The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 ushered in an era of popular concern for our living environment unlike any other event. It arrived in an era of grievance and protest over war, racism, and social justice; and while it seems celebratory, Earth Day now provides a regular opportunity to educate about climate change, the extinction of species, and our fragile environment. There were other watershed moments – the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006) and the nuclear catastrophes of Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986) come to mind, but Earth Day is special for its hybrid mix of purpose, gravitas, and celebration.
Several New Rochelle residents observed Earth Day in 1970, all eco-friendly citizens who had organized the Ecology Club of New Rochelle in 1969. This group built a foundation of concern about environment pollution and alarm over the possibility of construction of a nuclear power plant on Davids Island. The Ecology Club was an offshoot of an earlier group, the Citizens League for Education About Nuclear Energy (CLEAN). As their concerns grew, the club reorganized as the New Rochelle Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE) to focus on a broader spectrum of issues beyond the single matter of nuclear power and its dangerous waste streams.
|Excerpt from CBE News / December 1972|
CBE opposed the nuclear plant and helped to prevent it by requesting a public hearing in 1971 prior to a city council vote on a contract extension pertinent to Davids Island. CBE’s pressure led to broader interventions. On April 12, 1971 (ten days before the second Earth Day), council passed a resolution to establish an Environmental Conservation Advisory Commission for New Rochelle. The commission was created to advise the mayor and the city council on environmental problems, conduct surveys and studies, educate the public, and connect with other environmental groups.
County Sewage Treatment Plant / Echo Bay, New Rochelle / c. 1975
Photo courtesy Kit Bregman
The NRPL Archive contains newsletters and records of the CBE along with the Long Island Sound Study Records. This study was a cooperative project of the 1990s to mitigate disastrous water quality problems in the Sound that also benefitted from a citizen’s advisory committee. As we focus on Earth Day 2021, with our urgent concerns over a global pandemic and rampant climate change, we should also remember the earlier efforts by citizen’s groups such as CBE to focus attention on the fragility of our planet.
April 22, 2021 / David Rose / NRPL Archive