Earth Day!

Cleveland Comhrá: Earth Day
By B0b Carney

Throughout the ages, mankind realized the importance of location when establishing his communities. A river was a valuable asset. Drinking water, food source, transport and defense are just a few reasons to settle on or near a river.

By the industrial age, rivers were being utilized as never before; the Cuyahoga was crucial in the development of Cleveland. It provided the means to move coal, iron, iron ore and numerous other products. It also became a way to rid ourselves of the waste generated by industry and the community growing around it. In other words, it became a sewer, like many other rivers surrounded by cities with growing industry.

In the early 1900s, the Cuyahoga provided water for Cleveland’s industry, mechanical power, drinking water, and later for power generation. Raw sewage, garbage, rats and the by-products of the various businesses and factories around it floated on it’s surface and littered it’s banks. Fires had been breaking out on the Cuyahoga approximately once a decade since the 1860s.

It was a relatively small fire in 1969, however ,that would change history. First reported by local news, the national media picked up in the burning river, Time magazine ran the  photos and did a story that would catapault America’s pollution problem into our living rooms.

A growing group of environmentally aware people used the coverage of the fire to promote that awareness to others both locally and globally. Around the nation people began to look at their rivers in a new light.

Folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, an avid fisherman, pushed to clean up “his river” the Hudson. The American people had spoken and by 1970, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Canada, the Clean Water Act and the creation of state and federal environmental protection agencies were formed. That small fire was also a major inspiration for the first Earth Day.

April 22 is now celebrated in 193 countries. It marks the birth of the modern environmental movement. Prior to 1970, there were no regulations or legislature to stop anyone from dumping garbage, sewage or toxins into the water we drink or the air we breath. Started by Senator Gaylord Nelson, it was his way to push awareness for the need for legal mechanisms to restore and protect our damaged environment.

That spring, twenty million Americans demonstrated in cities across the nation. Environmental awareness was around long before then, but was never perceived as a mainstream issue by our legislators. The E.P.A. was formed in December 1970 by lawmakers as a response to that call for action. Richard Nixon in his State of the Union Address said; “Restoring nature to it’s natural state is a cause beyond political party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country.”

During the next few years, Congress passed several legislative measures giving the E.P.A. the authority to establish national pollution standards and the ability to enforce them. As a result, according to agency data, automobile emmissions of common pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, have been reduced 99%. Lead levels in children tested, have dropped from 88% to 3%. The number of U.S. waters that meet federal water goals has doubled since 1972.

The E.P.A. never would have been established had it not been for public demand. The first adminstrator of the E.P.A., William Ruckelshaus said, “Public opinion remains absolutely essential for anything to be done on behalf of the environment.”

The first chapter of Rachel Carson’s landmark book, “Silent Spring” told of a world that could be devoid of color, the singing of birds, but instead full of sickness and death. Because of the awareness raised by Carson and countless others, the use of many of the toxic pesticides that were dumped on our crops and into our streams and rivers has been dramatically reduced. There is still a long way to go; trash litters our highways and our cities, plastic swims in our oceans, lakes and rivers; landfills are bulging with our waste.

Some would have us believe that the E.P.A.’s time has come and gone. I strongly disagree, without laws and regulations, I believe that the dollar in hand would far out way our childrens futures in the minds of some, rationalizing profit over responsibility. John James Audubon said, “A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.”

It’s a rather cold Sunday afternoon in February as I write this. Mary and I spotted a bald eagle flying over the Cuyahoga as we walked our dogs near the Station Road Bridge in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a site I couldn’t have imagined on “my river” fifty years ago. I urge all of you to attend one of the many celebrations of Earth Day taking place locally this April. Remember to take your children and grandchildren, after all, it is their world.

For more information:

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

Turning the Tide on Plastic by Lucy Siegle (the best book I’ve read this year)

The Uninhabitable Earth Life after Warming by David Wallace-Wells


Peneteniary Glen Reservation (Kirtland) April 28,2019

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Cleveland Museum of Natural History April 22, 2019

Earth Day Work Party April 20, 2019 W.Hines Hill Rd. Hudson, Ohio

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday @Pj McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhounds and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary and hounds Cian and Morrighanand terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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