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The significance of Earth Day

Young people speaking their minds

More than 20 million people turned out across the United States for the first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970. Americans were pissed off with the pollution that was fouling the air and the water and killing off the flora and the fauna. They were “mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore”. 

The catalyst for environmental awareness nationwide

That first Earth Day was apparently the largest single day protest in human history. President Richard Nixon was so worried that it was going to turn into a giant anti Vietnam war protest that he dispatched the FBI to supervise the events. It turned out to be peaceful and focussed and the catalyst for the origination and bi-partisan passage of federal legislation that followed soon after: The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, The Endangered Species Act, The Marine Mammal Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act. All of this legislation passed during the Nixon Administration in the early seventies. Tricky Dick didn’t care at all about fish, wildlife or the environment, but he wanted a good track record on the environment and he knew that having that would be an easy way to win votes and get re-elected. He was a politician. 

Masters cyclists may remember how it used to be

If you are a masters category cyclist, you might dimly remember what the environment was like in the early seventies. I remember the smell of rotten eggs (methane) in the air and the sight of flames at the top of smokestacks at the refineries along I-95 in northern New Jersey. I remember seeing great big rusty pipes  disappearing ominously below the low tide mark at beaches in Maine. I remember the overwhelming smell of automobile exhaust and how it made me feel so car sick. And of course I remember the Crying Indian commercial although I did not make the connection until much later.

Remember Earth Day on your next ride or swim

The federal environmental laws that were enacted in the early seventies stopped corporations and municipalities from pumping pollution into the air and the water with impunity and imposed fines for those who did. The result is that today, you don’t think about the quality of the air or water that much. Cars don't belch out as much exhaust as they used to. The city doesn’t dump raw sewage into the bay, the intercoastal or the river. The environment is cleaner. The next time you notice the fresh air on a morning ride, the clear water on an afternoon swim or the impressive sight of an Osprey or a Bald Eagle, recognize that the activism of Earth Day is a big reason why you are enjoying those experiences.

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