The First Earth Day Remembered

by Paula Cullison

The 1970s was a time of consciousness raising, political upheaval, anti-establishment thinking, anti-war activism and social unrest. Our mantras were profound: Stop pollution and save the Earth; war is not healthy for children and other living things; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle; waste not, want not. Local activism was commonplace throughout New York City. Vacant lots were being turned into community gardens.

As part of the Citizens for a Better New York, and as one who had already campaigned for political candidates and rallied around numerous social issues, getting on board with the first Earth Day event in New York City on April 22, 1970, was a natural choice. Our committee focused on Brooklyn Heights and had organized a neighborhood Saturday morning recycling project in the back of a local church. The money received from the newspapers, bottles and aluminum allowed us to break even, since we needed to rent a truck to take the items to a recycling center.

We had no idea that the Earth Day movement of April 22 in 1970 would have attracted more than 20 million people across the United States. The local park became the center for our Earth Day celebration. Our children became walking slogans for the environmental movement with the patches we sewed on their clothing. Our goal was to educate the community about the three Rs. We set up information tables, made kid-friendly games using recycled material, and gathered signatures on petitions to change city ordinances regarding waste management.

In spite of Mr. McGuire’s advice to Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” we were opposed to plastic. We did not believe that plastic would to be helpful to the future of the planet. Unfortunately, we lost that battle and others.

Since 1970, people have created numerous catastrophic environmental problems. It seems as a country, we fail to realize that the United States constitutes only four percent of the world’s population but consumes about 25 percent of the world’s resources. There is a (LED) light at the end of the tunnel, however, and the tide is finally turning. Some states are banning single-use plastic bottles, studies are finding solutions to eliminating all the plastic in our oceans and rivers; wind and solar energy are being embraced by many nations.

This Earth Day, may we once again embrace the mantras of the hopeful 1970s generation. Stop pollution and save the Earth. Waste not, want not. And please, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.


Paula G. Cullison, a graduate of CUNY – Baruch College, moved to Phoenix with her husband and two small children in 1974. She has been a writer for many years focusing more recently on international travel  and photography. www.paulacullison.com.

1 Comment
  1. Thank you Paula, you are a vibrant voice, articulate and persevering, for all the things that matter about making and keeping our beautiful planet healthy and nourishing. You are immensely appreciated for all you contribute to the cause. Melanie Lee

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