An Earth Day Perspective

How many remember the first earth day? Well, we didn’t actually call it that. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s Ecology was the word. It was a new word. To a seventh grader in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it meant quit throwing trash out of a car window.

No kidding. Who doesn’t remember the Sunday drive and an ever-clean interior in Dad’s car? We didn’t have a car trash bag or box. Didn’t need one. Just a quick toss out the window at seventy miles per hour took care of that.  It was someone else’s problem then.

And I remember my Dad changing the oil in the car and promptly dumping the old oil into a back corner of the back yard. Every 3,000 miles this happened. Groundwater contamination wasn’t even a glimmer in some scientist’s eye back then.

Awareness came slowly to my generation. I think it started with President Johnson’s (Lyndon, not Andrew) and his wife’s campaign to rid the highways of unsightly billboards. The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 cleaned up our nation’s Interstate Highway System reducing the number of billboards by invoking restrictions on outdoor advertising, and requiring the removal of certain types of signage and certain junkyards. The point was to make more of America visible, uninhibited by distracting commercial advertising.

Soon the ecology movement was born out of the growing concerns of chemicals in the environment and a general awareness of the damages being made to our planet. There were logos, posters, even a flag. Yes, the colors were green and white, with yellow thrown in as a contrast I suppose. It was a ‘green’ movement, but we didn’t call it being green.

One of the first things I remember doing was participating in a twenty-mile trash pick up. Yea, that’s right TWENTY MILES. I don’t want to hear it from you softies who adopt only a mile or two.  My junior high went after twenty miles of Tulsa’s roads picking up trash. It was big news to the local TV station and it became my first TV appearance since the Mr. Zing and Tuffy kids’ shows.

It wasn’t tough doing twenty miles when I was twelve or thirteen years old. It didn’t take months of training as it did for the marathon I finished in 2004. There was a pickup truck that trailed us picking up kids and adults who couldn’t finish though.

Our group of newly minted ecologists embarked on our journey to save the earth that weekend and with it came a new awareness that the ground is not a dump for used oil and the sides of the roads are not trash cans. My dad wasn’t very happy with the reminders that my ecological enlightening suddenly made his bad habits seem evil and dark. Eventually even he got on board, and soon we had the latest in car trash bag containers riding on the ‘hump’ between the driver and passenger seats.

So have we come far in our ‘save the planet’ attitudes? I think so. We now have a government agency for patrolling the air and ground. Companies have more awareness of their pollutants and design accordingly. Environmental engineering has become a mainstay in engineering colleges and companies hire plenty of these engineers. Sure, a lot of this attention is due to the government regulations. I like to think the CEO’s care enough to be responsible as stewards of the earth.

I do miss the flag, though. Can’t we bring it back, just once?

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About stemzandroses

I'm an engineer and writer with a built-in need to share my nearly 40 years of experience working in a male-dominated field with the rest of the world.
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