Earth Day--38 Years Later

On the surface, Earth Day observances haven't changed a great deal over the years. Part celebration, craft show, concert and education with echoes of the 1960's teach-ins from which it took its form. It's an annual focus on one of the big issues of our time.

Back in 1970 it was the genesis of the environmental movement. The word back then was ecology and awareness of the job we were doing as stewards of our world was already growing. Led by Washoe County State Senators Coe Swobe and Cliff Young, the debate that would lead to the beginnings of our environmental laws was beginning in the state legislature. Business and local governments were already fretting about potential impacts.

Against this backdrop northern Nevada joined the rest of the nation in the first Earth Day. Marge Sill was teaching a Sparks High in those days and led her students through the first of many discussions focusing on the environment.

"We were talking about clean air, clean water and beginning to talk about recycling," says Sill. "There was no recycling back then."

The big issue back then was pollution, and Marge says it still is, though the concern is no longer local smog but global climate change. The conversation is the same but the stakes are much higher.

Sill is nothing, if not an optimist. Issues that were seen as counterculture in 1970 have long since gone mainstream, business and government have in many cases joined the green revolution. All good news to this lifelong environmentalist who says the environment should not be a partisan issue.

"People are all doing what they can," she says. Still asked, what grade we've earned in those 38 years, this former teacher says "I'd like to say a B, but I'm afraid it's more like a C minus."


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