“In recounting partisan battles, Mr. Allitt’s objectivity is refreshing…His critique of the relentless crisis mentality will lead many environmentalists to dismiss the book as anti-environmental, while anti-environmentalists will object to his conclusion that much conservation has been achieved at little cost to ordinary Americans.” —The Wall Street Journal
“A book that deserves widespread readership and course adoption…The virtue of Allitt’s history is a fresh approach to familiar themes and controversies, and from a perspective only occasionally brought to bear on the subject…He gets the larger story right…Allitt’s wide-gauge historical approach is a valuable complement to the many scientific and policy critiques that have piled up over the years.”—The Weekly Standard
“In this sweeping study, Patrick Allitt covers every conceivable major character and event in the modern ‘age of environmentalism.’ The book is grounded in intellectual history, and seeks to find balance in interpreting the role of environmental advocates and naysayers, in successes and failures of governmental regulation, in objectives and outcomes. The tone is definitely optimistic about the long view of meeting environmental challenges in the United States. At the same time, in linking past to present, Allitt offers caution about what might unfold in the days to come. Above all else, he touts the value of history in assessing America’s complex environmental legacy.” —Martin V. Melosi, author of The Sanitary City and Precious Commodity
“I don’t agree with everything in A Climate of Crisis, but Patrick Allitt’s well-written and provocative book has given me more to think about than any other history of the U.S. environmental movement. A Climate of Crisis is both bracing and exciting.” —Adam Rome, author of The Genius of Earth Day
The major shift in public opinion toward environmental issues was never more visible than on the first Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, 1970. Well publicized by its organizers Gaylord Nelson, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin who was already strongly identified with environmental issues, and Denis Hayes, former president of the student body at Stanford and a Harvard law student, Earth Day was modeled after the Vietnam teach-ins held on college campuses in the sixties. There were events in every large American city and among high schools, colleges, churches, citizens’ groups, businesses, trade unions, and congressmen (Congress recessed for the day). The event surpassed its organizers’ wildest hopes by mobilizing thousands of groups across the nation. Politicians and business leaders as well as environmental activists gave conservation-themed speeches. Among the issues debated, that day as throughout the era, were pollution and population. Another idea that had begun to generate interest and publicity was the alleged exhaustion of the Earth’s resources.
Earth Day generated a great deal of press attention, mostly favorable, and drew in far more participants than any antiwar, civil rights, or feminist demonstration of the 1960s. In New York, Fifth Avenue was closed for two hours, enabling people to stroll along the suddenly quiet avenue and enjoy speeches and “ecological” street theater. Mayor John Lindsay, a Republican, declared that the environmental issues of the day boiled down to a simple question: “Do we want to live or die?” Elsewhere, communities arranged trash pickups or symbolically buried gas-guzzling cars—a group of one hundred Tacoma, Washington, teenagers rode horses to school along the freeway. Nelson remarked later, “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor the resources to organize twenty million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated.”
Some corporations were eager to support Earth Day, especially chemical and oil companies that had been criticized for their dirty and damaging conduct over the last few years. Like politicians, they were susceptible to changing popular moods and eager to embrace them, for the sake of good public relations. Before long they would launch “green” advertising campaigns, claiming that no one was more alert to the needs of the suffering Earth than they. The organizers of Earth Day itself, however, did not accept corporate contributions.