Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

April 22, 2021
The five-mile hike to school on the first Earth Day didn’t stop the busses

Earth Day is 51 years old today. 

I remember the first Earth Day very well and it seems like the 51st one will come and go with very little notice compared to Earth Day #1.

I was in 7th grade back then.

And to remind you what was going on in our country at the time — the United States was deep into the Vietnam War and getting deeper with our military forces expanding into Cambodia. 

Four students were killed and nine others were wounded by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University two weeks after the first Earth Day.

Americans hung onto their TV sets and radios to listen to the original drama of the Apollo 13 mission unfold in real time in April 1970.

The average cost of a new house was $23,450 and the average yearly income was $9,400.

A gallon of gas cost 36 cents in 1970, but after a decade marked with gas shortages, long lines,  and rationing — the price of a gallon of gas started 1980 at $1.19.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency had not yet been born. The word “ecology” was not part of the general vocabulary.

It was in this social environment that Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin decided to hold the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

Hoping to catch the fervor of the antiwar movement, Nelson wanted to coalesce the various grassroots environmental causes for a day of nationwide demonstrations that would shake the status quo and put the environment on the national agenda.

As a 7th grader, I was unaware that I was but a cog person in a politician’s dream. I and another estimated 20 million people participated in the prime Earth Day.

But what could a 12-year-old junior high student do about the environment?

A few of my friends and neighbors got together and decided that we would walk to school instead of riding the bus on Earth Day. Our efforts would demonstrate that the gas guzzling and polluting machines were not needed, except for those students that live far — very far — away.

I lived five miles from my school. I never knew that until yesterday when I Google mapped the route we walked. 

Had I known I was embarking on a 5-mile hike instead of a walk to school, my decision, or at least my planning, may have been different.

School kids back then weren’t as smart as today’s students. We didn’t use backpacks. If we had homework, we just threw our books under our arm and carried them home. Add to the usual load of books the fact that I was in the school orchestra, which meant I carried my violin back and forth to school each day.

We left plenty early for our walk. I’m not sure the sun was up before we left. 

When we arrived at school, I don’t remember my feet or legs being sore, but my left arm was tired of holding my books. 

I had to pry my right hand open to remove it from the handle of my violin case.

After leaving our books in our lockers, and my violin in the music room, we went to greet the busses. 

Other students had the same idea and the busses arrived mostly empty.

Feeling good about our successful demonstration, we went to our classes that day feeling good about our contribution to a better environment.

The next day, we all took the bus to school again. 

After all it didn’t look like our demonstration was going to stop the busses from running.

Did it make a difference?

I don’t think so. Global warming still arrived, according to many in the scientific community.

Had we stopped the buses back then we would have had 51 less years of emissions from school busses.

In other ways perhaps it did.

My first paying summer job at 16 was in the kitchen at a Boy Scout Camp. Part of my job was to burn the garbage after every meal — napkins, paper plates, styrofoam cups, anything that I could stuff in the incinerator behind the dining hall and burn. The styrofoam cups made a dark gray smoke. We joked about sending smoke signals to the waterfront.

Not too good for a group that teaches wise stewardship of natural resources. The “nature” merit badge was required for Eagle Scout back then.

The “nature” merit badge was replaced by the “Environmental Science” merit badge in the mid-70s.

Fast forward to 34 years later and my last summer directing a summer camp for the Boys Scouts of America.

We hauled cardboard boxes and the empty plastic bottles that we sold pop in, along with glass, aluminum, and our office waste paper to the local recycling center.

We also turned down the thermostat on our water heaters for our showerhouse and hot tub by a few degrees to save a little energy. 

We installed motion sensors or timers for the lights in our showerhouse and restrooms so they wouldn’t stay on all day and night.

Groups spending time at our camp were encouraged to assist with a service project — pulling up non-native invasive plants by the roots. It was a project encouraged by our friends at the local national park to help conserve water and protect the environment for natural species.

Long before traditional incandescent light bulbs disappeared from stores, we replaced all of our light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs — the state-of-art energy saving light bulbs of the time.

The idea was not only to reduce, reuse, and recycle and save energy ourselves, but to teach by example the principle of being a wise steward of natural resources and being conservation minded.

Maybe that 5-mile hike on the first Earth Day changed more than I thought it did. But I’m not walking the 1.7 miles to work every day.


Tim Gillie

Editor at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Tim has been writing for the Transcript Bulletin since October 2017. In February 2019 he was named as editor. In addition to being editor, Tim continues to write about Tooele County government, education, business, real estate, housing, politics and the state Legislature.A native of Washington state and a graduate of Central Washington University, Tim became a journalist after a 20 year career with the Boy Scouts of America.

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