This year has been the 50th Anniversary of Greenpeace; 2022 will be the 50th anniversary of the Limits to Growth study. During this era, a half-century ago, citizens around the world began seeing signs of a pending ecological crisis, and began to talk about it.
This image, below, could be considered the first Greenpeace public media statement, one of twelve billboards erected in Vancouver, in 1969, by Greenpeace co-founders Dorothy and Ben Metcalfe.
One of twelve billboards erected in Vancouver, in 1969, by Greenpeace co-founders Dorothy and Ben Metcalfe.
At the time, “ecology” was not commonly understood, most universities did not have ecology departments, there was no activist environmental movement, and conservation groups such as the Sierra Club focused primarily on preserving parks.
However, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had exposed pesticide impacts and awakened an ecological awareness. In New York, four scientists formed the Environmental Defense Fund to bring ecological abuses before the courts. The tide was turning.
In Vancouver, Canada, Ben Metcalfe hosted a naturalist show, Klahanie, on CBC television, and used that platform to help halt the flooding of nearby Skagit River Valley by a Seattle power company. With other ecology activists in Vancouver, a group that would later be called “Greenpeace,” — Dorothy and Irving Stowe, Bob and Zoe Hunter, Jim and Marie Bolen, Bill Darnell, the Metcalfes, and scores of others — they helped halt a highway through the middle of Vancouver preserving the city’s magnificent shoreline. The ecologists felt invigorated by the taste of victory.
In the summer of 1969, while fishing in Howe Sound, near Vancouver, Ben Metcalfe witnessed the stench and bellowing smokestacks of the local pulp mill. When he raised the pollution issue at a BC Forestry Commission meeting, a Canadian Forest Products vice-president told him that to grow our economy, “We have to accept it.”
“No, we don’t,” Metcalfe replied, drawing gasps from some of the other journalists.
Metcalfe created a logo to represent the environment, two waves joined together into a spiral maze. “If you can promote companies and products,” he told his friends, “you can promote ideas.” They commissioned the billboards, reading:
Look it up! You’re involved.
How are we doing?
Over half a century later, this invitation to “look up” ecology may still be relevant.
Today, of course, there exists a robust environmental movement, thousands of environmental groups, environment agencies and departments, environmental legislation, myriad “green” products, and a relentless charade of international climate conferences.
Unfortunately, by no significant measure can we say that human society is more sustainable today than it was in 1970. Environmental awareness has soared, but effective ecological action, or relevant social change, has faltered repeatedly.
Today, we have less wilderness, more plastic in the oceans, and more toxins in our soils. Since 1970, the Living Planet Index has declined by over 60%. Fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals have declined by 58%. Domesticated poultry, primarily chickens, account for two-and-a-half-times the biomass of all wild birds. By 2018, according to the Census of Earth’s Biomass, reptiles and amphibians have been so reduced they are now considered “negligible.”
Since 1970, as biodiversity has collapsed, the human …….