The first scientist to shake the tree about climate change was Svante Arrhenius. Back in 1898, this Swede calculated that the average temperature on Earth would go up as the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere went up.
Then in 1938, a noted English steam engineer and amateur meteorologist, Guy S. Callendar, re-examined this 19th century theory in a paper called "The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and Its Influence on Temperature." Callendar analyzed data on a global scale, including the absorption of infrared radiation by trace gases, and confirmed that even back then global warming was happening. (I'm particularly taken by Callendar and his work because when I saw a photo of him as a young man I jumped, he looked so much like my granddad.)
As we close in on the 43rd annual Earth Day, I'm thinking about how many alarm bells have been clanged over the years, the decades, the centuries by the likes of scientists, philosophers, biologists, poets, academics, artists, spiritual leaders — you name it — about our recklessness with our lovely Planet Earth.
Wars. Bombs. Mining that resembles bombing. Chemical saturation. Carbon dioxide. Deforestation. Bad food. Worse food production, including trawlers that sift through our ocean's waters with nets so humungous they can fit 13 — that's not a typo; it really is 13 — 747s in the mouth of the net. And you thought the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise certification program was just a namby-pamby nicety?
The first official Earth Day itself — organized to simply make people aware of environmental issues — was held back in 1970.
The date of April 22 was chosen by the "father" of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson, then senator for the state of Wisconsin, to maximize exposure to students on campus. We all look to our youth for social change. Nelson also looked to law and policy, sponsoring the U.S. Wilderness Act and playing a key role in the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
Rachel Carson published her epic Silent Spring, the bible against DDT use, just a few years before Earth Day's launch. All of us of a certain vintage who went through Langara's journalism program had that for required reading, along with E. F. Schumacher's 1973 Small Is Beautiful. "A Study of Economics as if People Mattered" says the sub-title, which could have been written by someone in last year's Occupy Movement.
I still have my yellowing copy, which was responsible for opening many of our eyes to Earth-shaking transformations, like the mass abandonment of rural, agrarian life styles for the city.
At the time, Schumacher noted, the formerly beautiful Spanish city of Lima, Peru, for instance, was home to sprawling slums and three million souls, with "people arriving from rural areas at the rate of a thousand a day — and nobody knows what to do with them."