Earth Day 2015

2015 is certainly a year for anniversaries. Federated Conservationists has entered its fifth decade, and Earth Day is celebrating its 45th year. When looking back to the first celebration of Earth Day, it is easy to wonder if the 20 million Americans who gathered across the country knew what their movement would become.

Coverage of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, in The New York Times.
Coverage of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, in The New York Times.

In 1970 the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” topped the charts for the year; the Vietnam War sparked anti-war protests among students nationwide; and the hippie and flower child culture was at its height. The United States of 1970 was a much different place than it is today.

The roots of the environmental movement stem from this period in history. Earth Day 1970 used the energy from anti-war protests to move environmental concerns to the forefront of politics; it united those concerned individuals as activists under an environmental banner. Prior to 1970, environmental degradation was not clearly in the public consciousness. There were small rumblings that human activities were causing disturbances in the environment. For example Rachel Caron’s Silent Spring was a NY Times bestseller in 1962, however the general consensus was that poor air and water quality was simply a product of successful development and economic growth.

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A Look Into Our Past – Westchester Environment, “Earth Day: Progress and Promise”

This is the fourth installment of our “A Look into Our Past” Series, honoring the past five decades of work done by Federated Conservationists of Westchester County. This series revisits some of our best accomplishments by featuring past articles from our original publication “Westchester Environment.” 
In this post we would like to celebrate FCWC’s favorite holiday, Earth Day. Follow along as J. Henry Neale, Jr., a previous FCWC board member, recounts the first Earth Day and the start of “Earth Day ’80.”

“Westchester Environment” – Vol. 2 No. 4 – April 1980

Earth Day 80Earth Day: Progress and Promise By J. Henry Neale, Jr. (Excerpt from)

April 22, 1980 will be “Earth Day ‘80”. It has been declared to be the start of the “second decade of environmental progress.

The Earth Day celebration this year had an auspicious and impressive beginning. It was officially announced on January 1, 1980, on the first day of the new decade, in a Presidential Proclamation. President Carter’s proclamation called upon all citizens and government officials “… to observe this day and appropriate ceremonies and activities” and that “…special attention be given to community activities and educational efforts directed to protecting and enhancing our life-giving environment.”

Although the characterization of this year as being the start of the “second decade of environmental progress” may seem overly optimistic about our future – and excessively charitable about our recent past – there have been many changes during the past ten years. Several of these changes might be considered improvements. Perhaps these are reasons for describing the last decade as one of progress and for hoping that this progress will continue in the future…

…One indication of the change in the past ten years is that the environmental movement has become even more diversified. In addition to the continuing commitments to achieving air and water pollution control, wilderness preservation and land use planning, which had been well established long before 1970 and are enough to keep anybody busy for a long time to come, the environmental movement now includes many persons advocating other themes and causes: energy conservation, workplace safety, cancer prevention, transit reform, neighborhood preservation, alternative technologies and labor-intensive economic development, to name only a few.

A rough way of estimating progress toward accomplishment of this expanding list of goals is by evaluating the actions taken by the New York State Legislature in response to the various conflicting pressures upon it.

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