|This yearbook photo captured George Uetz singing in a biology lab (where else?) in the early 70s.|
In the late 1960s, public protests were commonplace, especially over the Vietnam War. Public protests were also being launched as the result of a coalition of environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund, on both coasts, Uetz explains.
“I got involved with one of the leading East Coast groups — Environmental Action, based in Washington, D.C., — and was recruited to organize students because I was an officer of the grad student association at the University of Delaware,” he says. “We started planning "teach-ins" and large rallies in cities all over the East in the fall and winter of 1969–1970.”
While Uetz was a only a minor functionary at the national level (as the chairman of the Earth Coalition at Delaware), he did get to go to organizing meetings in nearby Washington, D.C. There he met such people as Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisc.), Denis Hayes, David Brower (first executive director of the Sierra Club), Carl Pope (current executive director of the Sierra Club), Paul Ehrlich (population expert) and David Mixner (civil rights/gay rights activist), who were among the original organizers of the Earth Day "Teach-In" movement.
|Uetz continues to be involved in a variety of environmental organizations and projects.|
“I have vivid memories of seeing the massive die-offs of alewife [a type of shad] on the shores of Lake Huron — the result of a complicated, human-induced ecological disaster, an unintended consequence precipitated by the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway,” says Uetz. “Connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes allowed the sea lamprey to invade, and eventually decimate populations of lake trout, the natural predator of alewife. As a result of this, populations of alewife grew so large they depleted the available dissolved oxygen supply (already reduced by pollution), and died off in huge numbers, piling up on the shoreline 2–3 feet deep!”
|Uetz shares his expertise in spiders with a student.|
"So you could say that Earth Day really shaped my career," Uetz says.Uetz sees that there are some places where we have lost momentum that had built up in the 1960s and 70s on the environmental front.
“At the national level, the erosion of environmental gains as a consequence of overwhelming political power wielded by some corporations and the backlash they have created to protect their economic interests is the biggest setback,” he says. “Environmentalists have been marginalized and even vilified as ‘tree-huggers’ and ‘Birkenstocks’ (and let's not forget the nickname "Ozone Man"). As a result, we have wasted precious time because of doubt and denial regarding global warming, which has been recognized and understood by scientists since the 1980s.”
|Grad student George Uetz in Delaware, 1969.|
Uetz says he is also heartened by the individual and collective efforts that people make on a daily basis — on a local and global level — to recycle, to conserve energy, to create sustainable alternatives, to protect wildlife and biodiversity, and to seek as many ways as possible reduce our carbon footprint.
“The importance of environmental awareness, education and the message of conservation and sustainability is a continuing legacy of the original Earth Day.”