Happy Earth Day

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What were you doing on the inaugural Earth Day, April 22, 1970? Maybe you were in diapers. Maybe you weren't here yet. Or, perhaps, like myself and Benjamin Braddock, you were a college student who was worried about his future.

Earth Day Network's website sets the scene well for that original Earth Day:
    The height of counterculture in the United States, 1970 brought the death of Jimi Hendrix, the last Beatles album, and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” War raged in Vietnam and students nationwide overwhelmingly opposed it.

    At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. “Environment” was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news.

    Although mainstream America largely remained oblivious to environmental concerns, the stage had been set for change by the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962. The book represented a watershed moment, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries, and beginning to raise public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and links between pollution and public health.

    Earth Day 1970 gave voice to that emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns on the front page.

    The idea for a national day to focus on the environment came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media; persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair; and recruited Denis Hayes from Harvard as national coordinator. Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land. April 22, falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, was selected as the date.

Now, 49 years later, our concerns for the planet encompass issues perhaps unthinkable back in that age, which some of us call "the good old days."

Here are two lists — one for children and teens, the other for adults — of books in English and Spanish that address today's threats to the planet and to life as we know it and love it. Can a book change things for the better? You bet! I believe learning can lead to a change in behavior for the better. These lists are filled with great material to be flying off library shelves, with a special emphasis on titles for children. We can't save the world, but our children can. They can bring the earth a few steps closer toward healing.