The Future Meets the Past: U-M Marks 40th Anniversary of Earth Day

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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.

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.