Environment: The Dawning of Earth Day

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Seven months ago, Wisconsin's Senator Gaylord Nelson casually suggested that all Americans set aside April 22 as a day for serious discussion of environmental problems. Since then, even he has been surprised by the response to the idea. "It is nothing short of incredible," says Nelson, noting that 1,500 college campuses and 10,000 schools were scheduled to participate in this week's nationwide teach-in.

Most plans for the observance of Earth Day (as April 22 was designated by ecology action groups) contrasted sharply with youth's fiercely militant stands against the war in Viet Nam, poverty and racial discrimination. Unless young radicals stir up trouble, which is always possible these days, the emphasis will be mainly on education, with some quiet fun thrown in. Says Gregory Voelm of Berkeley's Ecology Action group: "This is not a big pep rally and it is not a day of protest."

Natural Life. Indeed not. Some schools chose not to wait and held special classes on environmental problems last week. Students at Ridgefield High in Connecticut spilled oil into tanks of water to learn the effects of oil pollution. But the big show was for the 22nd, and every leading environmentalist was booked to lecture long in advance. Ecologist Barry Commoner's schedule was the busiest, calling for him to rush from Harvard and M.I.T. to Rhode Island College and finally to Brown University. Population Biologist Paul Ehrlich was lined up for speeches at Iowa State, Biologist René Dubos at U.C.L.A., Ralph Nader at State University of New York in Buffalo. In addition, such heroes of the young as Dr. Benjamin Spock, Poet Allen Ginsberg and various rock stars planned to have their say, if not precisely about ecology, then about the joys of the natural life. Almost all the notables were also scheduled to show up some time during Philadelphia's Earth Week (April 16-22), sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania and 61 other local colleges.

Only politicians were not well represented in plans for Earth Day ceremonies. There were exceptions: Senators Edmund Muskie at Harvard, Gaylord Nelson at Berkeley, Ted Kennedy at Yale, and Secretary of the Interior Walter J. Hickel at the University of Alaska. But, explained Scott Lang, president of Harvard's Environmental Law Society: "We wanted informed people. Most politicians are only reading what their speechwriters write for them."

Dead Orange. Besides the lectures, Earth Day planners scheduled stunts to dramatize various aspects of the environmental crisis. As a warning of impending famine caused by the world's rising population, San Fernando State College students were organized to prepare tea and rice to give people a taste of a "hunger diet." Students at several other colleges and schools were ready to collect bottles and aluminum cans cluttering the landscape—and then to conduct "dump-ins" on the steps of city halls or manufacturers' plants.

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