To the editor: How time flies! It’s already been 51 years since Sen. Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin proposed a nationwide environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970, to celebrate the Earth and highlight some serious environmental problems in the U.S. that needed immediate attention.
After Sen. Nelson selected Denis Hayes to coordinate such an effort nationwide, UAF music teacher Gordon Wright encouraged a few of his student friends, including me, to organize a steering committee on campus and join the national Earth Day teach-in.
In those days, we took seriously Margaret Mead’s quote about a small group of committed people being able to change the world, and 13 of us put together a week of events at the UAF campus that we hoped would focus front and center on our own serious Alaskan problems.
Thanks to the continuing dedicated volunteer work of Denis Hayes and so many others, including our own here in Fairbanks, Earth Day accomplished its main goal of bringing awareness of our serious environmental problems to the American people and our elected representatives, eventually leading to the ban on DDT, strengthening of the NEPA and Clean Air Acts, passage of the Clean Water Act, and the enactment of the ANILCA in 1980 that increased the amount of wild lands protected in the U.S. by more than 100 million acres.
But despite the best intentions of this legislation, our fossil fuel addiction didn’t change and, along with our exponential population growth and urban sprawl, has led to an unprecedented rate of extinction of wild animals and plants, and the world Climate Emergency we presently face.
We’re fortunate now to have a president who takes this crisis seriously, and has proposed as his first major international policy initiative an Earth Day Climate Crisis summit to spur world leaders to rapidly implement their commitments from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. During this summit President Biden will outline the U.S. commitment to net zero carbon emissions, (“climate neutrality,” using 2005 as a baseline) by 2050, and urge other major world greenhouse gas polluters to do the same.
I wish him the best of luck.