An Earth Day story in yesterday's editions incorrectly attributed to Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisc.) remarks actually made by Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine).
Ten years ago today, this was a very different country.
Top news on Earth Day 1970 was the choice of a particular crater for the upcoming landing of Apollo 14 on the moon, our third visit there.
President Nixon had just announced that 150,000 more troops would be coming home from Vietnam. "Pacification is succeeding," he said.
According to "administration sources," Cambodia had just asked for arms and aid to beat back increasing Viet Cong pressure. We were soon to begin bombing.
On Earth Day 1970, Standard Oil of Indiana was giving away salad bowls to anyone who bought eight gallons of gasoline. Capitol Hill houses were selling for $20,000, and the help wanted ads were divided into men's and women's jobs.
Miniskirts were rampant; Bernie Allen hit a home run for the Washington Senators; there were rumors that the Beatles were about to break up.
But Earth Day was also on the front page, and the Daughters of the American Revolution had denounced it as "subversive." All these hippie pinko kids are exaggerating the problem of an untidy world, they said, and they worried that the day's marches, teach-ins and rallies might become violent.
Small wonder. Violence was ordinary in those days, campus violence especially.
Earth Day appeared to many people to be just another tangent attracting another bunch of restless kids looking for a cause. But it was far more than that.
Imagine a country, said Carter administration environmentalist Gus Speth the other day, in which there were no National Environmental Policy Act, no program for air-quality management, no cohesive water-pollution control and no Coastal Zone Management Act; where there were no Toxic Substances Control Act, no Occupational Safety and Health Act, no Surface Mining Control Act, no Endangered Species Act, no Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, no Noise Control Act and no Safe Drinking Water Act.
That was the United States before Earth Day 1970. The "cause" then was simple: clean up the murky air and the foul water. One enemy was a government that hadn't done very much to help, and 20 million Americans called for action with skits, picnics, teach-ins, rallies and buried cars.
Now the question is whether the cascade of laws, money, organizations and hard work of the 1970s has done more than dent the problem.
Speth is chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality. The council didn't exist in 1969, nor did the Environmental Protection Agency, which now employs 10,000 persons. Many of them were marching in 1970 and have made the shift, EPA Chief Douglas Costle remarked, "from the ragged squad of citizens' militia to the disciplined platoons of lawyers, scientists and civil servants" who now wage the environmental wars.
These people, Costle said, "know how to translate passion into the tedious but essential minutiae of the statue books."
But that translation has almost taught us more about the problems than we care to know.
Earth Day's first slogan -- "everything is connected to everything else" -- has become mountains of research papers, labyrinths of red tape and awesomely detailed regulations upon whose remotest semicolons millions of dollars may hinge.
Who would have dreamed in 1970 that a tiny fish called the snail darter and an insipid weed called the furbish louseworth might move the mighty judicial system to halt, albeit temporarily, the construction of two large dams? Who would have thought a clear and lifeless lake in the Adirondacks could be blamed on smokestacks in the Ohio River Valley?
Trying to protect themselves from asbestos in their water pipes, New England communities lined them with plastic dissolved in a chemical called tetrachloroethylene. Now we learn that the chemical may cause cancer and has gotten into all the water.
A little knowledge has often proved dangerous or at least demoralizing. Many Americans have given up: everything causes cancer, the problem is too big, it's too late to do anything. Eugene Kennedy, a psychology professor at Loyola University in Chicago, links the so-called "me decade" of self-concern with a reaction to the discovery of limits: get it while you can, baby, tomorrow it will be rationed.
And if it causes cancer, whatever it may be, well, that is 10 years away and you could be hit by a truck tomorrow.
In its crudest form, that is a risk-benefit analysis. Awareness of trade-offs and an understanding that a risk-free society is impossible are perhaps the major legacy of 10 years of the environmental movement. The question now becomes one of how to make the choices.
Ten years later, the four basic elements of the medieval world still provide convenient categories for reference. Each has undeniably changed since 1970, largely in the direction of becoming more complex:
Earth -- Eggshells of birds are sturdier since DDT was banned. There is a Redwoods National Park, a Wild and Scenic Rivers system, scores of wilderness areas reserved for nature. Endangered species are preserved and chemical waste dumps are being wrestled under some control. Strip miners must restore the land; coal miners breathe easier.
But world population continues to grow unchecked. Farm lands are blowing and eroding away; urban sprawl eats up four square miles more every day. Americans still each throw away 1,400 pounds of trash each year and recycle only six percent of it. Where will we put our nuclear and chemical wastes?
Air -- Despite great industrial growth, air quality is not perceptibly worse in most places. Unhealthy air days have declined substantially in most major cities.
But sulfur dioxide from tall industrial smokestacks combines with water at high altitudes to make acid rain hundreds of miles away. It is hard to site new industry and still keep the air clean; carbon dioxide building up from a century of burning carbon fuels may overheat the atmosphere and change our climate.
Fire -- Fuel efficiency standards have given us better auto mileage. There are tax credits for conservation and research funding for solar and other alternative energy forms. The entire energy debate is couched in terms of benefits versus environmental costs.
With a little help from the oil cartel, American oil companies are preaching gasoline conservation and keeping their salad bowls.
Water -- The Cuyahoga River which once caught fire in Ohio, is blossoming with parks along its shore. The Potomac is clean enough to swim in, and there are salmon in the Connecticut River for the first time in 75 years; Lake Washington, the Red River, the Willamette are all newly clean. y
But some of our underground aquifers are starting to run dry from over-irrigation; the groundwater used by half the nation's people is absorbing the chemicals in old dumps. Trade secrets and testing procedure arguments are slowing chemical law enforcement; runoff from supermarket parking lots and construction sites is polluted and very hard to control.
Achievements have revealed major new probelms in every field and industries already complaining they have spent enough are insisting they cannot do much more.
Earth Day 1970 was subversive, all right: it undermined the conviction that we understood the problems. "We have made more progress than I expected," said Earth Day's first organizer, Denis Hayes, who now heads the Solar Energy Research Institute, "but much less than I hoped for."
Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.), who conceived the Earth Day idea in the first place, now says we must turn toward a "new conservation," counting the environmental costs of our acts as never before. He is echoed by Speth and Costle and President Carter: business must be enlisted as part of the army, not its target; cities must become allies of open space, not enemies; government action must take second place to individual action. We must conserve, conserve, conserve.
"Instead of the 'me-generation,'" Nelson says, let us have "a re-generation of the spirit of Earth Day 1970 -- not to hinder freedom, but to guarantee it."