Berger’s Burg: Earth Day cannot live up to predecessor Arbor Day

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The first law of ecology is that everything is related to everything else. — Barry Commoner

Today, April 22, is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. On this day, we are supposed to take special cognizance of a fact most people ignore on other days — that we inhabit a planet that has provided us everything we need to exist. But this bounty will be short-circuited if we continue to ignore the terrain, oceans, plants and animals that share the globe with us.

Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees. — Revelation 7:3

Earth Day was created by John McConnell of San Francisco, who, in 1970, convinced that city’s mayor to dedicate one day for “peace, justice and the care of Earth.” What grew from that is now an international celebration of the planet’s majesty.

The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago ... had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands. — Havelock Ellis

But how many of you remember Arbor Day? When our country was young, this holiday was celebrated every April 22. It was first celebrated in Nebraska in 1872 and was a useful exercise in civic responsibility. At that time, many urban and rural areas had been badly disfigured and despoiled by the indiscriminate removal of trees. A need for replanting plant life was evident to preserve the past for the future.

Air pollution is turning Mother Nature prematurely gray. — Irv Kupcinet

Children planted trees in schoolyards and other civic areas. Men of yore, such as John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed), naturalist John Muir, former President Theodore Roosevelt and others taught conservation which they knew was an investment for tomorrow.

We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do. — Barbara Ward

Arbor Day was not an important holiday like Easter or Thanksgiving or semi-important like Halloween or Valentine’s Day. It was a pleasant, easygoing sort of special day. The best thing about it was that it was a holiday you did not have to go out and buy things for. That is what probably spelled its doom and why we do not acknowledge it anymore. While we never spent one cent for it or made one dollar on it, we are much poorer for not having it anymore.

Pity the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. — Don Marquis

The observance was not much of a holiday even in its heyday and it was never eagerly awaited, but it did have some nice features. Children would get a little fresh air in the morning when they were lined up and sent out to the front of their schools to watch a tree being planted. That was all there was to the ceremony.

And there was, of course, the mandatory recitation of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees,” but even that was made bearable because some children in the lower grades could always be counted on to giggle when the line “Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;” was reached. And the schools did get nice landscaping over the years.

Population growth is the primary source of environmental damage. — Jacques Cousteau

But ecology-minded folks’ attempt to resuscitate the spirit of Arbor Day in 1970 by transforming it into “Earth Day” falls short. Earth Day is nothing like Arbor Day. It completely misses its simplicity and is concerned with serious and weighty matters from water conservation to global warming.

It is a field day for politicians, not trees — for while politicians might have appeared on Arbor Day, they had to couch all their pontifications in “tree” terms. They never had much latitude to instill their heavy campaigning into.

A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience. — Oliver Wendell Holmes

Contrarily, Earth Day is earnest, ecological and serious and nobody recites “Trees” anymore. Instead, topics disseminated are topics like pollution, climate change and animal protection. And commercial products reflecting these causes appear everywhere. That is no way to celebrate a holiday. Even Kilmer would have told them that.

The most important thing about spaceship Earth — an instruction book didn’t come with it. — R. Buckminster Fuller

So join me in an underground movement for the restoration of Arbor Day. We can move Earth Day to a more appropriate date somewhere in sizzling August to reflect global warming. After all, wouldn’t you rather listen to Kilmer’s poetry on a gorgeous spring day than listening to Al Gore’s inconvenient oratory?

Contact Alex Berger at

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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