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Earth Day 2013 - Celebrate on Monday, April 22

What I remember about the first Earth Day

April 19, 2013
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer , Estherville Daily News

All right, I know this dates me. But I vividly remember the first Earth Day April 22, 1970.

It was the end of my junior year of high school and less than a year after the Cuyahoga River had caught fire in Cleveland. A river catching on fire? Boy, that was something. It was a really good example for us to use in debate the next year when the topic was something like whether the federal government was doing enough to control air and water pollution.

The year 1969 was a watershed in a lot of respects - the Cuyahoga River fire - my friend Mary pregnant with her daughter Bonnie at Woodstock and Jim Morrison coming up to her and patting her belly and saying "Good job" - some of the worst fighting ever in Vietnam - the first walk on the moon (a lot of us thought the anthem for the moon walk was 2525 by Zager and Evans. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks commencing July 12, 1969).

It was the combination of the state of the environment and the pictures of our planet from space, though, that radically changed our attitude toward the environment.

One was reminded of a passage from Stephen Crane's short story, The Blue Hotel: "We picture the world as thick with conquering and elate humanity, but here, with the bugles of the tempest pealing, it was hard to imagine a peopled earth. One viewed the existence of man then as a marvel, and conceded a glamour of wonder to these lice which were caused to cling to a whirling, fire-smote, ice-locked, disease-stricken, space-lost bulb."

My God, we said to each other. This is our home. What are we doing to it.

So less than a year later, on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day - or the birth of the environmental movement - was held.

We picked up trash around the school and that was about it. At least that was what the teachers told us to do. What the heck, we thought, it was a good way to get out of school for the afternoon.

In time, though, we grew to appreciate the significance and how small our planet really is.

According to an article about three years ago in the Huffington Post, 150-200 species go extinct on the planet every day - or 1,000 times the background rate, or "normal" rate. They're disappearing at a rate faster than at any time since a huge meteorite struck the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago, ending the era of the dinosaurs.

What if some of those species that are disappearing - particularly at the microbial level - are what is keeping the bubonic plague or some disease or other infestation in check. What if there was nothing to control the disease that would consume all of humanity.

Just recently, they tell us there are likely planets out there - just like ours - with water and an oxygenated atmosphere and possibly carbon-based life forms. The only problem is that it might take a light year or so to get there.

So until we can go elsewhere and start a new colony in space, we'll just have to appreciate this place we call home.

Because it's the only one we have.



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