Earth Day at its very roots began as a celebration of the Earth and its environments; a way to raise awareness of an issue just beginning to creep into the social awareness of its time.What begin in 1970 with concerns over air and water quality has grown into a day of observation that has infiltrated every facet of American culture from government to schools, and has evolved as the nation and the world ponders the next big issue: Global warming.The Tahoe area has been a leader in many aspects of the environmental movement, as two state governors responded to growing concerns over damage to Lake Tahoe in the 1960s. And this weekend visitors and residents alike will head to the Village at Squaw Valley to share a day celebrating the Earth.But not everybody is convinced that environmentalism, as it is now embodied, is a positive for the country. The debate continues over issues of economy versus the environment and the validity of concerns over global warming.Even so, thinking green continues to work its way into mainstream culture. Earth Day, and environmental awareness in general, continues to play a larger role in education; teaching children respect and stewardship for the worlds ecology.
By Patrick McCartneySierra SunBy the time the nations first Earth Day was observed in 1970, concerns with threats to Lake Tahoes fragile environment had already led to an unprecedented level of cooperation to protect the Tahoe Basin.Activism was in the air at the time. Vietnam war protesters filled the streets, and an environmental movement emerged after Rachel Carson captured the publics attention with her indictment of industrial pollution in her book Silent Spring.Yet, it was two high-profile conservative politicians who joined forces to create a new political body charged with the restoration of Lake Tahoes declining health.Ronald Reagan and Paul Laxalt had been political allies since both were Barry Goldwater delegates at the 1964 Republican National Convention. Two years later, each was elected governor. The son of a Basque sheepherder, Laxalt was elected governor of Nevada, and Reagan parlayed his actors celebrity and experience leading the Screen Actors Guild into a successful run for governor of California.In addition to their conservative political philosophy, the two men also shared an affection for Lake Tahoe and a concern with the rapid loss of water clarity that UC Davis scientist Charles Goldman had documented. In a 2001 interview, Laxalt called the environmental degradation of the alpine lake a ticking bomb that had to be avoided.[U]nless we did something, Tahoe stood a real chance of turning gray on our watch, Laxalt said. … So we finally decided, which was very unconservative, to go to a metro-type government. And that shocked a hell of a lot of people, too. We finally formed the Bistate Agency, and that stopped an awful lot of development up there.When Laxalt and Reagan agreed to create the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and their state legislatures approved the plan, the compact needed the approval of the U.S. Congress.Since the Civil War, anytime states got together for something, Congress had to ratify the agreement, said Julie Regan, the agencys public information officer. With the federal stamp of approval, the Tahoe agency became the nations first bistate government committed to an environmental mission.But the agencys first years were dominated by development interests, since the initial governing board was weighted toward local representatives, said Gordon Gabby Barrett, who joined the agency as a planner in 1974.The issues have changed. In the beginning the issues were to stop subdivisions and casino development, Barrett said. By the 1980s, the goal was to stop building on sensitive lots.In the 1980s, Nevada and California adopted a new compact, shifting the authority to appoint board members to elected state officials. With the change came a halt to the basins rampant development, and a legal showdown over development rights that took years for the courts to resolve.With the bistate agencys Individual Parcel Evaluation System limiting development, and the agencys purchase of the most sensitive properties, the number of privately owned, undeveloped parcels remaining in the basin has fallen from 18,000 to just 4,000.With the conflict over development mostly resolved in the past decade, former adversaries have joined forces to promote environmental practices where a consensus exists. Today, the planning agency focuses on the triple bottom line of environmental, economic and social interests.The feeling is the sweet spot [for planning] is where the three circles overlap, Barrett said.
By Julie BrownSierra SunEarth Day comes around just once a year, but in classrooms around Lake Tahoe students from kindergarten to high school learn about everything from recycling to global warming all year long.But even with a year round science curriculum, Earth Day offers a chance for students and teachers to pay special attention to the environment.Last week Tahoe students were out in their communities picking up trash, handing out garbage bags for recycling, or even raising trout to release into local waters.Students in Tara Houses kindergarten classroom at Kings Beach Elementary drew colorful pictures of the environment, complete with mountains, lakes, trees and rainbows. The kindergartners fastened their festive drawings to blue plastic garbage bags for recycling and then toured the neighborhood, handing the decorative bags to local residents while cheering, Happy Earth Day!Children in other classrooms at Kings Beach Elementary celebrated Earth Day by picking up litter in the neighborhood and the school yard. Its great that its a blend of community service and service for our school, said Principal Eileen Fahrner. It gives them a chance to make a difference.Area youths attending the Boys and Girls Club in Kings Beach are creating art projects using recyclable materials including newspaper hats, solar cookers made from pizza boxes, an igloo built with plastic milk jugs, according to Christina Kind, the clubs kindergarten manager. Its the simple message you see everywhere: Reduce, re-use, recycle, Kind said. They can grasp that at this age. Meanwhile, at the high school level, students are grasping a more complex understanding of the environment. California State Standards require that high school students have a general knowledge about the Earth in relation to the universe, its energy, environmental cycles, the structure and composition of the atmosphere, as well as the geology specific to California. Kirby Reed, a biology teacher at North Tahoe High School, emphasizes a hands-on approach when it comes to teaching about the environment in his classroom. That part of teaching is really fun, said Reed, who teaches courses in physical science, biology, advanced-placement biology and river ecology.Each year, Reeds students hike to Burton Creek near the high school to take water samples and study the health of the stream and its surrounding ecosystem. Students look at the concentration of macro-invertebrates and organisms in the water samples, which indicate the creeks level of pollution. A diversity of organisms indicates a healthy stream, said Reed. Reeds students also hatch trout eggs in the classroom. Once the trout are old enough, the students release them back into the wild.For Reed, the most important lesson he teaches his students about the environment is how much we are a part of the global environment and how much we affect the global environment. As awareness of global warming grows in the media and affects world affairs, it also is becoming more of an issue that is discussed in the classroom, said Reed.(Global warming) comes up so often in the news, its really easy to talk about, he said. Reed and his students discuss greenhouse gases, natural and human-caused carbon dioxide increases, and the relation between carbon dioxide levels and climate change. They also study natural carbon dioxide fluctuations caused by events such as volcanic eruptions. (Global warming) is the biggest threat we face today, said Taylor Tomlinson, a senior at North Tahoe High who hopes to pursue environmental studies in college. Its up to our generation to find a solution to it. Students identified several solutions they would pledge to support to save the environment.Joelle Lazzareschi, a senior, said she thought we should have a day dedicated to the Earth more often than just once a year to increase awareness and promote action.We should have an Earth Day every month, she said.
Earth Day is a celebration of the environmental movement but not everyone shares the same beliefs. Proponents and skeptics debate the merits of environmentalism, citing its potential accomplishments and detriments, and questioning the set of bed-rock beliefs the movement is based on. Like so many other things in life, the issue of environmentalism may not be black or white but neither side seems willing to settle on a shade of gray.Prentiss Davis is a Truckee resident and Realtor, and while he supports environmental legislation pertaining to air and water quality, he is a skeptic of global warming attributed to human activities. Davis has worked in China and witnessed the environmental changes of the last few decades, and has formed his own views on environmentalism, global warming and humanitys place in all of it.Beth Ingalls is a former mayor of Truckee, and has been involved in many aspects of environmental activism in and outside the Truckee-Tahoe area. She has been involved in environmental groups including the Rainforest Action Network, the Truckee Citizens Waste Management Advisory Committee, Truckee Climate Action Network, the Earth Day Organizing Committee and is currently working on the Truckee Day clean-up event.Q&A:What are some of the good things you believe environmentalism has accomplished?Davis: Certainly, environmentalism has improved air quality. I moved to Southern California in the late 60s and the air quality was terrible, and that ended 10 years ago there is no comparison in air quality from 35 years ago. There have been tremendous accomplishments in the last few decades.Ingalls: The good things environmentalism has accomplished in a general sense is we now have many more rules and regulations protecting the environment spawned by that first wave of the movement with the first Earth Day.What negatives do you perceive in environmentalism?Davis: Environmentalism has become a second religion, and like any other religion, reactions become knee-jerk. Environmentalism destroyed nuclear power in the United States, and there is no better way to generate electricity. The environmental movement is trying to prevent all sorts of energy generation. Environmentalists always say conserve, like they want you to go back to a 19th century lifestyle.Ingalls: One negative that comes to mind is, as with any movement there wasnt the best preparedness to take on big corporations and the government in a way to get things done. Environmentalisms approach wasnt the best thought-out or best planned-out.Has environmentalism changed your personal beliefs?Davis: I have a car that gets over 30 miles per gallon, and I drive it as much as I can. I think most of America could be driving 50 mile-per-gallon cars, but they choose not to do that. Wed like the government to wave a magic wand and make our big SUVs get 50 miles per gallon.Ingalls: I dont see environmentalism as separate from my personal beliefs; its something that has always been there, and I think that is the way it should be.What do you believe is the relationship between the economy and environmentalism?Davis: I laugh when people say there are jobs created by environmentalism, there are tens of thousands making a living off of the global-warming industry, but are they real jobs? Most new technology is a pipe dream, or environmentalists are against it. It always goes back to conserving, and that doesnt work. I dont think there is a danger to the environment unless we destroy the economy and wind up going backwards.Ingalls: I see them as intrinsically connected I dont see them as separate. People are starting to see the economy and the environment as a holistic thing, but its taken 30 years for people to understand. Any negatives come from the other side corporations think environmentalists are trying to destroy the economy, and nothing could be further from the truth.How do you balance individual rights with global responsibility? How can environmentalism fit into American values?Davis: What are we going to do, tell people they cant drive anymore? People around here have snowmobiles, Jet Skis; are we going to tell people they cant use them?Ingalls: There is a cost to doing everything you please. And as far as consuming everything you please, America is the worst in the world, and we have to change that. People are just going to have to realize that if they dont make a change there will be nothing left for our grandchildren.What should the governments role be in environmentalism?Davis: Obviously the governments role should be preventing a paper mill from dumping waste into the Truckee River, it should prevent dramatic effects on their neighbors lifestyle.Ingalls: There is always a balancing act between regulations that help and regulations that hold us down, but I think more government policies will need to include climate change initiatives.How do you feel the government is currently handling the environment?Davis: I think the government is doing a great job; I wish we could do the same in India or China. They are using coal on a scale we havent approached.Ingalls: Both local and federal government are lagging behind. The good thing is that local change in environmental policy can happen so much faster. We cant wait for the federal government.What are your views on global warming?Davis: The world might be getting warmer, but to accept that it is because of the tiny [carbon dioxide] contribution from us shows an incredible amount of ignorance.Ingalls: I think this is the issue of our day; every other environmental issue of the past 30 years has been leading up to this point. There hasnt been an issue like this maybe ever. I think we are on the brink of a major shift, and unfortunately its because we have to be.What are your views on material conservation and waste?Davis: We could certainly do more, but right now we have a terrible situation in Tahoe with overgrown forests; what ever happened to harvesting? If we had a bad fire it would raise hell with the environment.Ingalls: Its all related, what we need to do with recycling and waste management are the same things we need to do to slow down environmental change. These are all lessons we need to incorporate into our lifestyle whether we are trying to reduce trash or kilowatts. We have a long way to go, but just like with climate change, a sheer lack of resources will force creativity.What are your views on environmentalism as it applies to health issues?Davis: Im sure the changes weve made since the 1950s has had a tremendous effect on our health. I worked in China and I honestly believe being there is bad for your health. We have clean air and we want to keep it that way.Ingalls: A lot of people in the health services industry deal directly with human health impacts of pollution and particulate emissions. People think about lung disease and asthma but the impacts of pollution on the heart are catastrophic. Its a scary connection we dont think about much.