Tag Archives: science

Eating Whole Grains Is Great For Your Health

I’ve long been a fan of whole grains.  Eating whole grains helps you stay fuller longer making you significantly less likely to constantly eat.  Your body takes longer to digest the whole grains.  Look for the whole grain seal on bread, cereal, oats, etc. and make sure you are eating your whole grains!

Whole Grains Each Day Linked to Longer Life

Eating a diet rich in whole grains may reduce your risk of dying early, a new meta-analysis finds.

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People who reported eating at least three servings of whole grains daily were 20 percent less likely to die early from any cause compared with people who reported eating less than one serving a day, the researchers found. The analysis included 14 previous studies; all of the studies were at least six years long, and many were more than 10 years long.

The researchers also looked at specific causes of death. They found that eating three servings of whole grains a day was associated with a 25 percent lower risk of death from heart disease, and a 14 percent lower risk of death from cancer, compared with eating one serving or less of whole grains daily. 

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend eating three or more servings of whole grains each day.  However, Americans eat, on average, less than one serving a day, according to the study, published today (June 13) in the journal Circulation.

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Indeed, “these findings lend further support to the U.S. government’s current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which suggest high consumption of whole grains to facilitate disease prevention,” Dr. Qi Sun, an assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and the senior author on the study, said in a statement.

The studies in the meta-analysis included a total of more than 786,000 people. There were nearly 98,000 deaths in all of the studies, including more than 23,000 from heart disease and more than 37,000 from cancer.

“Multiple individual studies consistently revealed a reduced risk of death among people who consumed more whole grains,” Sun told Live Science.

Moreover, each serving, or 0.5 ounces (16 grams), of whole grains a day was associated with a 7 percent reduction in a person’s risk of death from any cause, a 9 percent reduction in a person’s risk of death from heart disease and a 5 percent reduction in a person’s risk of death from cancer, the meta-analysis found.

The researchers noted that the types of whole grains people ate varied from study to study. However, in the U.S., more than 70 percent of whole grains that people eat come from breads and cereal grains, which include oatmeal, rice and barley, according to the study. 

This is not the first study to suggest whole grains have health benefits, nor is it the first meta-analysis to do so.

Two previous meta-analyses, for example, found that whole grains were associated with lower blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol levels and lower amounts of body fat, the researchers wrote.

A number of compounds found in whole grains could contribute to the foods’ effects on health, the researchers wrote. Fiber, for example, may lower cholesterol and help people feel fuller so they eat fewer calories. Magnesium may help improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood pressure. And other minerals and antioxidants may help fight oxidative stress, they said.

Based on the new findings, “health care providers should unanimously recommend whole grain consumption to the general population, as well as patients with certain diseases, to help achieve better health and perhaps reduce death,” Sun said.

In addition, whole grains should replace refined carbohydrates in a person’s diet, because these carbohydrates have been shown to have negative health effects, the researchers wrote.

(via Live Science via Yahoo! News)


Happy Earth Day!

Today Marks the 46th Celebration of Earth Day!

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Be mindful of the impacts you directly and indirectly have on the environment and other people.  The food you eat, the clothing you buy, the cars, etc. all have an impact on people and the planet.  Make informed choices to minimize that impact!  🙂

Pulchritude: Winter Solstice (II)

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December 22nd, 2015  marks the winter solstice and the beginning of the winter season in the Northern Hemisphere.  The winter solstice officially occurred at 4:48am UTC, or 11:48pm EST on December 21st.  The Earth is in close proximity to the sun, though the northern axis is tilting away from the sun.  The winter solstice is often followed by cold temperatures.  Depending on your location, winter may not be as cold or have much snow due to the strong El Niño effect this year.  The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and longest night of the year.  The winter solstice is of high importance in many cultures across the globe.

A 10-year checkup on the quest to detox commercial products


A 10-year checkup on the quest to detox commercial products

toxic chemicals in commercial products

With federal chemical laws slow to change, what is being done to curb toxics in commercial products now?

(By Mark Rossi, December 8, 2015)–In the last 50 years, manmade chemicals have made their way into almost every industrial and manufacturing process — basically every commercial product.

Synthetic chemicals have become the foundation of our society, and the United States alone produces and imports tens of billions of pounds of chemicals every single day. It’s a staggering amount, and it’s expected to double in the next two decades.

The law that regulates this massive amount of chemicals is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) passed in 1976.  Since then, our chemical use has grown along with our understanding of the risks. Yet the law has remained untouched.

Many attempts have been made to update our federal chemical regulations, but to date, no progress has been made. The legislative process is designed to be slow and deliberate, but in this case it’s a stretch to even call it a snail’s pace.

We need faster paths toward change, because over the past few decades we’ve seen a surge in chronic diseases and illnesses, especially in children. Increasing rates of asthma, neurobehavioral disorders such as autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, along with childhood cancer, can all be linked in part to exposure to toxic chemicals:

  • In 2012, 6.8 million children under age 18 had asthma; an increase of more than 158 percent since 1980.
  • The prevalence of autism increased from 6.7 to 14.7 per thousand children from 2000 to 2010, an increase from 1 in 150 to 1 in 68.
  • The incidence of childhood cancers jumped over 35 percent between 1975 and 2012.

Our health is intimately tied to our environment, and there’s overwhelming evidence that many synthetic chemicals we’re exposed to every day are impacting us in negative ways.

This isn’t groundbreaking news. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been fighting for change for decades. And businesses have been shifting towards safer chemicals simply because it’s better for the bottom line by meeting customer demands and reducing liabilities.

What if they worked together?

Ten years ago, Clean Production Action looked across the landscape of business leaders moving to safer chemicals, along with the NGOs orchestrating campaigns promoting the same goal. We saw many synergies, so we brought them together to see if indeed there was common ground.

BizNGO was born out of this 2005 meeting — a first-of-its-kind collaboration of businesses and environmental groups working together for safer chemicals and sustainable materials.

What makes it unique is the unexpected alliance of typically opposing forces. We’re able to hash through the complex obstacles of phasing toxic chemicals out of supply chains, and collaborate on solutions — without waiting for the government to act.

After 10 years, we’re seeing increased engagement and significant impacts from this bilateral collaboration.

“There are not only a growing number of NGOs that have been participating and playing an active role in the network, but we’re also seeing more and more businesses across different sectors, including some of the world’s largest Fortune 500 companies,” said Mike Schade of the NGO Safer Chemicals Healthy Families. “We all recognize that we can’t solve these problems on our own.”

Together, we’ve created numerous practical tools to be used by companies, including the Alternatives Assessment Protocol, a featured framework in reports by the National Research Council, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse.

Our Guide to Safer Chemicals set the foundation for our newest program, the Chemical Footprint Project, which is the first common metric of its kind for publicly benchmarking corporate chemicals management and profiling leadership companies.  

The Chemical Footprint Project creates a level transparency that was unimaginable 10 years ago. Even though it is still in its infancy, it’s a game-changing tool publicly supported by companies such as Kaiser Permanente and Staples.  

“The industry is used to managing risk at the end of the pipeline,” said Bart Sights, senior director of the global development network at Levi Strauss & Co. and keynote speaker at the upcoming BizNGO-Chemical Footprint Conference. “This is a totally different approach that identifies and removes hazards up front in a proactive and precautionary manner.”

Together, businesses and NGOs are turning things around. Everyone at the table is trying to transform the chemical economy from one of high hazards to safer and healthier alternatives. We’re co-pioneering new paths, and there’s a type of magic that is transpiring.

Do we still need legislative reform at the federal level? Of course; it’s crucial. But we don’t need to wait for policies to make progress. BizNGO shows there are other paths toward change that shift the marketplace to a less toxic world. 


Big Soda is fighting science on sugar

Sugar has been high on my radar for the past few weeks.  I personally do not drink soda for the very reasons contained in this article, but many people still do.  It is important to note that the soda/beverage industry is not the only player in “Big Sugar” and sugar–er “High Fructose Corn Syrup”–is present is a host of different foods and condiments that would quickly send you over the FDA suggested sugar limit even without soda!  Be on the look out for a full series on sugar in 2016!

Lawmakers and consumers are turning against big sugar, and soda companies are reeling.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration announced that Americans should eat and drink no more than 50 grams of sugar — roughly the amount in a can and a half of Coke — each day.

The new proposal has been years in the making: Chatter of the need for a cap on sugar has been circulating among consumers, lawmakers, and public-health advocates since research in the early 2000s first linked our excessive consumption of the stuff with obesity, weight gain, and other health problems — especially in children.

Not surprisingly, soda and processed-food companies are less than pleased.

The American Beverage Association, the soda industry’s main lobby group, has since invested millions of dollars fighting laws to tax and label sugary beverages. For its part, Coca-Cola has been accused of pumping money into misleading research that champions exercise over dietary changes for health and weight loss — the company has promised to increase transparency about these research partnerships going forward.

But if our diets are any clue into whether a sugar cutback could be useful, they reveal a pretty big area for improvement.

Is sugar the enemy?

yogurt, Yoplait, grocery, food, disposable containers Flickr / PKMousie

Just two containers of strawberry Yoplait (which is 99% fat-free) contain the FDA’s new daily suggested limit of sugar.

Before sugar was the enemy, it was fat.

Headlines of the 1980s and ’90s were filled with missives that butter, oil, and meat were killing us. Soon, grocery store shelves were filled with low-fat alternatives to every rich food: Margarine, skim milk, and eggbeaters lined the shopping bags of every health-conscious consumer.

Now we know fat is not the enemy, thanks to an outpouring of recent research showing that in small amounts, probably no single food — be it salt, sugar, or fat — can be targeted as the cause of all of our problems.

As several writers and researchers have since suggested, this process of demonizing specific ingredients harkens back to the crusades against Big Tobacco.

Candy Cigarette MachineSteve Snodgrass A candy cigarette machine.

“Soda follows tobacco’s playbook to the letter,” Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and the author of the book “Soda Politics,” which explores the relationship between soda industries, politics, and public health, told Business Insider. 

While there’s no doubt that fat or sugar are anywhere near as bad for us as cigarettes (as Nestle says point-blank: “Sugar is not tobacco”) some headlines seemed to suggest as much. And the food and beverage industry reacted accordingly, scrambling to remove fats from foods.

Ironically enough, food makers began replacing all this fat with another ingredient: sugar.

Hence the makers of yogurt, cereal, and snacks started smacking “non-fat” or “low-fat” labels on all their products.  Even candies like Twizzlers and Lemonheads — which each contain roughly 20g of sugar per serving (close to half the FDA’s new daily maximum recommended allowance) — were proudly declared “fat free.”

Consumers, lawmakers, and a growing body of scientific research side with the FDA: Too much sugar is bad for us

And as far as processed convenience foods go, soda may just as bad of an offender as candy.

systematic review of 50 years of studies published in the American Society for Clinical Nutrition in 2006 found a link between the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages people consumed and weight gain and obesity.

Specifically, the researchers found “strong evidence for the independent role of the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly soda, in the promotion of weight gain and obesity in children and adolescents,” they wrote in their paper.

In the years since, the research has continued to pile up. A 2009 study in the New England Journal of Medicine written by seven experts in public health, nutrition, and economics made the links between sugary drinks and America’s obesity problem explicit:

“The science base linking the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to the risk of chronic diseases is clear,” the authors wrote.

One of the reasons soda may play such an important role in obesity has to do with how sugar is processed in the body.

All carbohydrates — bread, cereal, or potatoes — are ultimately broken down into glucose, which circulates in our blood and gives us energy. Sugars get broken down quickly and tend to raise blood glucose the most dramatically.

But while many foods that are high in natural sugars (fruit, milk, etc.) also contain other nutrients, like protein and fiber, which help build strong muscles and keep us feeling full, soda does not.

A traditional 12-ounce can of Coke, for example, has 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar and no protein or fiber to help round out the impact of the sugar. This is part of the reason sugary drinks, like Coke or Gatorade, are called “empty calories” — they most likely contribute to weight gain because they don’t fill you up.

“The correlations between soda and obesity are extremely strong,” said Nestle. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly one-third of all the calories Americans get from added sugars are from soda and sugary drinks. They get the other two-thirds from processed foods like snack bars, cakes, breads, and ice cream.

And the science suggests that cutting calories, especially in the form of sugary beverages, has the potential to have a far larger effect on weight than exercise.

“Studies tend to show that in terms of weight loss, diet plays a much bigger role than exercise,” Philip Stanforth, a professor of exercise science at the University of Texas and the executive director of the Fitness Institute of Texas, told Business Insider.

Efforts to curb our soda habit

In 2013 while still in office, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg tried (and failed) to ban oversized sugary drinks; around the same time, Berkeley, California, passed a tax on sugary beverages. And San Francisco recently slapped warning labels on drinks with added sugar. In all, 33 states have laws taxing sugary drinks.

Vintage Coke Adunknown

But experts have said these taxes are still too low to meaningfully affect consumption, with some going so far as to propose a higher penny-per-ounce amount. And if Bloomberg’s XL-soda ban was a test of how far consumers are willing to go to take action on sweetened beverages, the odds of a real shift in consumption aren’t looking great.

Still, once Bloomberg was mocked for advocating for a different kind of ban — outlawing smoking in restaurants and bars, something that has become the new normal across the US.  Anti-obesity advocates are quick to draw comparisons between tobacco and beverage industry groups, saying that the American Beverage Association creates its own science and misleadingly rebrands products in a way that is reminiscent of Big Tobacco’s prior efforts.  Now these advocates are attempting to use similar strategies to those that drastically reduced tobacco usage to do the same when it comes to sugar.

There are signs that this change is coming, if slowly.

Across the board, per capita soda sales are down 25% since 1998, The New York Times reported in October.  Juice sales are similarly dropping, with orange-juice consumption down 45% per capita in the same period.  On a related note, in November, the University of Colorado School of Medicine gave back a $1 million grant from Coke after discovering that the funds were spent on an advocacy group for that research.

Soda companies are taking notice, and exploring ways to make up for the losses

Pepsi and Coke are trying to recoup their lost sales and taking a dual-pronged approach: In addition to trying to reframe products and convince consumers that sweet beverages are ok to drink, they’re also investing outside of traditional sweet beverages.

Nestle says these moves harken back to the same strategy Big Tobacco used in the 1980s. “First, they attack the science. Then, they fund community groups, promote exercise as a solution, and say they’re self-regulated and don’t need to be regulated by an outside source,” Nestle said.

If soda companies want people to continue to drink sodas, they need to present evidence that the beverages aren’t always the sugar bomb that scientific research is presenting. A major way to do that is to cut calories — not necessarily by reworking recipes, but by making serving sizes smaller.

Coca-Cola is going “back to its roots” by shifting focus toward smaller cans and bottles. According to the company, retail sales of smaller cans and bottles, including mini cans and glass bottles, were up 17%. So even as per capita consumption of soda by the gallon go down, sales of smaller packages go up.

These changes allow the chains to put a positive, healthy spin on the brands without requiring major changes in sodas’ nutritional makeup. For example, when the American Beverage Association pledged in 2014 to cut drink calories by 20%, that doesn’t necessarily mean a can of Coke or Pepsi will have 20% fewer calories. It may just be 20% smaller.  Last August, Reuters reported that Coke and Pepsi’s mini cans — 7.5-ounce versions of the traditional 12-ounce sodas — had been one of the few bright spots in US soda sales in the previous month.

“That’s the soda industry’s response,” Nestle said of the mini-can campaign. “They want to be part of the solution, and they charge more for them.”

coke pepsi mini cansReuters Coke and Pepsi’s new mini cans, which they released in 2009.

Still, while Coke and Pepsi are exerting a lot of effort to make sure their namesake beverages stay on the shelves, the companies are also very aware of the need to bring in some lower-sugar options.

In October, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi told investors that focusing solely on carbonated soft drinks was “a thing of the past.” Instead, noncarbonated beverages are “driving all the growth in the whole industry.”

Nearly half of Pepsi’s beverage sales are now in low- or zero-calorie drinks, juice, or sports drinks, more than double the proportion these drinks represented 15 years ago. In the past few years, Coca-Cola hasinvested in brands including Monster Energy, coconut-water company ZICO, and organic-focused Suja Juice. Both companies reportedly were in talks to invest in Greek yogurt maker Chobani.

“Today, more than 1,000 reduced-, low- or no-calorie options are available in our global portfolio, representing more than 25 percent of the beverages we offer around the world,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider (PepsiCo declined to comment for this story). “Of our top 20 brands, 18 are now available with reduced-, low- or no-calorie options.”

Of course, many of these products are still high in sugar (a 32-ounce bottle of PepsiCo’s Gatorade, for example, can easily exceed the 50g sugar limit). However, they do represent a major change in what Americans are drinking.

Should you quit soda?

It’s no doubt that exceedingly high levels of sugar are bad for us. Sports drinks and sodas squeeze more of the stuff than we should consume in a day into a single serving.

But, as a growing body of research is showing, no single ingredient alone can be blamed. Rather, it’s the amount and the types of food we’re eating that need to be reassessed. Our portion sizes, for example, have ballooned in recent years, having increased up to 700% in some foods.

Giant sodas masquerading as a standard component of any meal are no exception.

(via Business Insider)

Pulchritude: Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm (No Copyright Infrngement Intended)

Melissa Officinalis, commonly known as Lemon Balm, is a perennial herbaceous plant that is best known for its lemon scent and flavor, and striking resemblance to mint.  Lemon Balm belong to the same taxonomic family as mint Lamiaceae, along with commonly used herbs, such as basil, rosemary, and sage.  Native to the mediterranean region (Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and Central Asia), Lemon Balm can grow to be 28 to 59 inches tall.  The scent and flavor of Lemon Balm comes from its flavor constituents (terpenoids), specifically, citronellal (24%), geranial (16%), linalyl acetate (12%), and caryophyllene (12%).  Lemon Balm is often used in cooking as a flavoring agent in ice creams and teas, and can also be used as a pesto.  Lemon Balm is believed to treat gastrointestinal tract, bile, nervous system, and liver disorders.  Lemon Balm essential oil has been shown to have a calming effect in early scientific research.



Americans Waste $640 on Food a Year

This study is not surprising in the least, however, thinking of the impact rotting food is having on the environment, primarily from methane release, is eye opening.  Keep a log of what you have in your refrigerator and be sure to only buy what you can use within 3-5 days or before the food will go bad!

That’s from a new study by the American Chemistry Council, which found that just 15% of respondents were concerned about the environmental impacts of throwing away so much food.

What upset people most about the waste was cost, with 79% saying lost money was the biggest concern.  About half of the 1,000 surveyed said they felt bad about tossing food in light of worldwide hunger.

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Yet food waste is a major pollution problem. It’s the single biggest item in U.S. landfills, where it rots and releases methane — a powerful greenhouse gas.  Several cities around the U.S. have instituted composting programs to divert some of this waste.

The biggest reason why food spoils is because people either buy too many perishables to begin with or fail to eat leftovers. Three-quarters of respondents said they threw away food once a month. Half said they did it once a week.

The results were self reported, and actual food waste may be even higher. The Chemistry Council noted that the U.S. government puts food waste at over $900 a year per household.

The Chemistry Council — which represents makers of plastic bags and containers — unsurprisingly recommends putting food in plastic bags or containers.

“It’s an extremely efficient way of storing food,” said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics at the Chemistry Council. Russell said plastic bags are better than some other storage containers because the air can be squeezed out, and some plastic cling wraps are designed to release carbon dioxide while keeping oxygen out — which extends the life of some vegetables.

It’s worth noting that there are many ways of preserving food without plastic, including freezing, pickling, or using glass or ceramic containers.

But before you get too down on yourself, consider this: While consumer food waste is bad, even more is wasted on farms or in transit, according to the United Nations.

And it’s not just fat cat Americans. Most food spoilage occurs in Asia, largely due to lack of refrigeration.

(via CNNMoney)

When Earth Day Changed the World

By Jamie Henn–Forty-five years ago, on April 22, 1970, an estimated 20 million people took to the streets for the first ever Earth Day. It was the largest public demonstration in United States history and helped turn environmentalism into a mass social movement for the first time. Today, Earth Day is known for feel-good concerts, eco-fairs, or recycling parties. But in 1970, Earth Day still had bite. The story of how it came together, where it succeeded, and where it failed, contains powerful lessons for today’s environmental movement.  

“Today, Earth Day is known for feel-good concerts, eco-fairs, or recycling parties. But in 1970, Earth Day still had bite.”

Back in 1969, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a longtime environmental advocate in Congress, watched as teach-ins against the Vietnam War swept college campuses across the nation. Could this student energy be harnessed to protect the environment, he wondered? 

“I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the national political agenda,” Nelson later recalled.

While politicians had been slow to respond, by the late 1960s there was already a growing public outcry over the state of the environment. All across the country, smog, trash, and water pollution were ravaging America’s natural beauty and impacting public health. Then, a series of high profile environmental disasters helped put environmental concerns at the top of the agenda. 

In 1969, an oil rig exploded off the coast of Santa Barbara, spilling millions of gallons of crude into the ocean, much of which washed up on some of California’s finest beaches. The New York Timeslater referred to the disaster as the “ecological shot heard ‘round the world.” That same year, Timemagazine ran a special report on the Cuyahoga River, which had famously caught fire because of all the oil and pollution befouling the waterway. Meanwhile, the smog in major American cities had become a national crisis. “Just breathing the air in some areas of Los Angeles is said to be equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in 1970. Something needed to be done. 

The team behind the first Earth Day was perhaps an unlikely crew to rise to the occasion. While Earth Day 1970 had the backing of a prominent politician in Nelson, the organizing effort took a distinctly grassroots approach.

While the nation’s traditional conservation groups helped promote the event, they weren’t the driving force behind the effort. Instead, Nelson hired Dennis Hayes, a Harvard graduate student, to head up a ragtag crew of students and volunteers who based themselves out of a cramped office above a Chinese restaurant in Washington, D.C. The group quickly got to work tapping into the environmental energy that was exploding across college campuses and communities around the country. They worked around the clock, sending out thousands of mailings, hitting the phone lines, and issuing regular press releases documenting their progress—anything to get people to circle the date April 22, 1970 on their calendars. 

The effort benefited from alliances that may seem unlikely today. Earth Day organizers, for example, found a strong ally in the hard-hitting United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther. Known as the “most dangerous man in Detroit” for his ability to take on the auto industry, Reuther had a soft spot for Mother Nature—and a radical vision of how the UAW could be at the forefront of a new industrial revolution.

Pointing to the smog choking America’s cities, Reuther put the blame squarely at the feet of the car companies. “The auto industry is one of the worst culprits and it has failed to meet its public responsibility,” he declared. “It is asinine (I don’t know of a better word to describe it, to have hundreds of thousands of people all going to the same place at the same time for the same purpose and all of them dragging two tons of gadgets with them.” 

Breaching Iceberg, Greenland 2008.
The Arctic’s devastating transformation
There was no snow, no sea ice anywhere to be seen. These would be my last days in Svalbard in August of 2011.

As a solution, Reuther envisioned a partnership between industry and government to create the most extensive, modern mass-transit system in the world. He proceeded to write the first check to the Earth Day organizing committee, providing much-needed funds to get the operation up and running. Just weeks after the day’s success, however, Reuther died in a plane crash, taking much of the energy behind his transformational vision with him. Today, labor and environmentalists are just beginning to come together again to put forward a vision much like the one Reuther dreamed of decades ago. 

The first Earth Day also helped invigorate a discussion between the environmental and civil rights movements. African Americans, especially in inner cities, had been fighting problems like pollution, lead paint, pests, and improper waste management for years, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that these were identified as “environmental” issues. 

Some African American leaders saw Earth Day as a dangerous distraction from the many daily injustices from which white America would prefer to avert its eyes. “The nation’s concern with environment has done what George Wallace was unable to do: distract the nation from the human problems of the black and brown American, living in just as much misery as ever,” said Richard. G. Hatcher, the mayor of Gary, Indiana. George Wiley, the director of the National Welfare Rights Organization, argued that before they started proposing new policy solutions, environmentalists had to “deal initially with the problem of racism in the United States of America.”

Other civil rights leaders saw an opportunity in Earth Day to get whites on board with solving these pervasive challenges. “But now that White America is being threatened, perhaps we can deal with black needs and white needs – human needs – in a united effort to remedy the value system that has brought us to this Earth Day,” the Rev. Channing Phillips told an audience in Washington, D.C. 

Whatever their motivation, when Earth Day arrived on April 22, 1970, tens of millions of people took to the streets across the nation. In New York City, tens of thousands marched and the mayor bicycled around town to give various speeches. In Chicago, high school students marched to protest air pollution. In West Virginia, students collected five tons of garbage along a five-mile stretch of highway and dumped it on the steps of the Harrison County courthouse. In Los Angeles, organizers sold tickets to a “car smashing” to people who wanted to “vent their feelings about cars.” Up in San Francisco, a group of 300 divers scoured the adjacent ocean shelf to collect trash. 

In total, more than 1,500 colleges and 10,000 primary and high schools hosted events. Even those that chose to stay home could watch the special “Earth Day” programming on nearly every major network. Newspaper estimates put the total number of participants at 20 million, but the scale of the day made it nearly impossible to count. “I’ve been on the road at least three days a week this last year,” said Hayes, the organizer, a year later, “and I have never been in a city or  school which didn’t take part in Earth Day.”

“When Earth Day arrived on April 22, 1970, tens of millions of people took to the streets across the nation.”

The outpouring of public activity made an immediate political impact. In the years following Earth Day, President Richard Nixon, hardly a bleeding heart, passed the National Environmental Protection Act, creating the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and more. “Environmental concerns have become part of our political value system,” reflected EPA Administrator Douglas M. Costle some years later. 

Like any political moment, the energy didn’t last forever. Just a week after Earth Day, President Nixon announced that he’d given the order for American troops to invade Cambodia, sparking a new wave of protest against the Vietnam War. Then, on May 4, National Guard troops fired on students at Kent State.

The good mood of Earth Day vanished overnight. “With an almost manic abruptness, the nation seemed, as Yeats once wrote, ‘all changed, changed utterly,’” wrote Time magazine. Environmentalists were able to maintain momentum during the Ford and Carter administrations, but came up against a brick wall once Reagan took office, forcing the movement back on the defensive, where it has largely remained ever since. 

RELATED: Growing fossil fuel divestment protests hit colleges nationwide

Now, 45 years later, it seems as if many of the conditions that led to the first Earth Day could once again be falling into place. Just as the “pollution crisis” began to move the forefront of American’s minds in the late 1960s, the climate crisis is beginning to creep its way up on the national agenda. Iconic disasters, like Hurricane Sandy, the California drought and the BP oil spill, are galvanizing a new environmental consciousness, while fights against projects like the Keystone XL pipeline are invigorating a newly powerful climate movement. Last September, more than 400,000 people took the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March, an effort that united the climate movement with social justice, labor, faith communities, and more. Across college campuses, the fossil fuel divestment campaign is emerging as one of the most powerful sources of student organizing in the country. 

When Sen. Nelson first dreamed up the idea of Earth Day in 1969, he hoped that it would spread to at least twenty or so campuses. Instead, it swept the entire nation and resulted in the largest public demonstration in the history of the United States.

It’s hard to know when you stand on the brink of incredible change. But as today’s climate crisis threatens to spin out of control, Earth Day should give us hope. When the right conditions arise, we can still come together to do extraordinary things. 

Jamie Henn is the Communications Director for 350 Action and co-founder of 350.orgThis essay is based on research from his 2007 thesis, “Out of the Wilderness: The First Earth Day” (PDF).


Happy Earth Day!

Today is the 45th celebration of Earth Day!
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Today, Nature’s Pulchritude challenges YOU to think about what the Earth means to you and how it provides for you  AND one behavior change (big or small) that can help the world collectively improve our planet!

What is my behavior change you ask?  Stop leaving the water running! (:))