In the Air on Earth Day 1970
As a southern California high school senior on April 22, 1970, my life was absorbed with plans for graduation, the all-night party at Disneyland, and college ahead. The first Earth Day, however, does not stand out in my memory. Earth Day activities did not feature in our yearbook. We had a token chapter of the radical SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), but there was no ecology club.
Although we lived in the sleepy town of Redlands—located east of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino Valley—we were well aware of hippie protests in northern California. It was smog, however, that affected our lives most acutely. We could not even see the foothills of the nearby 11,400-foot San Gorgornio Mountain for more than half the year.
On the first Earth Day, as a part of “Ecology Week,” The Redlands Daily Facts featured a small article on page 3 about 40 stalwart classmates who had volunteered to pick up litter. It is, however, the mention in that article of a few homemade signs with the message “Smog Kills” that resonates most strongly with me today.
Smog defined life in southern California from the 1950s through the 1970s, with harmful effects on every living thing. In addition to smog’s noxious chemicals, change was also in the air by April 22. Eight months later, President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, which set emissions limits and allowed the recently established Environmental Protection Administration to regulate pollutants. Whereas the quality of southern California’s air has improved steadily since 1970, smog still plagues this area. Ironically, it has taken a different threat to move the needle farthest. According to the British website Metro’s March 19, 2020 headline, “Coronavirus ends LA’s notorious smog and air pollution as people stay home and avoid roads.”
Fifty years ago, the same edition of The Redlands Daily Facts also featured an article on page 4 about Nobel Prize winner Willard Libby’s speech presented the previous evening at the University of Redlands. Professor of chemistry at UCLA, Libby revealed his plans to establish the profession of an environmental specialist or “ecology doctor.” By 2020, Libby’s proposal has exceeded all expectations.
The ecological focus of BioOne Complete’s journals and the many related careers open to its community are the strongest evidence for how deeply the ideals of both Dr. Libby and Earth Day have taken root.