Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The future meets the past: U-M marks 40th anniversary of Earth Day

Teach-In to address today’s issues as Earth Day nears 40th anniversary >

A Teach-In about energy, mobility, food and the Great Lakes, an appearance by the president’s science adviser, an environmental fair on the Diag, and a forum addressing ethics, the environment, the economy and social justice are among the events planned to celebrate U-M’s role in launching the environmental movement 40 years ago.

Looking back, looking ahead
At the time of the first Earth Day the environmental movement was in its infancy and activists focused on visible pollution. Today many of those items have been addressed. Now concerned citizens work on more complex issues, such as climate change and biodiversity loss. In this video, student and alumni activists reflect on their inspirations and hopes for a more sustainable world.

To emphasize the importance and new complexity of the issues, U-M has turned Earth Day into Earth Month. Events begin this week and continue through April.

“With our growing level of teaching, research, and action related to sustainability, the university continues to build on the foundation set 40 years ago by students and faculty committed to protecting our environment. This year’s Earth Day activities are an opportune time to reflect on the past four decades and focus on solutions for the future,” says President Mary Sue Coleman.

In 1970 U-M held a massive Teach-In that drew more than 15,000 people to hear Gordon Lightfoot, Barry Commoner, Ralph Nader, Edmund Muskie and others. The April 22 national Earth Day date conflicted with final exams (as it does now), and student organizers scheduled the weeklong Teach-In during mid-March. Gaylord Nelson, founder of national Earth Day and then a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, credited U-M with inspiring many organizations to participate in the national celebration a month later.

This year, units across campus will sponsor dozens of events that celebrate Earth Day and promote understanding of what it takes to live sustainably. In conjunction with the celebration, a “green generation” video series will bring students and U-M alumni together to interview each other about the evolution of environmentalism and today’s concerns.

An Earth Day Web site provides a full calendar of events plus more information about U-M’s historic ties to the first Earth Day. The calendar will be updated as additional plans are finalized.

Key events include:

• The Ninth Annual Peter M. Wege Lecture, “Science and Technology Policy, Priorities and Opportunities in the Obama Administration” by John Holdren, assistant to President Obama for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, 5-6:15 p.m. March 22, Rackham Auditorium. Sponsors are the School of Natural Resources and Environment, College of Engineering, Office of the Vice President for Research and the Center for Sustainable Systems. The annual Wege lecture addresses sustainability challenges with a focus on improving systems for meeting human needs.

• Teach-In. Learn more about critical issues of sustainability and share thoughts with faculty experts on topics of energy/climate, sustainable accessibility, food/health and water/the Great Lakes. Breakout sessions led by faculty and practitioners precede a plenary session moderated by Don Scavia, special counsel to the president for sustainability. The event is 9:30 a.m.- noon March 25 at the Michigan League. Refreshments will be served at 9 a.m.

• Beyond Business Forum sponsored by Net Impact will address “Ethics, the Environment and the Economy.” Keynote speaker from Herman Miller; participation by executives from Ford, GM, the Michigan Environmental Council, IBM and New Energy Finance. The event is 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m., March 12, Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Breakfast and lunch will be served.

• Earth Day Diag Day, an environmental fair sponsored by the student Environmental Issues Commission of the Michigan Student Association to spread awareness and exhibit green initiatives on campus, 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. April 1. Local, national and student organizations will present their work and give out goods from green books to food.

• National Collegiate Bioblitz. Students and the community collaborate in a biodiversity awareness event to inventory as many species as possible in a specific area and time period in the Nichols Arboretum. The event is 11 a.m.-4 p.m. April 10, at the Washington Heights entrance of the Arb and at the Reader Center, sponsored by the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum.