I spent a lot of time over the past two weeks on Earth Day events – most of it virtual. It was so different than any of the previous ones that I had been involved with. There was a lot of online activity, a great amount of learning, and a lot of strategizing for what needs to be done this year while fighting the corona virus. I hope it all proves to be as effective as the first Earth Day 50 years ago.
In looking at these two events, I realized that there are many cultural differences between 1970 and now, and between the youth of the seventies and the youth today. I thought it might be interesting to create a short list that might get you thinking on how our culture is so different today and what that might mean for meeting the challenges ahead.
The First Earth Day occurred in a very different environment. Sure there are a lot of similarities between 1970 and 2020, such as political and economic turmoil across the country and colleges shutting down. I remember being quite concerned for the future of our country at that time as I am today. But let’s stop for a moment and consider how different life was back then relative to today.
Our everyday behaviors in 1970
- we wrote letters (in cursive), it cost money to send them, and they took 3-5 days to arrive
- long distance phone calls were the exception since they cost so much
- we typed school papers on a manual typewriter with a real carbon copy
- I had never flown on an airplane or taken a train until my twenties
- I had no need for a car living on a college campus
- I had only a handful of friends and none of them were “online friends”
- I used a Slide Rule – there were no individual computers
- I had to resort to an encyclopedia to find answers I could trust
- shopping required a trip to lots of little specialty stores – but less packaging and shipping
- We grew and canned a lot of our food
- I never had a carry-out dinner except for steamed crabs
- our news came from a limited number of sources – TV, radio, a daily newspaper, and weekly magazines
- being drafted for an controversial war was a real issue for many young men
Our environmental impacts in 1970
- no curbside recycling in my area except for milk bottles – stores would pay for glass beer or soda bottle returns
- we burned trash in our backyard – there was no trash pickup
- we got rid of waste oil and extra pesticides by dumping them in the ground
- we repaired most items when they broke
- we planted natural fences of multi-flora rose – a big mistake
- we rotated crops, planted cover crops, and built our own bio-retention facilities
- people smoked everywhere: restaurants, in cars, on planes, and at conferences, etc.
- we did not have AC in our homes, or cars, or my dorm – we opened windows
- we rarely did long trips
- we planted 30,000 trees and cut our own wood to heat our house
You may have a different list, but the point here is that along with technology and consumption, people and their behaviors have also changed. In Saving the Places We Love, I discuss how our American culture has changed continuously over the past 150 years. It’s a fascinating story. There is hope.
So take a look at your life right now and picture what you can do to help change our behaviors and our culture going forward. We need to change our culture to one that is more protective of our environment and the health of future generations. Maybe you could become a climate champion. We all need to act locally and globally. I hope some of these blogs will help you find opportunities where you can contribute in a meaningful way. I wish you the best.