The amount of time between Lindbergh's flight and Neil Armstrong's small step a bit further away... Forty three years ... For whatever reason I found myself thinking about Earth Day, a golden duck, and lightning in a bottle.
Forty three years and two days ago I was in high school in Great Falls, Montana. The town is known for strong winds that keep the air very clean these days, but back then it was also known for the stack...
North of town, across the Missouri, was a large smelter owned by the Anaconda Company. Montana was pretty much a company state and few commented on the pollution that came from the 500 and something foot stack on the property. You didn't notice it unless the wind was light and from the right - er - wrong direction. The surrounding land is mostly wheat farm claimed from the prairie and the stack was visible from a long distance. People didn't think in terms of pollution, but that was beginning to change.
In the Fall of 1969 when I read Senator Gaylord Nelson's suggestion that a national teach-in take place to raise environmental awareness and perhaps create some political support at the grass-root level. Shortly there-after the proposed was called Earth Day and April 22, 1970 was the selected. Two of us, Doug Safely was the other partner in crime, were taken with this and started a little club "cleverly" called Students to Oppose Pollution. We found a faculty sponsor and I think about six people showed up for the first meeting in September of 1969.
I'm not terribly sociable and both of us expected the effort to fold, but the next meeting filled one of the science classrooms. It kept growing to the point where we had to use the auditorium by April and there was some media attention - the effort was on local TV and radio and we had our 30 seconds of fame on the Today Show.
It was a heady experience and gave me the false impression that we knew what we were doing. We didn't. Rather the time was right. There was an enormous amount wrong in the country, but there was also a strong sense from a variety of movements that people could make a difference. When I think about it these days I am reminded of what Douglas had to say:
There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy suggests, and try it.
The first part is easy. All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt.
That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.
Clearly, it is the second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.
Since then I've spent a considerable amount of time on a few causes I feel are important. In the past decade I've spent several thousand hours trying to understand and communicate global warming information - I've been trying to move the needle just a bit. And I've mostly failed to do that, but I've managed to learn quite a bit.
This came into focus this morning as I was listening to a KERA Think podcast - an interview with Adam Rome about his new book The Genius of Earth Day. As far as I know this is the only history on the period and I've just put it on my reading list.
It did give me a sense of how powerful empirical information could be. I found a chemist at another company - the local oil refinery - and asked him about techniques to measure arsenic, cadmium, lead and a few other nasties. Industrial scientists and technicians are rarely asked about their work and they love to talk about it. Extra points to talk with an interested kid and I was very interested. I went over to Smelter Avenue and dug up a dozen soil samples. He showed me how to do the analysis and the results were rather frightening. We did something about it our combined with our organizing Doug and I found ourselves honored with about three dozen other Americans - including one Richard Milhouse Nixon - with Field and Stream's highest conservation honor - The Golden Duck.1 At some level I have more pride about that than my degrees.
In retrospect we could have done things differently. Doug was much more outgoing, but both of us were probably below average. It would have been brilliant to team up with Jeri - someone who reads the blog. She was savvy and a communicator and much more would have been possible. To say we were clueless would be understatement.
But something did happen and it changed my life. This type of activity was almost completely grass roots and it seized the attention of the politicians. Nixon probably did more for the environment in terms of absolute change than any President. There was no real political divide at the time on the issue. Laws were changed by the thousands and life is much better now than it had been. It can be better - it needs to be better - but the amount of social change was dramatic.
The time was right and thousands of us caught lightning in a bottle. Even with the Internet we have today no social movement has come close in the US. I only hope something as strong happens again during my lifetime.
Oh - the smokestack? It is gone now - taken down around 1980 for safety reasons. The Company sold the property and now the land is a superfund site. Great Falls now has some of the cleanest air in the nation - thanks to some of the strongest average winds in the nation, not that many pollution sources and change brought by thousands of Montanans and millions of Americans.
I was originally going to continue writing about the use of time - focusing on the places where time is spent. That will have to wait, but I note that a friend in the physics department of a really well-known school noted the professors are pushing for offices that have CO2 levels that are less than 150 ppm over outdoor readings. CO2 levels are considered important as they are easy to measure and are a proxy for other serious issues, but there is new evidence that some cognitive impairment may begin around 700 ppm and is very evident at 1,000 ppm. Outdoor background is about 400 ppm now - so they're pushing for 550 or below.2
1 Pretty frightening for a vegetarian pacifist, eh? That was a different time. Sportmen were mostly interested in conservation and party divides on environmental issues weren't deep. Nixon was probably the most environmental modern day President.
2 Get in touch if you are interested in measurement and abatement techniques.
I came across some sprouting broccoli and grilled it. The taste is distinctive, but it is hard to find and regular broccoli would probably be fine, but the sprouting version is really special.
° 500 g sprouted broccoli (something over a pound)
° 1 tbl extra virgin olive oil
° salt and freshly ground black pepper
° tahini sauce (recipe follows)
° 2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
° cut off the leaves and the woody part of the stems. Blanche for a few minutes in boiling lightly salted water, rise in cold water (or dump in ice water), and allow it to dry.
° toss the broccoli with the oil, salt and pepper
° broil or grill for a few minutes on each side until charring begins. Set aside to cool
° plate, drizzle the tahini sauce over the broccoli and top with scattered sesame seeds
A quick tahini sauce
° 50 g tahini paste
° 1/2 tbl honey
° 2 tsp lemon juice
° small garlic clove peeled and smashed
° whisk the tahini, lemon juice, honey, a bit of salt and garlic. Add a bit of water at a time until it gets to the consistency of warm honey