In “Before and After the First Earth Day, 1970: A History of Environmentalism, its Success, Failures and Errors” David M. Guion sets out to answer why do we observe Earth Day and what difference does it make that we acknowledge April 22 in this way?
Guion provides an overview of the American zeitgeist, as it pertains to environmentalism, from the time of The Great Depression when frugality was a virtue to the present when consumerism is a part of the American psyche too few people question.
This book is neither a bone-dry history lesson nor a guilt-inducing screed on how we’ve irretrievably screwed up our precious planet. The author has deftly woven together personal anecdotes, passages of quotations, summaries of seminal writings about the environment and more to make his point in an approachable, effective style.
A recounting of how we got this way is important to understand. In our hearts, surely we know there’s something whacky about being urged to recycle while we’re exhorted to shop more to prove our patriotism, about having to hop in a car to get a few groceries because there’s nowhere to shop in our own neighborhoods, about the myriad products in our cupboards and closets that didn’t exist a generation ago.
“Even as some people began to count the costs of America’s new prosperity on the environment, comfort with that same prosperity prevented them from thinking through their concern to its logical conclusion,” Guion writes. We’re living with the results of a disconnect “between the ethos of consumerism with the environmental problem.” Not to mention polarizing politicians, biased journalists, anti-corporate zealots and other non-scientists trying to foment fear and culpability with specious data and fright wigs.
Government policy and huge corporations can be blamed for some of the predicament we’re in today. We might just as well throw up our hands. The gov, big corps, et al are too big for us to influence. But then, as Guion sagely reminds us, governments, corporations, and other so-called faceless entities are made up of individuals. Individuals with faces. Individuals with families they love.
The last chapter “What Now? Who Is Responsible” gives readers a Here’s what you can do list. Some suggestions were novel to me, while others were what readers who are prone to read this kind of book in the first place might label as “common sense.” There’s no such thing as common sense. Just good sense. Fans of unconventional thinking will enjoy the section on using a problem to solve another problem.
Reading about how we’ve missed the mark in stewarding the natural resources of our planet can be disheartening. Even so, the overview “First Earth Day” provides is a reality check, an education, a look back that informs how we deal with day-to-day living now and in the days ahead.
Take heart. The choices individuals make do matter. While that sounds like a bromide, Guion’s thesis challenges readers to ask themselves how individual choices could not have a collective impact.
They have to. Don’t they?
(Beth Fowler is the author of the fast-paced YA Novel Ken’s War)
Authors interested in exchanging books for review can contact Beth via this blog.
Ken’s War – a fast-paced books for teens and young adults.