Forty years ago today, Senator Gaylord Nelson held the first environmental teach-in we know as Earth Day. Partly in response to the growing eco-activism of the 1950s and ’60s, and the overwhelming evidence presented to the public through works like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Nelson organized this national event in the hopes that a “grassroots outcry about environmental issues” might motivate the folks in Washington to do something to stop environmental damage. A New York Times article highlighting Nelson’s efforts commented: “Rising concern about the ‘environmental crisis’ is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam.”*
Forty years on, with controversy about another war on the lips of most Americans, the question begs to be asked: “Have we come far enough in our thinking?” There is no doubt that there is much to celebrate: the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, mandatory recycling in many communities throughout the nation. The activism work of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s also did much to raise the awareness of science as a discipline. But as we pat ourselves on the back for our earth-consciousness today, we might also take some time to think about the environmental issues we’re now presented with and ways they might be addressed. Has the battle become weary, or are we starting to rally again?
With that in mind, we’d like to hear from you about what environmental concerns are at the top of your list. What should we as a larger community, and the government in Washington, be paying attention to most? We would also love to hear how teachers are choosing to honor this occasion in the classrooms around the country. Share your thoughts with us here, or on our Facebook page!
*”Environmental Crisis’ May Eclipse Vietnam as College Issue,” New York Times, 11/30/1969
Written by Heather Falconer
Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics from research writing to marine biology in the public and private educational sectors.