It is hard to prove what the turning point was for many Americans back then, but I think it was a public service announcement commercial.
According to the Advertising Education Foundation: “In 1961, Keep America Beautiful partnered with the Ad Council to create a campaign dramatizing how litter and other forms of pollution were hurting the environment, and that every individual has the responsibility to help protect it.
“... On Earth Day, 1971, a PSA featuring Native American actor Chief Iron Eyes Cody [crying because of the polluted streams] and the tag line, ‘People Start Pollution. People can stop it.’ aired for the first time ... The PSA won two Clio awards and … named one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th Century by Ad Age Magazine.
“During the height of the campaign, Keep America Beautiful reported receiving more than 2,000 letters a month from people wanting to join their local team. By the end of the campaign, Keep America Beautiful local teams had helped to reduce litter by as much as 88% in 300 communities, 38 states, and several countries.”
America is now a cleaner country, and almost all of us have embraced some measure of environmental concern. We express it by recycling, picking up litter, seeking energy efficiency, or dropping off our spent fluorescent bulbs and no-longer-useful electronic equipment at the Howard County Recycling District. We need to appreciate that we have come a long way. And we are reaping the benefits with cleaner water, cleaner air and fewer toxic contaminants.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average life expectancy in America has risen from about 68 years in 1950 to about 78 years in 2008. The average American is living an extra decade for a variety of reasons, including fewer smokers, medical advances, better safety standards, and, I believe, because of a better environment. Younger generations may find it incredulous that practices like burying toxic barrels in the heart of town was a norm, but the rest us can look at the quarry and ponder how far we have come.
Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.