Today is Earth Day, a worldwide event intended to promote environmental awareness and activism. While the goal of responsible stewardship of our only planet is certainly commendable, the leftist roots of Earth Day and the environmental movement are disturbing.
Today we’ll look at the origins of Earth Day, some of the early organizers of the event, the continuing leftist war on modern life, and the dark underside and environmental costs of so-called “renewable” energy.
I think the idea behind Earth Day is wonderful. Inspired by seeing the Earth from space during the first space flights of the 1960s, the organizers of Earth Day proclaimed that “A new world view is emerging: through the eyes of our Astronauts and Cosmonauts we now see our beautiful blue planet as a home for all people.”
In 1969, after a tumultuous decade of war, massive expansions of government via the Great Society, the space program, anti-war protests and economic uncertainly, a peace activist named John McConnell proposed a day to honor the Earth and the goal of world peace. Initially intended to be held on March 21, 1970 – the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere – the organizers decided on April 22, 1970 instead.
Why that date? It’s in the spring. The organizers wanted the young people they wanted to attend to be on spring break. They wanted warmer weather conducive to outdoor celebrations. And…though leftist resources like Snopes deny the linkage, April 22 is the birthday of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. April 22 is also the day that the Soviet Union celebrated the national political ideology of communism. Given the leftist roots of the organizers, it’s entirely believable that the organizers chose the date of Lenin’s birthday for Earth Day quite deliberately.
There are a lot of parallels between the leftist ideologies of progressivism/socialism/communism and the environmental movements of the 1970s up to today. They all believe in central control and central planning. They all believe that the government is the means of addressing society’s problems and improving the human condition. They also believe in trampling on liberty and property rights in the name of their goals, whether that be some communist utopia, “preserving the environment” or “saving the planet”.
John McConnell, a 54-year-old Midwesterner, spoke at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conference in 1969, calling for a global holiday to celebrate the Earth and advance peace. While his intentions were beneficial, based on his Christian beliefs, the idea was co-opted and moved forward by prominent left-leaning “greens” of the day.
One of these “greens”, United States Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), promoted the concept and is credited with picking a date in April for the first Earth Day “teach-in”. (The idea of “teach-ins” originated in the mid-1960s as a vehicle for activism against the Vietnam War). Nelson hired a young activist named Denis Hayes (now Board Chair Emeritus of the Earthday.org) to coordinate the first event.
Some sources claim that convicted murderer Ira Einhorn was one of the founders of Earth Day. Einhorn, who was active in the anti-war counterculture of the 1960s, was convicted in absentia of murdering his girlfriend Holly Maddux. Just before his trial was to start, he skipped bail and went to Europe where he lived for 17 years and actually got married. He was eventually returned to the United States and died in prison. While I am not convinced that he was an actual founder of Earth Day, numerous sources cite him as one of the speakers at the inaugural event in Philadelphia. In any event, his name, along with Lenin’s, certainly tarnishes the whole thing.
Earth Day might not have gotten off the ground without another prominent supporter – Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers union. Denis Hayes credits Reuther and the UAW with financing, marketing and mobilizing the union’s members to participate in events and demonstrations across the country. Reuther, a very prominent Democrat, lent credibility to the event and gave it a legitimacy it might not otherwise have had.
Many (though not all) of the signers of the original proclamation (including those who signed later) are prominent leftists, and most of the elected officials who signed it were Democrats. The idea of Earth Day originated on the Left and continues to be dominated by the Left and is indeed a mechanism that the Left uses to advance its agenda. What I think was a great idea – celebrating the Earth and responsible stewardship of our blessings – was tainted from the start.
The War on Modern Life
As I wrote about in my essay The Pillars Of Modern Life, here in the year 2022 we are living at the pinnacle of Western Civilization and indeed of the history of human life on planet Earth. As Americans, we are living at the pinnacle of the pinnacle. This life we enjoy with the prosperity most of us take for granted is made possible by three things: free market capitalism, limited government and fossil fuels.
Free market capitalism is the only socio-economic system that has been demonstrated to lift people from poverty consistently over the centuries. The so-called “defects” of capitalism are not due to capitalism itself, but to artificial interference in free markets by government and large, entrenched businesses – “crony statism”.
Limited government is what allows economies to grow and humans to flourish. Across the world, we can see that where limited governments have been in place, economies have done very well. When government grows and gets out of control, economies suffer.
And finally, when it comes to energy, it was fossil fuels and our development of technologies to harness these natural resources that enabled humanity to build the civilization we now enjoy.
While it is true that in early-stage technologies there were significant externalities associated with using fossil fuels as energy sources, it is also true that over time advancing technologies have largely mitigated those problems. The air now is cleaner that it was in the 1960s and 70s. Cars are more fuel efficient and burn cleaner gasoline. Coal, so hated by the Left, is gradually being replaced as a fuel stock for electricity generation by clean burning natural gas. Nuclear power, which generates no carbon emissions at all, remains a viable means of electricity generation.
Throughout history, humanity has succumbed to various mass delusions. Driven by unfounded fears, these mass delusions (or mass hysterias) typically affect smaller communities and include such colorful incidents as “Meowing and Biting Nuns”; the belief in witchcraft, leading to the extrajudicial murders of dozens of innocent women; the “Kissing Bug Scare”, and others. At one time, people believed that the Earth was flat and that it was the center of the universe.
In the present day, arising from the social upheaval of the 1960s, we have the current mass delusion – a particularly powerful one – that humans are destroying the Earth. Various authors predicted various calamities that were imminent in 1970, including running out of fossil fuels, overpopulation, mass famines, global cooling, mass extinctions and more. The current climate change belief movement (which has all the characteristics of a cult) arose from this milieu. Initially conceived as a fear that the Earth was going to cool and another Ice Age was imminent, as scientific data revealed that this was not going to happen, the fearmongers pivoted to the threat of global warming, driven by the emissions of greenhouse gases and human activities. Of course, when scientific data failed to validate this theory, they pivoted to the catch-all “climate change” myth because it works for any set of facts.
Now, driven by this climate change mass delusion, the Left is doing everything they can to impair fossil fuel development and use, pinning their hopes and dreams on so-called “renewable” energy and pushing the fantasy that our civilization can transition its energy economy and infrastructure from one largely driven by fossil fuels to one powered by “renewable” energy.
The Dark Side of Renewable Energy
While the climate change crowd likes to believe that renewable energy is the best solution for mankind, the facts are otherwise.
First, despite decades of government subsidies, mandates and other coercion, as of 2020 renewable energy (encompassing hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, wind and biomass energy production) accounted for a mere 12% of overall energy production and only 19% of electricity generation. Wind and solar, so beloved of the leftist crowd, only accounted for 4% and 11% of overall and electrical production, respectively. To think that these energy sources – which don’t work when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing (or when the turbines are frozen) can magically provide 100% of our energy needs is truly a childish fantasy and not to be taken seriously. It would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that many elected officials at every level of government DO take it seriously and base public policy on it.
Second, there are significant environmental costs associated with both wind and solar that the climate change crowd prefers to ignore, childishly pretending that they don’t exist.
Wind turbines require significant carbon emissions to manufacture and rely on fossil-fuel derived components. One recent study found that “…the transition to wind energy would require 5 to 20 times as much land as previously thought and would warm average surface temperatures over the continental U.S. by 0.24 degrees Celsius.”
In addition to the land required and the carbon-intensive manufacturing, wind turbines can create “wind shadows” where the air has been slowed by the turbine’s blades. Wind farms are designed to avoid this problem, but as the land requirements and density requirements increase, this becomes more of an issue.
Wind turbines are notorious for killing birds and bats, perhaps millions annually. This includes bald and golden eagles, hawks, kestrels and owls. While I tend not to get emotional over issues like this, I must confess that this statistic makes me both angry and sad.
Finally at the end of their useful lives, wind turbine blades cannot be recycled. They are simply left to rot in landfills. Not very eco-friendly, huh?
Solar panels present problems of their own. According to National Geographic, “Fabricating the panels requires caustic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid, and the process uses water as well as electricity, the production of which emits greenhouse gases.”
There are significant problems with recycling solar panels, too. As progressive author Michael Shellenberger wrote in Forbes, “Researchers with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) undertook a study for U.S. solar-owning utilities to plan for end-of-life and concluded that solar panel “disposal in “regular landfills [is] not recommended in case modules break and toxic materials leach into the soil” and so “disposal is potentially a major issue.”” There are concerns that abandoned solar panels would leach dangerous chemicals into rain and ground water as well.
Lastly, and perhaps most ironically, it doesn’t take a scientific genius to recognize that only a fraction of the solar energy absorbed by solar panels goes to usable electricity. The rest is radiated back into the atmosphere, thus contributing to…warming the planet.
Celebrate the Earth
As I said at the top, I love the idea of celebrating the Earth. It is a beautiful planet, poised precariously between fire and ice, uniquely suited to nurture the billions of creatures living upon it. One of my favorite hymns is called “For the Beauty of the Earth.” I’m grateful for the fact that I live on this beautiful globe and in this wonderful country at this time in human history.
I support responsible use of our God-given resources. I abhor waste and careless use. I support the ability of capitalism to produce superior environmental results when compared to the abuse of the environment seen in communist countries.
It’s for these reasons I have mixed feelings about Earth Day. I think it’s a good idea, but I’m sad that it is a political tool in the arsenal of the Left.