the Republican resurgence doesn’t augur well for the future. Obama is cynically dubbed “Obusha” by the Citizens for Legitimate Government (www.legitgov.org) because of his continuing many of Bush’s policies.
However, if Earth Day raises our consciousness of our obligations to the planet, results in a balanced view of our responsibilities to the fragile ecosystem and makes us aware of the crucial importance of governmental policies on the environment, it cannot but help to have a positive effect.
George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, respectively.
Earth Day Activities in and Near Fresno
Compiled by George B. Kauffman
Saturday, April 13
America’s Party for the Planet. Our goal is to provide visitors with opportunities to become aware of local environmental and conservation issues and to empower guests to make national and global connections. Local conservation organizations will provide interpretative and interactive activities for children and families and distribute information about their organizations. The event is free with zoo admission, $7 adults, $3.50 children ages 2 to 11 (free for children under 2), $3.50 senior citizens (62 and older), members receive free admission. The fund-raiser, “Breakfast with the Animals,” will be held that morning. A pancake breakfast is available from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for an additional charge. For more info, call 559-498-5921; to order tickets, visit www.fresnochaffeezoo.org/events/fundraising-events.html or contact Sandy Pitts at 559-498-5942 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
16th Annual Earth Day Restoration and Cleanup. Millerton Lake State Recreation Area, 5290 Millerton Rd., Friant, California. State Parks Foundation, with funding provided by PG&E. Begins at 9 a.m. (check-in) on the North Shore (Madera County side). Installation of a sprinkler system to irrigate recently planted trees in the rear of the campfire center. More trees will be planted to provide a barrier between the campfire center and the Small Group campground. Erosion on a hiking trail in the Fort Miller campground will be stemmed by installing steps in areas most vulnerable to water runoff. Damaged split-rail fencing will be fixed along the same trail to enhance the beauty and rustic nature of the hike. The North Shore fire pits will be cleaned of ash and trash. A walkthrough and pickup of trash will be conducted. For more info, contact Alex Luscutoff at 916-601-6755 or email@example.com, Michael Hagerman, Jr., at 559-822-2332 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Matt Schumcher at email@example.com.
Monday, April 15.
Forum: Climate Preparedness in the Valley. Alice Peters Auditorium, University Business Center. California State University, Fresno, 5245 N. Backer Ave. 2 -4 p.m. Free Admission. Join the Union of Concerned Scientists, League of Women Voters of Fresno, and CSUF for panel discussion exploring these questions: What does the latest science tell us about likely climate impacts in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley? How are local officials and businesses planning for changes in water availability, increased wildfires, and more frequent extreme heat days? Panel will feature scientists, local officials, and representatives of the farm community and will offer suggestions for how residents can get informed and involved. There will ample time for questions and discussion. Light refreshments and an opportunity to socialize. Contact Miriam Swaffer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, April 20
Aquarius Aquarium Institute’s 11th Annual Earth Day Run for the Reef and 6th Annual Water Planet Adventure Day. The Shops at River Park/Sugar Pine Trail, Fresno. Race director: Ken Takeuchi—Pro Race Group. Teens and adults: $18 general, $15 for members or $20 on day of event. Children 12 and under: $8 general, $7 for members or $10 on day of event. Includes Run t-shirt, goodie bag and healthy snacks. Start and finish behind Edwards Cinemas. 5K timed run: 7:30 a.m., 2-mile walk/run: 8 a.m. One wristband included with each Run/Walk entry for Water Planet Adventure Day—a morning of fun with a living California tide pool animal touch tank, crafts to take home and water conservation information for the entire family starting at 9 a.m. Additional wristbands can be purchased at the event for $5 each. For more info, contact Tom Lang at 559-930-3474 or email@example.com or visit www.aquariusaquarium.org.
City of Visalia. The Natural Resource Conservation Division and the Visalia Environmental Committee are hosting this year’s Earth Day celebration at St. Johns Riverwalk Park (Ben Maddox and St. Johns River) from 9 a.m. to noon. The main focus will be a community exhibitors’ event offering information to Earth Day participants on what’s new and available in the world of conservation. Also, a community beautification project along St. Johns River, live music, native plant walking tours and an art project for all participants. We believe that by working together, we can help ensure the long-term sustainability of our environment while inspiring positive changes in our homes, community and workplaces. For more info, contact Nathan Garza at 559-713-4532 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.gogreenvisalia.com.
Earth Day Fresno 2013. Courthouse Park, Van Ness Avenue between Fresno and Tulare streets. 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Educational workshops, fun demonstrations, 30 vendors, 20 fun-filled kids’ activities, 40 local exhibitors, delicious food, great music, clean energy car show, free valet bike parking, free e-waste recycling, prize giveaways and much more. Sign up at earthdayfresno.org for updates. The Renewable Energy Vehicle Display part of the show is looking for new car dealers who would like to display their new vehicles such as plug-in hybrids, new all-electrics, clean diesels, etc. This is a great opportunity to match great products with an educated group of people who want to buy smarter, cleaner, and more efficient vehicles. There is room for vendors, exhibitors, sponsors and donors, who at a low cost, can get tremendous exposure to people who want change and want to buy.
Monday, April 22
Earth Day Celebration. Oakhurst Feed and Pet Supply, 40119 Enterprise Dr., Oakhurst. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Several exhibitors will be onsite with demonstrations and information regarding sustainable living, recycling, solar energy, sustainable consumer products and much more. For more info, contact Scott Hancock 559-840-2393 and email@example.com.
Wednesday, April 24
5th Annual Green Summit. Reedley College, 995 N. Reed Ave., Reedley. A free experience of sustainable living through a variety of sources. Students and the community are invited to enjoy a day listening to informative speakers and debating environmental topics with them. Healthy living alternatives, new developments in construction, emerging new energy sources and awareness for a healthier environment. Exhibitors or vendors are invited to showcase information to our students and the community. For more info, contact Linda Launer at 559-638-3641 x3471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, April 27
4th Annual Central Valley Solarthon, Goshen. A solar installation block party and fund-raiser, it is GRID Alternative Central Valley’s biggest community workday of the year, bringing solar power to local families in need while raising money to support GRID Alternative’s work throughout the Valley. Community volunteers, corporate teams and job trainees will be participating in the event. GRID Alternatives is a nonprofit organization that installs solar electrical systems for low-income homeowners with the help of volunteers and job trainees. Each solar installation brings together environmental activists, advocates for low-income communities, green job trainees, community volunteers and the homeowners themselves to participate in a fun, hands-on project that delivers immediate, tangible results—a fully installed solar electric system that provides environmental and economic benefits to a local low-income family. In providing renewable energy and energy-efficiency services to communities in need, GRID Alternatives seeks to empower these communities and encourage workforce development in the solar industry. It puts money back into the pocket of communities that need it, provides volunteers with marketable skills in a growing industry and it helps the environment. Contact Julian Foley at email@example.com or visit www.gridalternatives.org or www.solarthon.org/centralvalley.
Friday, May 10
8th Annual Earth Day Celebration. Prospect Education Center, 645 N. Prospect St., Porterville. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Environment-friendly information and activities for school district students, parents and community. For more info, contact Steve Reynolds at 559-782-7095 x4611 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://pecglobalscience.jimdo.com/earth-day-2013.