Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 1, 1995

Protecting Mother Earth

By Ken Keatley

     The times, they have a' changed.

     When Earth Day dawned in Baltimore on Wednesday, April 22,
1970, many Baltimoreans literally had a dim view of the
proceedings. Much of Baltimore, like many industrial cities, was
daily covered in a layer of soot generated by belching

     Its skyline was cast in a thin, gray haze; oil spills in the
Inner Harbor, and trash-lined streets and alleys, were part of
Charm City's milieu.

     But 1970 was a time of activism, as the Vietnam War, the
women's movement and civil rights issues energized millions of
Americans to actively seek change. Ecological issues--smog, foul
water, noise pollution--thus fit neatly into the dialogue of

     Gordon "Reds" Wolman, then as now a professor of geography
and environmental engineering at Hopkins, remembers that first
Earth Day--with its speeches, sit-ins, trash clean-ups and
symbolic demonstrations--as being the catalyst for the
then-fledgling environmental movement.

     "In those days, words like environment and ecology were new
to many students. Any class you teach now, the students have a
higher level of knowledge on these topics. I attribute that
directly to what began on Earth Day," said Dr. Wolman, who
remembered lecturing on ecology in Shriver Hall during a daylong
"environmental teach-in" on Hopkins' first, if day-late, Earth
Day observation.

     The Baltimore--and indeed, the America--of 1995 is a
clearer, cleaner, healthier place, thanks in large part to the
heightened environmental awareness that stemmed from the
touchstone event that was Earth Day. But problems remain, so
Earth Day '95 (Saturday, April 22) was a time for celebration and
a plea for action to continue the assault on environmental

     On the Homewood campus, Students for Environmental Action,
Student Pugwash, Student Council and other groups co-sponsored a
number of events throughout the weekend, including a speaker's
forum, a Charles Village clean-up, concerts on the Beach and the
planting of a time capsule adjacent to Eisenhower Library.

     Inside the capsule, according to Bob Murching of Pugwash,
was a collection of materials designed to reflect the impact of
recycling and the computer revolution's "paperless office."

     "This is designed not so much to encourage the future to
reflect on the past, but to see how much things will have changed
in 25 years as a means of becoming active for the next 25 years,"
said Murching, a sophomore.

     Recycling is high on the list of environmental concerns for
Hopkins students, according to SEA president Eric Lee. He and
Jamie Eldridge, student council president, have petitioned and
subsequently met with administrators in order to further
recycling efforts at Homewood.

     "Recycling is one of the best ways we can make a
difference," said Lee. "And there is plenty of room for
improvement in the recycling program here. It's our goal to
facilitate that change."

     Recycling was on the back burner in 1970, recalled Charles
ReVelle, a professor of geography and environmental engineering.
"The things we were concerned about in 1970 barely resemble what
we're concerned about today," said Dr. ReVelle, who, along with
his wife, Penelope, has written textbooks on the environment.

     He cited phosphates in detergents, mercury in fish and
eutrophication of lakes as but a few examples of environmental
problems that are no longer being addressed because they have,
for all practical purposes, been solved.

     "No one says Lake Erie is dying anymore, and rivers aren't
catching on fire," Dr. ReVelle said. "And who talks about noise

     Those successes have prompted a number of scientists, as
well as many of those new to power in Washington, to downplay the
current need for and even to suggest easing stringent
environmental laws and guidelines.

     In his recently published book--"A Moment on the Earth: The
Coming Age of Environmental Optimism"--author Gregg Easterbrook
opines that alarmism over asbestos, global warming and other
environmental scares has been misplaced.

     "The worst thing the environmental movement could become is
another absentminded interest group stumbling along toward
preconceived ends regardless of what the evidence suggests,"
writes Easterbrook.

     That thinking, while correct in some instances, troubles Dr.

     "If it hadn't been for Rachel Carson [in her 1962 book,
"Silent Spring"] warning us of the dying of species, no one would
have checked on the side effects of DDT," Dr. ReVelle said.
"There must be continued vigilance."

     Sam Durrance, a Hopkins astrophysicist and two-time
astronaut, is among the environmentally concerned. He said
following last month's Astro-2 mission aboard the space shuttle
Endeavour that viewing the planet from space has had a profound
effect on his perception of Earth. 

     "It's clear when you see the Earth from orbit that it is a
very fragile place," Dr. Durrance said. "Before I flew ... the
Earth seemed kind of all powerful, as though it's always been
there and it will take care of you forever. You don't get that
feeling at all when you see it from orbit. You can see the impact
of humanity on the planet."

     Dr. Durrance is a member of the Association of Space
Explorers, comprised solely of people who have flown in space.
One of the association's stated objectives is to promote
environmental awareness.

     "The thing that just kind of hits you in the face is that
there is this incredibly beautiful planet below you, this island
of life," Dr. Durrance said. "It becomes apparent to the observer
from space that people cannot continue to dump on the environment
far into the future without taking serious steps to manage the
use of natural resources."

                Sidebar: Carson Jump-Started the Movement


     "Of all the earth, the sea remains least touched by man's
despoiling acts. May he now approach it in humility, not
arrogance, with wisdom to utilize but not exploit its riches."

     So wrote Johns Hopkins alumna Rachel Carson, in an essay
titled "The Sea" published in the May/June 1961 issue of the
Johns Hopkins Magazine. The excerpt illustrates Carson's literary
gifts and her lifelong passion and concern for the environment.

     A year later, her landmark book, "Silent Spring," propelled
a fledgling environmental movement into the forefront of
America's consciousness by examining the often-detrimental
effects of human life on the environment. 

     Inspired by a visit to a friend's Massachusetts farm, where
dozens of birds had been felled by a pilot's indiscriminate
spraying of pesticides, the book centered on DDT and other toxins
contained in the herbicides and pesticides used widely in the
decades following World War II. Her goal was to document the
destructive side effects of DDT in language laypeople could

     Carson came under attack from many in the science and
business communities who derided her work as exaggerated and

     "Time has proven that her conclusions and predictions ...
were well founded," wrote scientist and colleague Bostwick H.
Ketchum in a 1970 letter to Hopkins manuscript assistant Edna
Goodall. "I do not believe that any other single publication has
done more to make our population ... aware of the impact man's
technological development has been having on our environment." 

     By 1969, the United States banned the use of DDT. But she
didn't live to see that triumph, or the first Earth Day she
helped inspire. Carson died in 1964, at age 56, of cancer, at her
home in Silver Spring, Md. 

     Carson came to Hopkins in 1929 to study biology, zoology and
genetics. She lived on Stemmers Run near the Chesapeake Bay, with
her parents and sister, and used part-time teaching
assistantships at Hopkins and the University of Maryland to fund
her education.

     She graduated with a master of arts degree in zoology in
1932, then received an honorary Hopkins doctorate in 1952 in
recognition of her marine biology work and writing.


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