Gary Ferguson in Orion Magazine:
I grew up in an age of industrial hauteur, a woozy time of contrivance and contraption that, despite enormous benefits, was by the mid-1950s sick with bravado. My brother and I, along with millions of fellow baby boomers, took our first bike rides and hoisted our first kites in a world stained by poisons, from nuclear fallout in the Rockies to DDT on the Great Plains. In New York City alone, three separate smog events between 1953 and 1966 killed more than six hundred people. Meanwhile the Bureau of Reclamation was stumping hard to shove dams across many of the last wild rivers of the West, including a dogged yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt to plug Colorado’s Green River, in the heart of Dinosaur National Monument. Urban waterways were fouled beyond recognition, most notably the Cuyahoga in Ohio, so dirty with oil and solvents that in 1969 it caught fire. Public forests throughout the Pacific Northwest and California suffered from massive clearcutting, including the destruction of nearly all the giant sequoias on private land. In 1964 there were still government-sponsored bounties on a wide variety of “bad” animals, from mountain lions to coyotes, wolves to weasels, hawks to owls. And in 1969, when I was thirteen, a hundred thousand barrels of crude oil spilled off the coast of Santa Barbara, wiping out thousands of birds and sea lions and elephant seals.
The environmental movement that arose in response to these disasters was hardly populated by Luddites. The very emblem of the movement was a photograph called Earthrise, taken by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders—the product of one of the most complicated technological accomplishments in human history. Indeed the boomers deliberately linked science and technology to the goals of clean air and water and sustainable agriculture. They succeeded because they were good at speaking scientific truth to power rather than pining for an Arcadian past. In 1967, about 20 percent of Americans listed the environment as a top priority. Just fifteen months later—in large part thanks to rallies and protests and organizing by young environmentalists—that number had swelled to 80 percent.