The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970. I got in on the ground floor, since my father—a biologist who has always been deeply concerned for the environment—helped spearhead the observation of the occasion in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where I grew up. I was in the 9th grade that year. In subsequent years, I helped organize an Earth Day Fair at my high school. One of the highlights was the "(ecologically) pornographic picture contest." Prizes were awarded to the photos that most graphically showed the degradation of the local environment.
Due to my father's example, I have had over four decades to get used to the idea that our current level of energy consumption is dangerous and unsustainable. Thus, the recent crystallization of concern over climate change was no surprise to me. Unlike many others, I saw this coming.
I saw something else coming, too. I still remember my shock when Mr. Wilson, my art teacher, started telling anybody who would listen that environmentalism was a communist plot. I liked Mr. Wilson; he was a sweet man and a good teacher. He did have his causes, though. He freaked out if anybody drew a picture containing any kind of alcoholic drink. I figured he'd probably been fighting that demon himself, so it didn't bother me when he preached to us about the evils of booze.
I have no idea, though, how he might have been harmed by environmentalism, or why he was determined to wage a crusade against it. On that first Earth Day, he constructed a big display case in the school lobby documenting what he believed was the environmentalist/communist connection. The trump card was the fact that April 22 was Lenin's birthday. You have to wonder, of course, what was going through Mr. Wilson's mind. If I wanted to construct a plot that was designed to fool people into promoting Nazism, I would surely be smart enough not to schedule my flagship event on Hitler's birthday. Such subtleties, though, were apparently lost on my art teacher. Environmentalists were communists. He was gracious enough to acknowledge to me that my father probably wasn't a communist; he was just a dupe. I could rest assured, though, that the motivation for Earth Day was coming straight from Moscow.
The irony will not be lost on regular readers of this blog. As I revealed in my post on McCarthyism last month, I did have communists in my family. They were all on my mother's side, though. My father had no connection to them.
They were also patriots. My cousin Richard Lippman, as his daughter Martha recently reminded me, served as a major in the US Army during World War II. He was rewarded by being blacklisted from his profession and hounded literally to death. So I was not very sympathetic to Mr. Wilson's argument. Nor was I sympathetic when, 20 years later, I heard a local Congressman in California, where I lived at the time, call environmentalists "watermelons:" green on the outside, red in the middle.
As the 42nd Earth Day rolls around, the rhetoric is still the same. Environmentalists are now out to destroy the foundations of American capitalism with their trumped up claims about climate change. No-one should be surprised by this. That's been the line of choice from the beginning; only the specifics have changed.
Don't fall for it. The crisis is real, and growing worse. Far from being a threat to America, those concerned about preserving and protecting our environment are patriots, and deserve to be honored as such. Take some time today to thank those who were prescient enough to see the need for this observation way back in 1970, and then honor them by keeping the momentum going. It's the right thing to do. In fact, it's the only thing to do.