By Ron Miller, For Sustainable Woodstock
On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million Americans participated in Earth Day rallies and educational events to call attention to the damage industrial society was causing to the natural world. Thus began the modern environmental movement.
Sustainable Woodstock and Norman Williams Public Library invite our community to commemorate the 44th anniversary of Earth Day next Tuesday evening with a screening of the film “Last Call” and discussion with Marta Ceroni of the Donella Meadows Institute and Elizabeth Reaves of the Sustainable Food Lab.
According to earthday.org, the first Earth Day “achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts” — all of these signed into law by a mainstream Republican, President Richard Nixon. In that historical context, in 1972, a group of young scientists at MIT reported on their groundbreaking research into global economic and environmental trends in “Limits to Growth,” which reached a “disarmingly simple” conclusion: “We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. Earth’s supplies of habitable land, fresh water, arable soil, mineral resources, and more will not be able to continuously satisfy the needs of a rapidly expanding global population and its increasing material demands” ( donellameadows.org/last-callcomplicated-story-studys-simplefindings/).
The scientists — Dennis and Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William H. Behrens — believed that their findings would help policymakers plan sensibly for a sustainable economy. Instead, they were branded as doomsayers and the industrial system only accelerated its destructive exploitation of the natural world. How did a nonpartisan, objective and thoughtful approach to understanding our planet’s life support systems, supported at first by a wide cross-section of the public, come to be rejected as a “radical” ideology?
“Last Call” tells this story. “At its heart, it is the story of how an entrenched — if inaccurate — belief system can be fiercely defended against any reasonable common sense by a small number of invested elites” (donellameadows.org). The film includes fascinating scenes of these young scientists at work and addressing conferences over the following decades, of Presidents Reagan and Bush scoffing at ecological limits, and, briefly, of the first Earth Day events. In the film, some of the original researchers and their colleagues discuss the controversial history of “Limits to Growth.” They lament the failure of policymakers to avoid the environmental crisis they so clearly foresaw. Still, at a recent showing of “Last Call,” environmental scientist Beth Sawin reflected that “Limits to Growth” has inspired hundreds of sustainability leaders all over the world and has had a significant impact on international climate negotiations and other important deliberations.
Former Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, reflected in 1995 that “until recently, we haven’t recognized the existence of any environmental limits… Now that we know there are finite limits to the bounty of the land, we also must know we have a moral obligation to pass that bounty on to future generations. That is what sustainability is all about.”
There is a strong local connection to this work as well. Donella Meadows later taught at Dartmouth, established the Sustainability Institute (now called Donella Meadows Institute), and founded the Cobb Hill ecovillage in Hartland. She died in 2001 but her work continues to inspire many people.
Join us for a provocative and moving film, a stimulating conversation, and evening refreshments at Norman Williams Public Library on Tuesday, April 22 at 7 p.m.
And we hope to see you a few days later, on Saturday morning, April 26, for our annual meeting and brunch at the Worthy Kitchen.
For more information about both events contact Sustainable Woodstock at 457-2911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.