Jackie Hope: Have you hugged a tree today?
Greetings, Earthlings. Today is your day. Sci-fi? A sequel to “Lost?” A new GEICO commercial?
Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, mostly by hippies, tree huggers and first-generation environmental ecologists, It was 20 million strong communing on college campuses across the U.S.
Now, 44 years later, it is celebrated in 192 countries and is coordinated by its own not-for-profit, the Earth Day Network.
The concept of Earth Day was proposed in 1969 by peace activist John McConnell, at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco. Back in those days, all the cool stuff happened in San Francisco. The United Nations soon signed a proclamation designating March 21, 1970, the spring equinox, as Earth Day. One month later, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis., designated a second Earth Day on April 22, setting the day aside for an environmental teach-in. Nelson’s date had more environmental sustainability, since April 22 has continued to be celebrated as Earth Day. Nelson was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work on behalf of the environment.
OK, we hear you asking, “What is a teach-in?” See, an “in” was sorta an old school chat room. People all came together “in” a central spot — physically instead of virtually — for a shared “in”-terest, and “in”-teracted face-to-face. Whoa, reactionary concept: “in”-terpersonal “in”-teraction. Anyway, there were “ins” for everything: sit-ins for social justice; teach-ins to raise awareness; John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-in for Peace; love-ins for hippie-dippie-lovey-dovey-flower-power stuff; and “Laugh-In” for … well, nobody ever really figured out what that was for.
The first Earth Day was a nationwide teach-in with college classes decamping onto Bald Spots, Buffalo Commons, Harvard Yard, Quads and other grassy areas. Students rapped about ecology and the environment, and about environmental ecology. And right now you are picturing a Gangsta rapping, “You gotta love the trees, yo. Ya give ‘em some respect. They shade you from the sun, bro. So you ain’t no redneck.”
Picture this, instead. Rapping, back in the Hippie Era, was short for rapport — a communications connection. And you were “right on” when you established rapport within your encounter group. Far out, man. Power to the people.
Those first Earth Day participants were concerned about “mutually assured destruction.” See, the nuclear superpowers were so nuclearly super-powered, that they had a whole Earth overkill of about five, according to the CATO Institute. That meant the superpowers possessed enough destructive thingies to obliterate all life on earth five times over.
Yes, Overkill is now a thrash metal band with an ever-changing lineup, just like the Minnesota Twins, only with more hits. And yes, they are as family-friendly as Anthrax — both the band and the disease.
Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” one of the first books to address environmental pollution, was required reading on Earth Day 1, and for many Earth Days to come.
“Lord of the Rings” was a pretty hot Earth Day commodity, too. Because, hey, who doesn’t love Middle Earth?
You gotta figure that J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits were environmentalists. For sure they were subsistence farmers. And they regularly ate two breakfasts. Folks that consider “second breakfast” a necessity are my kind of environmentalists. Don’t know about you, but I can subsist on pancakes with maple syrup.
Students and hippies, and hippie students as well as hip students, really dug farming. They religiously read the “Whole Earth Catalog,” another San Francisco idea, which offered suggestions for sustainable living and communal farming. Hippies raised all sorts of things on their communal farms. Some of those things were even legal.
Hippies really understood the concept of Earth Day, though. They “grokked” it.
“Grok” was plotted in another Earth Day book, Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land.” It means to understand something, on its most basic level. The rest of the book was strange, indeed, and let’s just say the main character was neither sustainable nor a vegetarian. SO not a vegetarian. More like a communal cannibal. That is a gak, not a grok.
Today the Earth Day Network, www.earthday.org, tells us, “Education is at the heart of Earth Day.” Earth Day is the largest civic event in the world, with more than a billion participants each year. And although every day is an Earth Day, the network encourages all of us to, “Do something nice for the Earth … and make a difference,” today.
So right after second breakfast, I am gonna go hug the maple tree out back. I’m hoping it will give me some maple syrup, because having fresh maple syrup would make a real positive difference in my Earth Day.