Environment: Earth Week and Beyond

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After last year's Earth Day and this year's Earth Week, the next logical steps are Earth Year, Decade and Century. The crusade is at least getting cooler and saner. Instead of noisy confrontations, the 1971 "week" that ended April 25 ran to practical matters like arranging bottle pickups and improvising urban malls. New York City, for example, banned cars on Madison Avenue two hours a day for the entire week. Joining 38 Governors, President Nixon himself endorsed Earth Week, an action he did not feel it necessary to take on Earth Day, even though he was urged to do so by then Interior Secretary Walter Hickel.

Nixon had good reason to join the party. With the exception of his Administration's support for the abortive SST, the President has done his bit for ecoactivism over the past year. His Administration suspended potentially destructive projects like the Cross-Florida Barge Canal and deferred acting on the Alaska oil pipeline. It created the Environmental Protection Agency, an important new federal watchdog. It introduced 18 environmental bills in Congress, most of which deserve speedy passage.

Quiet Lobbying. Those bills also provided a rare instance of common interest between Nixon and the country's young activists. Last year on Earth Day, some students had nothing better to do than splash oil on the steps of the Interior Department. During Earth Week, youths pressed quietly, through low-key lobbying, for antipollution programs.

Elsewhere, thousands of citizens tackled a wide variety of Earth Week activities. Astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who spent ten days aboard Apollo 9, told a University of Houston audience that a space view of earth is no comfort. "Even at that distance," he said, "you can see evidence of pollution." Showing similar concern, the Ohio Public Interest Action Group launched a statewide fund-raising campaign to hire lawyers and scientists to represent the public in environmental cases. Goal: $1,000,000.

Nearly 60 U.S. Senators co-sponsored a resolution offered by Wisconsin Democrat Gaylord Nelson that proposed an annual Earth Week. On a swing through the country, Nelson criticized General Motors Chairman James M. Roche, who had lambasted environmentalists for "irresponsible criticism" and unfairly harassing industry. "Those are strong words," commented Nelson, "coming from the head of a company which, with the other U.S. automakers, was charged by the Government with engaging for 15 years in a conspiracy not to compete in the development of pollution-control devices for the automobile." (The case ended in a consent decree, with the companies pledging to perfect the controls.)

Though mostly serious, Earth Week was not without its zany moments. Malcolm & Hayes, a New York publishing firm, brought out a book called Nursery Rhymes/For the Times. Sample: "Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater,/ Had a wife and wouldn't keep her;/ Her departure was most urgent,/ She kept washing with detergent." On a dare, an Ohio college student swam across Ohio's super-polluted Cuyahoga River—but only after donning a rubber wet suit and having himself inoculated against diseases that might be lurking in the brownish waters. "It wasn't the cold so much," he said afterward, "but the dirt and smell got to me."

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