Earth Day

I’m going to really date myself here.

I remember the first Earth Day. It was April 22, 1970. Let’s just say I was in Ladyfield Elementary School and our teacher, Sister Lucia, explained to us how Earth Day was a day that was being set aside to remind us to love the earth and help take care of it.

We all thought that loving the Earth seemed like the right thing to do, and it seemed pretty easy. Although I don’t think I, or any of my classmates, could really articulate what “taking care of the Earth” meant. Didn’t we do that already?

It turns out, not really. Growing up in Northwest Ohio, huge factories that belched out smoke were signs of progress and prosperity. Big cars were good. There were plenty of factories making auto parts in town. I knew a lot of kids with dads who worked in auto-related jobs. Besides, Toledo was only about 45 minutes from Detroit. Now you know why the auto industry was important.

But in science class we had started to talk about a book that was published a few years earlier. It was called Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. We watched parts of a TV news program about the book and I remember seeing plenty of scary pictures of animals that were sick and even dead, all because of chemicals and pollution. You can imagine the impact of pictures of sick animals on an elementary school class. The program also talked about lakes and rivers that were so polluted you couldn’t eat the fish from them. My dad and I would go fishing with my uncles on Maumee Bay and Lake Erie. Suddenly all this talk about pollution began to hit home.

My parents watched the national news on TV almost every night and I remember that there were lots of protests about the Vietnam War. However, as Earth Day approached, the protests suddenly shifted to include concerns about the Earth. “Wow,” I thought, “A lot of other people across the country are talking about the same things we are talking about in school!”

As the big day approached, our whole school decided we needed to do something to be part of this growing movement. We made signs and attended an assembly at school where we learned more about the dangers of pollution. But as I look back, the biggest memory of that first Earth Day was when everyone got involved and made a difference. We picked up trash on the school property. We didn’t just clear up the playground, but we also picked up trash in the woods behind the school and along the highway that ran adjacent to the school property.

Did it make a huge difference in the struggle to make the Earth healthier? Probably not, but it made a difference and it made our world better. And I still remember that good feeling I had when we were finished. As another Earth Day arrives, we all need to think about how to give our kids that same good feeling.

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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