Earth Day 50 is Wednesday. Adam Rome discusses the significance of Earth Day’s founding in his history The Genius of Earth Day:
In September 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin vowed to organize a nationwide environmental teach-in in spring 1970, and his call to action inspired thousands of events across the country. Roughly 1,500 colleges and 10,000 schools held teach-ins. Earth Day activities also took place in hundreds of churches and temples, in city parks, and in front of corporate and government buildings. The teach-ins collectively involved more people than the biggest civil-rights and antiwar demonstrations in the 1960s.
But the numbers do not begin to tell the story. The first Earth Day had a freshness and intensity that are difficult to imagine today. Because Earth Day 1970 was unprecedented, the organizers had to plan everything from scratch, and the effort often was life-changing. Tens of thousands of people spoke on Earth Day – and many had never spoken publicly about environmental issues before. The discussions at Earth Day teach-ins sometimes were soul-searching: Many participants truly were struggling to get to the roots of “the environmental crisis.”
That freshness and intensity gave Earth Day 1970 tremendous power. Thousands of organizers and participants decided to devote their lives to the environmental cause. Earth Day built a lasting eco-infrastructure: national and state lobbying organizations, environmental-studies programs, environmental beats at newspapers, eco sections in bookstores, community ecology centers.
Fifty years later, we observe Earth Day as climate change accelerates and a global pandemic lays bare the vast inequalities that have emerged in the abandonment of the social contract in liberal democracies since the rise of Reagan and Thatcher.
This is inescapable in Brooklyn. I live a couple blocks from a firehouse, so the abstract numbers of hospitalizations and death rates reported in each day’s news represent the series of ambulances racing down the street in front of my window each day. Neighbors have died. More will die in the days ahead. We have already lost so much, and have much unease about what is to come.
I live in Brooklyn in no small part due to the history Adam Rome writes. I moved here eight years ago to develop Pratt Institute’s Sustainability Studies minor. My work is concerned with the consequences of consumption and waste on the environment and society, including unintended consequences of the disposal of mass-produced goods, stigma associated with handing wastes, and particular attention to the ways in which attitudes concerning waste and society shape each other over time. Pratt is one of the centers of training the world’s artists and designers who will shape art, fashion, industrial design, and the built environment in ways that will affect consumption, waste streams, ecosystems, and societies long after I am gone.
Our commitment to this project includes an annual public celebration called Green Week. Normally, Green Week is a series of events, installations, and forums highlighting the ways our different disciplines engage with sustainability.
This year is different. The pandemic precludes us from gathering on campus, but thanks to the heavy lifting of Sustainability Coalition leader Tetsu Ohara, CSDS director Carolyn Shafer, and Communications Design Professor Eric O’Toole, we present Pratt Virtual GreenWeek. Beginning today, see the work our community has done, including:
• The Pratt Library’s sustainability resources, including faculty-authored books on sustainability issues held by the library.
I am thankful to be part of a community of teachers, students, and staff at Pratt who are committed to making the world a safer, healthier, more equitable world. The linked work is testament to this commitment, and includes some projects related to the pandemic developed before we had to move from in-person to virtual work in March.
Today’s Virtual GreenWeek launch aligns with larger observations of Earth Day that includes the Virtual Earth Day celebrations. May this year’s crisis renew the spirit and action of 1970’s Earth Day and lead to a safer, healthier future for Brooklyn, the US, and the world.