Opinion: Green Light

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Earth Day 1970, 2020, and 2070

Laguna Beach has almost always had its share of environmentally-minded visionaries who included artists, merchants, academics, and hippies.  On this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, led nationally half a century ago by Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, it’s entirely fitting to take a backward, present-day, and forward glance at Earth Day in our town.

My wife and I were still graduate students in 1970; we had not even met at that time but that meeting and marriage would come a few years later along with our purchase of a home in what was then South Laguna. Neither of us had given much thought to environmental matters at the time of the first Earth Day, though in our separate lives then we assuredly knew about the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that made news from coast to coast and triggered major policy initiatives. 

My flimsy knowledge of that first Earth Day in Laguna has come not from experiencing it here but instead from piecing together a few newspaper accounts.  From a 2010 Orange County Register article taking a retrospective look, I learned that beloved Laguna bookseller Jim Dilley had set up a table on the UC Irvine campus to raise student awareness about green belts and the need for environmental protection of open spaces before they were literally bulldozed to accommodate urban sprawl.  A young graduate student named Elizabeth Brown stopped by Dilley’s table. The rest is pretty much history. Brown ended up earning a Ph.D. at UC Irvine, dove into environmental activism, and became a Laguna legend, similar to the scholarly Dilley (whose bookstore I visited often), in leading Laguna Greenbelt. 

What about Earth Day 2020? Given the COVID-19 pandemic, Lagunans will be celebrating it on Zoom. Since 1970, Laguna has given birth to a number of civic groups and businesses with a strong environmental orientation. These include Village Laguna, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Laguna Greenbelt, Laguna Canyon Conservancy, Laguna Canyon Foundation, Laguna Ocean Foundation, and Laguna Bluebelt Coalition. Some of our town’s businesses, likewise, advocated for the environment. Though succumbing to cancer in 2018, photographer Mark Chamberlain played a lead role in saving Laguna Canyon by, among other things, taking responsibility for setting up “The Tell,” a 636-foot mural that helped stop development in the Canyon. “He used art as a powerful social change weapon to educate and move the public [on environmental matters],” said Mike Beanan, a co-founder, with Jinger Wallace, of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition. At least one Laguna-based business, MacGillivray-Freeman Films, reaches out to a global audience of IMAX movie-goers about preserving the sanctity and beauty of wilderness, especially that of our oceans and marine life.

We can but imagine what Earth Day 2070 will be like. If society remains on its present course, scientists warn that by the middle of this century the scenario will be dystopic.  This would be due to the inroads of pollution, desertification, epic flooding and famines, bleached reefs in dying oceans, and disease pandemics exacerbated by an over-heated planet. For particulars consult the April issue of National Geographic magazine. The entire issue is divided into two parts: How We Saved the World and How We Lost the World. Both parts cast a forward glimpse to Earth Day 2070. 

Which future will it be for the planet, for our country, and for our city?

Tom Osborne has written four critically acclaimed books and co-leads with his wife, Ginger, the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates for putting a price on carbon. [email protected]

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