April 22, 2020
Some people we know are old enough to remember the first Earth Day in 1970. Some people we know even marched, rallied, and participated in teach-ins, along with millions of others all over the country, on that first Earth Day.
Richard Nixon was president. The unpopular Vietnam War was galvanizing social unrest. But so was concern for the environment, prompted by the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, documenting the harmful effects of chemicals in the environment, specifically DDT. Increasing awareness of dangerous pollution in our air, land, and water, among Republicans and Democrats, young and old, rich and poor, prompted passage of such landmark legislation as the National Environmental Policy Act and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970), the Clean Air Act (1970), the Fuel Economy Act (1970), the Clean Water Act (1972), the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), and much more.
Here is a good history and timeline of these events.
Though environmental critics have claimed that some of this legislation has been used to permit the very activities the laws were designed to prohibit, and some have gone so far to say that Earth Day should be abolished, much of the legislation, rules, and regulations are now being weakened. (See here and here and here.)
What irony that in just a few months of a pandemic, the air and skies are cleaner and clearer than they have been in a very long time.
No Rallies Today
In these extraordinary and disturbing times, the streets are almost empty. Today there are no rallies or marches on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. There are digital commemorations. And you might want to spend some stay-home time reading about what the City of Houston is doing, including its Climate Action Plan and Resilient Houston Strategy.
The in-person Earth Day events that would have taken place in Houston have been cancelled. Save Buffalo Bayou, along with numerous other environmental organizations, normally took part in these events. We staffed a table with educational flyers, topo maps, photos, bayou wildlife pamphlets developed by Eagle Scout Paul Hung. We offered bumper stickers (“Nature is the Best Engineer”) and Save Buffalo Bayou t-shirts for sale. We talked to people young and old about the history of Buffalo Bayou and its many tributaries, where it comes from and where it goes, how rivers work, why protecting the trees and vegetation along the edge is so important; the beavers, alligators, big turtles, and other pre-historic creatures that still live there. We encouraged people to sign up for SBB Board Member Tom Helm’s floating geology classes and bat trips on the bayou. We offered discounted copies of Your Remarkable Riparian Field Guide and Floodplain Management: A New Approach for a New Era, a book that explains how and why stopping stormwaters before they flood a stream is so important, why slowing the flow rather than speeding it up is more effective and more beneficial.
Here is the big high-resolution topographic map of Buffalo Bayou dating from 1915-1922, created by Helm, that we would have rolled out on the table, held down against the April wind by heavy pieces of sandstone from the bayou that anyone could handle and touch, a favorite of children and adults.
And here are a couple of the flyers we would have handed out:
And here is our big poster: