Honor the Earth

By Don Rittner

Our small blue planet has been spinning for a few billion years, slowly evolving and experimenting with all forms of life forms. Some would say it made a big mistake a few million years ago when it let a few treetop dwelling mammals land on the ground. The impact of human beings on this planet has been remarkable — but not always good! Our insistence on a philosophy of global manifest destiny has not only put the planet in jeopardy, but even the survival of the very species carrying out this suicidal policy.

In October 1969, a son of a preacher decided to do something. John McConnell, now 87, proposed to celebrate a day for the Earth to Peter Tamaras of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  Tamaras suggested that McConnell write an Earth Day Proclamation. McConnell presented one to San Francisco’s mayor, Joseph L. Alioto. McConnell also presented his Earth Day concept to the UNESCO’S National Conference: Man and his Environment in November 1969. It was well received.

On March 1, 1970, Mayor Alioto issued McConnell’s proclamation as the "Earth Day Proclamation for San Francisco."   It was the first Earth Day. Celebrations included the raising of the Earth Flag in Golden Gate Park, and the park provided seedlings that were delivered by the Red Cross to schools in the San Francisco area.  The Sierra Club, Jr. Chamber of Commerce, colleges, and grade schools all participated with special programs and celebration.  

McConnell chose the Vernal or Spring Equinox that normally occurs on March 21st as Earth Day. This is the time each year when the Sun crosses the equator and has a 12 hour day/12 hour night (equal length) on the whole planet.  In late 1970, McConnell contacted UN Secretary General U Thant and obtained his support for making Earth Day a global holiday, one that would be celebrated each year on the Spring Equinox.

For centuries, humans have been celebrating the Spring Equinox in various ways from simple celebrations, sacrifices, to even building complex stone circles such as Stonehenge. In fact, some calendar systems, including our own Old English calendar, had March as the first month of the year; some Asiatic countries still do.

In February 1971, U Thant signed the Earth Day Proclamation written by McConnell. To show the UN’s commitment to celebrate Earth Day, the Peace Bell was rung on March 21, 1971— and has ever since. The Peace Bell was a gift from Japan and was made from coins given by school children to further peace on our planet.  

At this first ringing, U Thant called on people of all creeds and cultures to observe a few moments of silence, and reflect on their role in the nurturing of Earth and their commitment to its care.   

Meanwhile in Seattle, also in 1969 (Sept.), Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, a noted environmentalist (they weren’t called that then) announced there would be a national environmental "teach-in" in the spring of 1970. Nelson was a long time proponent of environmental legislation that includes banning the use of DDT, Agent Orange, controlling strip mining, mandating fuel efficiency standards in cars, and preserving the 2000-mile Appalachian Trail. It was also easy for him to get media attention. I remember celebrating as a student at the University at Albany. The Environmental Forum took people on bus tours of the Pine Bush; at that time not one single acre was preserved.

Unfortunately, for John McConnell, the April 22 Earth Day received more media attention than his UN International Earth Day, and the national media took the environmental "teach-In" moniker and used the term ‘Earth Day’ instead — and it has stuck ever since. However, the UN still observes International Earth Day every Spring Equinox, and founder John McConnell tries to be there.

So, each year both are celebrated worldwide but in America the April date has been the one used the most (weather is better) and around the country various activities take place.

Trojans have always done their part and this year is no exception. More than 25 cleanup projects will take place in Troy from cleaning up Barker, Beman, Frear and Prospect Parks, the Poestenkill Gorge, Mt Ida Cemetery (both of them), to Burden Pond. Even the downtown fire hydrants will receive new paint. If you participate you will get a free T-shirt! This year’s Earth Day events will take place on Saturday, April 26th, and if you want to help, contact Craig Pettinger at 270-4613. There will be refreshments. Here is one day you can put your feelings for the Earth into action.