By George B. Kauffman
In 1969, anti–Vietnam War demonstrations convinced Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D–Wisc.) and Rep. Pete McCloskey (R–Calif.) to organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment. This led them to found the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, 45 years ago. In today’s insidious hyper-partisan atmosphere, such bipartisan agreement on anything would be impossible. Nelson hoped that a grassroots outcry about environmental issues might prove to Washington, D.C., just how distressed Americans were in every constituency.
The first Earth Day, organized by Denis Hayes, marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. 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, power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values. President Richard Nixon helped to amend the Clean Air Act of 1970, which has drastically improved our air quality. To keep the momentum going, Hayes and the other organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970 founded the Earth Day Network (EDN).
The EDN was organized to promote environmental activism and year-round progressive action, domestically and internationally. It focuses 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.
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 environmentally 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 (CCED) events that seek to bring international focus to environmental causes such as clean air, water and energy (www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/outreach/cced.html). This year’s theme, “Climate Science—More Than Just a Weather Report,” explores climate science and the role that chemistry plays in the environment.
The ACS San Joaquin Valley Section is again sponsoring its Annual Illustrated Poem Contest for K-12 using the CCED theme. A poem (no longer than 40 words in haiku, limerick, ode, BC poem, free verse, end rhyme or blank verse styles), one per student (include name and school grade) from Madera, Fresno, Kings or Tulare counties, may be submitted, preferably electronically (jpg, pdf) with an entry form before the April 10 to Dr. Melissa L. Golden at email@example.com. Winners of the top entry in each of the four categories (K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12) will advance to the ACS National Illustrated Poem Contest and receive $40. Winners who submit electronically will have to submit the original artwork to receive the prize.
The section is also sponsoring a Periodic Table redesign contest to renew the pictures of the elements on the large wall of the periodic table located in the third-floor lobby area in Science I at Fresno State. All students are welcome to submit an element (or two) to renew the pictures of the elements on the large wall. All students are welcome to submit an element (or two). Entries are due April 6 by 5 p,m, if sent via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through the Fresno State Chemistry Club Facebook page (facebook.com/fresnostatechemistryclub), or postmarked April 1 if sent via mail to Chemistry Club, 2555 E. San Ramon Ave., MS SB 70, Fresno, CA 93740.
During the last few years, we have 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 have finally reached a tipping point worldwide on the media and public’s recognition of the environment and our role in preserving it. It’s about time!
Nevertheless, as progressives, we must not 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 antienvironmental reputations. Despite its role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest in the history of the petroleum industry, in the Gulf of Mexico, British Petroleum has the audacity to tout itself as “Beyond Petroleum.” The environmental disaster occurred on April 20 until it was finally capped on July 15, 2010, but let’s face it—the public has a short memory.
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 does not augur well for the future. Obama is cynically dubbed “Obusha” by Citizens for Legitimate Government (www.legitgov.org) because of his closeness to Wall Street and his continuing of 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 Fresno State and a 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.