The words “silent spring” took on new meaning with the release of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, in 1962. With frayed cover and yellowed pages, my copy still holds a spot on my dusty bookshelf. The book, without any doubt, played a major role in my choice of a career.
Carson’s historic book highlighting the impact of humans on nature’s balance sparked a great environmental awakening across our nation. The book, skillfully written and superbly annotated, was on the bestseller list for 86 weeks. The message — though stark and frightening — struck a chord, especially with young Americans. In the book, Carson got a lot right and plenty wrong, but that’s not the point; she started the conversation and deserves full credit for it.
Concern for the environment continued to grow during the 1960s, and by 1970, the environmental movement was set to explode. Senator Gaylord Nelson is credited with responding to the growing crusade by launching the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
Wednesday is the 50-year anniversary of Earth Day.
Freshly out of college and recently employed by an air quality control agency, my first official speaking engagement at my new job was addressing a gymnasium full of high school students on that first Earth Day.
At the school earlier that morning, a local TV station filmed students, and a few parents, shutting off their cars two blocks from the school and pushing them by hand into the school’s parking lot. I’m not sure about the message, but it attracted a lot of attention.
I have just one memory from my speech that day. While taking questions at the end of my presentation, one student asked what kind of engine was in my car. When I said, “a V8,” I received a round of boos. Henry Ford’s great contribution to society was — and still is — the subject of much environmental shaming.
Nationwide, an estimated 20 million Americans participated in events that first Earth Day. There were local activities from coast to coast, and eager supporters of the cause were treated to plenty of speeches and creative activities.
Looking back on those days, I recall a unity of purpose in spite of political party affiliations. Senator Nelson was a Democrat, and later that same year President Nixon, a Republican, signed legislation creating the Clean Air Act. The Clean Water Act followed in 1972. The nation seemed unified in searching for, and finding, its environmental conscience.
I’m grateful to be part of the profession called upon to make our world a more livable place — the simple message of that first Earth Day.
Compared to 1970, our air and water resources today are vastly improved, but make no mistake there is more work to be done. I see two immense challenges ahead:
First, it’s this damn pandemic. It is destroying our economy. During serious economic downturns, environmental stewardship falters for a host of reasons. It happened in 2008, and it’s about to happen again.
Second, I believe Al Gore-style climate alarmism is incredibly damaging to environmental progress. The climate movement with its emphasis on globalism, wealth redistribution, and ridiculous doomsday predictions has misdirected our focus and magnified the partisan divide. We need more of what we had in 1970.
Who knows, COVID-19 may unify the nation and bridge the partisan gap. And brown cows are going to start giving chocolate milk.
Ron Boyer is a member of the Missouri Air Conservation Commission.