Yesterday was Earth Day, and the world hardly noticed. In these times when economics trumps the environment at every turn, we need not just to celebrate the earth but to rescue its future from those who seek only to exploit it.
Although Earth Day seemed to come out of nowhere 42 years ago, it was very much a part of the ferment of the 1960s – an era that shook American society to its roots – and its organizers drew on the non-violent tactics of other protest movements. Yet elected officials, who believed their role was to galvanize public opinion around critical issues, played a leading role from the outset. The most important of these was Senator Gaylord Nelson, Democrat of Wisconsin, who had the idea of a national day of environmental “teach-ins.” Convinced that it must be a bipartisan effort, Nelson asked Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to be co-chair. (McCloskey was the kind of Republican who hardly exists any more. In fact, he became a Democrat in 2007.)
On the first Earth Day, 20 million people gathered at teach-ins and celebrations across the country. The combination of grass-roots demonstrations and bipartisan political leadership led almost immediately to real change: the Clean Air Act was significantly broadened in 1970; the Clean Water Act became law in 1972; and the Endangered Species Act was passed a year later.
Every one of those laws, enacted with broad bipartisan support, has made a real difference, and every one of them is under siege in the current Congress.