Earth Day: Then and Now

In an interview conducted over 20 years ago, Carl Anthony, founding director of one of the nation’s first environmental justice organizations, Urban Habitat, shared his reflections on the early efforts of the first Earth Day and the environmental movement.  His thoughts are still timely and can be applied to the environmental challenges and opportunities we face today.

 “Earth Day 1970 was started, in part, as a result of the work of Rachel Carson who wrote Silent Spring in 1962. That book and similar research on the effects of DDT sparked a growing interest in the environment that went beyond protecting wildlife and open spaces. In some ways, it was paradoxical, because it became a powerful protest movement that was also distancing itself from issues of race and social justice.

…The anti-war movement [gathered] steam just as the civil rights movement was winding down, and the environmental movement came in and got a lot of energy from the anti-war movement. The environmentalists learned from the civil rights movement how to mobilize a large number of people. But it was mostly a white movement... European Americans.

…Because of the white bias of the environmental movement, there was almost no talk about cities, even though 85 percent of the population of the United States lived in cities and metropolitan areas. The white environmental movement was focused mostly on wilderness protection... on protecting the water, the land, the air; and also increasingly on looking at biological resources. But the fact of the matter is that all this pollution actually comes from the cities.

… Putting the concept of environmental justice on the global radar screen is one big accomplishment. Also, the whole issue of the intersection of public health and the environment and the growing awareness of the public health challenges of the way we build our cities.

…I believe that there are changes that take a long time to come [to fruition] but when they happen, they are big. Right now, the biggest challenge that we’re facing is global warming and climate change. And although the climate issue is unique, in some ways, it is still the same old thing. It’s about who’s in power, who makes the decisions, who [reaps] the benefits, and who bears the burden.

...All of the social movements that we have thought about over the last couple of decades—the women’s movement, the environmental movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the labor movement, the indigenous people’s movements—have evolved in the last couple of hundred years and have a common root. This is a global movement. We’re a little behind. The transnational corporations have been two or three steps ahead of us. But we have the numbers—if only we can really begin to understand our relationship to each other. And I feel pretty optimistic about that.”

The complete audio interview and transcript with B. Jesse Clarke, Editor of Race, Poverty and the Environment, can be found at

Mr. Anthony will be speaking at on Thursday, April 26, 2018, at the Debra Friedman Memorial Lecture, University of Washington, William Philip Hall, 1918 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, WA.

The Earth, the City and the Hidden Narrative of Race

Featured speaker: Carl C. Anthony Co-Founder of the Breakthrough Communities Project, and Visiting Professor at The Center for Regional Change, UC Davis

6:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Register now at