Earth Day 1970: My memories of Earth Day begin with school plays in elementary school. The theme of Earth Day at that time was raising awareness about the dangers of pollution to kids and animals and plants — a pretty basic message compared to the intricacies of issues like climate change today. Kids encouraged their parents to recycle things like newspapers, and this was before our towns and cities had even thought of requiring recycling. The theme worked for me; if I saw someone throw a piece of trash from a car window, I thought I was supposed to say something to him.
My mom was a high school biology teacher, so many weekends were Earth Days for us. I remember collecting plants with my mom for her classes, and picking up trash in the small streams in our area during our weekend hikes. I remember knowing from Mom about Rachel Carson and “Silent Spring,” although it was not until college that the book became a part of my science curriculum. Fast forward to my graduation from college, as a biology major, and my mom telling me that I wasn’t so talented at science, but maybe I should think about a new career path she had read about in environmental law.
Earth Day 1990: I graduated from law school and started practice in water and mining law in Colorado. I moved to Washington, D.C., in April, 1990. Not only was this the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day, but the Clean Air Act was passed by Congress later that year — a law that has been a part of my career since. The command-and-control environmental laws that were passed in the early 1970s and 1980s were being tested as environmental groups sued corporations as well as the government to enforce them. By now, the public was not just aware but frightened by the dangers of pollution from global disasters like Bhopal. Locally, the horrific reality of cancer clusters in once pristine and promising neighborhoods led to the creation of neighborhood associations demanding information from local industry a la Erin Brockovich. Although public awareness and policy had evolved since the first Earth Day, I remember wondering in 1990 whether actual progress was being achieved.
Alison Taylor, Vice President Sustainability — Americas, Siemens