Earth Day, 50 Years Ago
We are all familiar with famous “sit-ins” from American history. In 1960, African American college students staged a sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina to advocate for racial desegregation. In 1936, workers at a General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan staged a “sit-down” strike seeking union representation.
And in 1970, to celebrate the nation’s first Earth Day, UCCS faculty and students organized an “environmental teach-in” – a university-wide series of lectures, panel discussions and films, all focusing public attention on local issues of environmental quality, contamination and nonrenewable resources.
Faculty, staff and students blanketed campus – then only in its fifth year of existence – with calls to action. The campus newsletter called for volunteers who would contact local high schools and community leaders to seek their participation in the teach-in. Volunteers circulated literature about environmental reforms around Colorado Springs. The bookstore created a special collection of books highlighting issues around the environment, population and pollution for students to reference in the teach-in. Some classes even had students read “Silent Spring,” Rachel Carson’s book about taking on the pesticide industry.
“Earth Day 1970 was in the midst of an activist society, with the Vietnam War and protests going on,” said professor of chemistry and biochemistry Al Schoffstall, who was in his third year of teaching when he helped to organize the first Earth Day celebration at UCCS. “Earth Day fit in as an activist activity.”
Indeed, archival records of the Cragmor Newsletter show that the student body published a list of goals for Earth Day at UCCS in a special newsletter edition, many of them reflecting the activist society of the time. Among them: “To make a beginning, to raise questions…To catalyze the public’s growing concern for the environment and future of mankind, manifest a determination to commit energies and talents, and lend support to those with the will and power to act.”
Professor Jackie Beyer, who helped to found the geography and environmental studies department at UCCS, led the small faculty body in drafting plans for the campus’s teach-in event. She invited Ken Boulding, a professor of economics and a peace activist from CU Boulder, to visit UCCS and speak about environmental efforts. Schoffstall recalls that the talk was well-attended, “and probably the highlight of our Earth Day.”
Beyer also spoke to the campus Cragmor Newsletter to advertise the teach-in and associated Earth Day Events.
“The campus is the focus,” she remarked, “but the goal is involvement of all those who want information about local situations and who want to participate in the long-range and continuing program designed to declare a truce in the war on nature.”
She continued, “We all breathe the same air and depend on the same earth for survival. We, not some other ‘George,’ must do the job. There is talent here, there are specific local problems here and local concerns and we have a contribution to make to the whole.”
Earth Day, Today
The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 is widely seen as the birth of the modern environmental movement. And 50 years later, UCCS continues to answer the call for environmental and sustainable progress. From constructing new buildings according to strict energy efficiency standards, promoting renewable energy sources and locally grown food on campus and empowering the UCCS community with funds for sustainable innovation, UCCS continues to stand for sustainability in all its forms.
And though Earth Day will look a little different this year than 50 years ago – especially given stay-at-home orders from local and federal governments – there are still opportunities to celebrate Earth Day at home.
The Office of Sustainability at UCCS invites all Mountain Lions to participate in its Earth Week activities, from virtually touring the Denver Botanic Garden and eating plant-based foods for a day to gathering items to donate to local charities. Faculty, staff and students can also take a 30-minute Skillsoft course that highlights how to take 10 simple actions to support sustainability.
After all, in the words of Jackie Beyer, we all breathe the same air and depend on the same earth for survival – and there is talent here, local concerns to address and a contribution we can all make to the whole.
Interested in learning more ways to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day? Reach out to the Office of Sustainability or visit its Earth Day website. View a gallery of archival records from UCCS’ first Earth Day through the Kraemer Family Library.