Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Earth Days

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Earth Days

Article excerpt

Earth Days

Directed by Robert Stone

American Experience, 100 minutes

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The documentary Earth Days (airing on PBS April 19 at 9 p.m.) is ostensibly a celebration of the advent of Earth Day and a history of the modern environmental movement, but it's also a cautionary tale about how little that movement has managed to accomplish in the last 30 years. The film features nine environmental leaders who take us from the industrialization of America in the 1940s and 1950s to the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962, the first Earth Day in 1970, the oil crisis of the late 1970s, and Jimmy Carter's commitment to building a renewable energy industry, starting with the installation of a photovoltaic solar array on the White House roof in 1979.

Up until that point, the tone is optimistic. These people were getting things done. Former Congressman Pete McCloskey (R-CA) talks about crossing the aisle and partnering with Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson (D) to help create the first Earth Day. Archival footage of biologist Paul Ehrlich, author of Populalion Bomb, speaking to packed auditoriums, and appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, reveals a mainstream acceptance of environmental issues and the need to do something dramatic to address them. Astronaut Rusty Schweikert wistfully describes the moments he spent in space, untethered from his shuttle, realizing that humans are just another form of life birthed by the planet. Clip after clip is played of first John F. Kennedy, then Johnson, then Nixon trumpeting environmental causes.

This is what people mean when they worry that today's "green" movement will peter out the way the 1970s movement did. Environmentalists today like to believe that the movement is more entrenched now, that we've done our homework and learned from past mistakes. …

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