I REMEMBER APRIL 22, 1970. I was 14 years old, in Eighth Grade, and the first-ever Earth Day was a big deal to me.
I was attending a brand-new public school in Bellevue, Washington, that had opened its doors the previous fall. It was a modern new building, a school that celebrated modern ways to teach and learn. My teachers encouraged participation in this new concept of environmental responsibility. There was a feeling of optimism and hope.
I took it to heart by joining up with Bellevue’s first-ever organized — very loosely — recycling effort, led by a local high-school student. We crusaded under the ill-advised name of C.R.U.D., the Committee for the Recycling of Unwanted Disposables. Eastside Disposal placed free dumpsters in my school’s parking lot and promised to cart away and recycle the glass bottles we collected. My job was to sweep up any broken glass, and remove items such as the dead fish that some thoughtful citizen left for us. (The very smelly fish was, apparently, unwanted, and here was a place to dispose of it.) C.R.U.D. was a tiny start; a microcosm of a movement.
As I awakened this morning, I checked my email and read historian Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters From an American” post about Earth Day, and how “Silent Spring” author Rachel Carson planted the seed. The post also chronicles then-President Richard Nixon’s significant role in passing environmental legislation, including establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. I was shaken to be reminded that such landmark changes in our political landscape came under the aegis of a president that many of my generation so detested. Compared to present-day Republicans, the man was a saint (which is an excoriation of today’s GOP much more than an exoneration of Tricky Dick).
Today, I’ve hung out my Earth flag, and my to-do list includes organizing a bin of recycling to take to the mainland when I leave tomorrow for a visit to Seattle. Symbolic little things. Admittedly, recycling hasn’t saved the planet. Maybe it has helped focus our thinking. While I love my island retreat, on days like this I wish I lived where I could join a crowd of people intent on taking action for the greater good.
With the emergency klaxons sounding about climate change, it seems Earth Day 2023 is once again about hope. Reminding us all of prior progress, and embracing the possibility that new generations will commit to more effective and lasting measures — political and otherwise — means this day is still relevant.
Do you have any Earth Day memories? What does Earth Day 2023 mean to you?