University of the Rockies is proud to share our PEAK initiative: Promoting Education, Awareness, and Knowledge. Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways you can participate.

Opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University.


A Lesson in Persistence and Synergy
By Beth Dalton, University of the Rockies Librarian

Before 1970, corporations and individuals could pollute uncontrollably. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect the environment (Earth Day and EPA History, n.d.). One man channeled the energy of the fledging environmental movement into a popular cause and created the largest grassroots demonstration in American history. This man was Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator and former governor from Wisconsin, and the event he championed was Earth Day.

Gaylord Nelson began his efforts to increase awareness and political action about environmental issues in 1962, the year Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was published (How the First Earth Day Came About, n.d.). He continued to speak throughout the U.S. on environmental issues for the next seven years, finding growing interest among the public but a continued lack of initiative within the political establishment (How the First, n.d.). Nelson was moved to organize the event that was eventually called Earth Day after he witnessed the aftermath of the massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, CA in 1969. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that by infusing the energy of the youthful activists with an emerging public consciousness about pollution, he could force environmental protection onto the national political agenda (Earth Day: The History, n.d.). Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the media at a conference in Seattle. He persuaded Pete McCloskey, a Republican congressman, to serve as his co-chair and recruited a national coordinator who built a staff to promote events across the U.S. On April 22, the work of countless volunteers and organizers culminated in an estimated 20 million Americans participating in Earth Day events throughout the country (Earth Day: The History, n.d.).

Earth Day 1970 had immediate and long-lasting impact. 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 (Earth Day: The History, n.d.). It also created individual and corporate change as organizations and people began or increased their commitment to recycling, composting, and conserving power and water. It has led to increased understanding of the importance of nature to human life and mental health. Earth Day has evolved into a global day of reflection during which people contemplate the state of the planet and what they can do individually to lessen their footprint and improve sustainability locally, nationally, and globally. On Earth Day 2014, it is important to honor and recognize the work of early environmentalists like Gaylord Nelson. The greatest respect that we can offer is to continue their work and to live our lives with the sustainability of the planet in mind.

The Late Great Warming Debate

by Dylan Self, Student Advisor at University of the Rockies

On January 3, 2014, the world awoke to news that a new standard in irony had been set. The Russian-flagged climate research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy had been stuck in the ice off of Antarctica since December 25. And while all aboard were unharmed, a call for assistance in transporting the crew from the lodged boat was answered by the Chinese ship Xue Long. To make matters worse, the day after the helicopter aboard the Xue Long had finished ferrying all 74 members from the Akademik Shokalskiy, the Xue Long became stuck in the ice as well. This story left the news media around the world with no alternative but to document how not only a ship researching rising global temperatures was stuck in the ice, but how the ship sent to rescue it was, too (Mullen and Capelouto, 2014). This tale of an academic vessel braving the Antarctic seas in search of evidence of historical climate change is just the latest chapter in the debate that has been evolving over recent decades and is becoming much more politicized.

To give some perspective, the public perception about global climate change has been with us since the early 1970s and has been shaped by the popular media. At one point, we were warned of global cooling. Then we were warned of global warming. Now the phenomenon is usually referred to as the all-encompassing term “climate change.”

In 1971, an article appeared in the Washington Post in which NASA scientist S.I. Rasool warned that the use of fossil fuels “could screen out so much sunlight that the average temperature could drop by six degrees” (McCaslin, 2007). A 1974 article in Time Magazine discussed studies at the time that concluded atmospheric temperatures had been “growing gradually cooler for three decades (Another Ice Age?, 1974) while a Newsweek article cited meteorologists with “almost unanimous” opinions that food production and growing seasons would be drastically reduced by the cooling climate (Gwynne, 1975).

When the cooling trend had run its course and temperatures began to increase, the threat of global cooling was revised to one of global warming. During this stage, temperatures increased and ultimately topped out in 1997. Suddenly, the unanimity of opinions changed from a cooling trend to that of a warming one; ultimately being recognized in the form of the El Niño of 1997-1998. This periodic, warm-air system brought drier climates to southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Americas (Bramer, et al. n.d.) But climate trends didn’t end there. As a 2013 article in the UK’s Daily Mail reported, climate research centers around the world now accept that there has been a pause in global warming since 1997 (Rose, 2012).

In a surreal moment akin to that of the Akademik Shokalskiy, Time Magazine has explained this winter’s record-breaking polar vortex in direct contravention with their prior reporting. In the 1974 Time Magazine article referred to previously, the writer cited scientists who confirmed the circumpolar vortex was caused by global cooling. And yet a January 2014 Time Magazine article, written just before the 40th anniversary of the prior explanation, posited “global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. even more likely;” blaming warmer temperatures, not cooler ones, for the incursion the freezing air has made across the country (Driscoll, 2014).

This discussion is not to condemn the climate change movement for its efforts over the last 40 years or to impugn its intellectual integrity. Science is more of a path than a destination. But there are political and economic tensions fighting over how far we should go toward exploiting natural resources for our benefit and how far we should go toward exploiting them to our detriment.

This Earth Day, many people are either unemployed or underemployed, and there are prominent voices calling for increased use of domestic resources as the answer to the problem. Some say hydraulic fracking is the solution, and it has freed up states like Texas and North Dakota to create thousands of well-paying jobs. Louisiana and Mississippi have recently uncovered massive amounts of shale which they can convert into fossil fuel and strengthen their historically sluggish economies. Calls for approving the Keystone Pipeline, which would bring Canadian oil to American refineries along the Gulf Coast, have also become more well-known. But all of these options include increasing the amount of carbon dioxide our economy creates.

So we find ourselves over four years away from the end of the Great Recession, and yet many Americans feel our economy is just stuck in the ice, and we need help. The question is: do we gamble on what seems expedient to some right now, not knowing if it will get us into a worse situation when the sun rises tomorrow?


Another Ice Age? (1974). Retrieved March 10, 2014 from,9171,944914,00.html 

Bramer, D., et al. (n.d.). 1997-1998 El Niño: The most recent event. Retrieved on March 10, 2014 from

Driscoll, E. (2014). Time Magazine swings both ways. Retrieved March 10, 2014 from 

Earth Day: The history of a movement. Retrieved March 13, 2014 from

Earth Day and EPA history: The first Earth Day in April 1970. Retrieved March 13, 2014 from

Gwynne, P. (1975). The cooling world. Retrieved March 10, 2014 from 

McCaslin, J. (2007). Chinese Ship in Antarctica Rescue Stuck in Ice. Retrieved March 10, 2014 from 

Mullen, Jethro and Capelouto, Susanna. (January 3, 2014). “Chinese Ship in Antarctica Rescue Stuck in Ice.” Retrieved March 10, 2014 from

Nelson, G. (n.d.). How the first Earth Day came about. Retrieved March 13, 2014 from

Rose, D. ( 2012). Global warming stopped 16 years ago, reveals Met Office report quietly released... and here is the chart to prove it. Retrieved March 10, 2014 from

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