Environmentalism at the City Club

After leaving the Cleveland’s Clinic’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration, we went to the City Club for a Friday luncheon program. There, our friend, Mr. Rick Jackson, Senior Host/Producer of Ideastream interviewed Mr. Denis Hayes who was instrumental in the organization of the first Earth Day in April, 1970.

They discussed how the publicity surrounding the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 helped lay the groundwork for the passage of such landmark legislation as the Clean Water Act and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. Appropriately, the title of this program was “Sparking a Revolution: Cleveland, Earth Day, and the Modern Environmental Movement.” It was the first in a planned series of City Club conversations called “Igniting the Future” dealing with the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire and its subsequent impact.

We noticed that there were some parallels between the message of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration earlier and this event: both noted that, while there had been much progress, there remained much to be done in order to reach our goals of the kind of world we want to live in.

Indeed Mr. Hayes, who is now the president of the Bullitt Foundation in Washington,  contended that there is a lot of room for everyone in this particular movement including industry which could benefit enormously if a green course of action could be pursued. Along these lines, he spoke about how the Bullitt building is the only “net energy positive 6 story building on the planet” and how it has utilized renewable energy, rain water, and composting to tremendous economic advantage.

Nevertheless, Mr. Hayes emphasized that there are, at this time, very formidable challenges to our general welfare, including plastic pollution of bodies of water and global warming, that are not being properly addressed. In order to address this, he maintained, volunteerism (i.e. beach cleanups, personal conservation measures) are very important but we must also put pressure on our elected officials not to weaken but to strengthen our environmental protection laws. “Earth Day should be Election Day,” contended Mr. Hayes.

We were heartened to see that today’s event was sponsored by such pillars of our Cleveland community as the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, Bank of America, and the Great Lakes Brewing Company which has been an important force for environmentalism.

Likewise, environmental champions Ms. Elaine Price of NatureVation and Ms. Deb Yandala of the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park attended. We, ourselves, shared a table with person from an international company which produces very environmentally sound corrugated plastic drainage piping.

During the Q and A, we asked Mr. Hayes what he had learned from his international counterparts in the environmental movement. He replied thoughtfully that he had seen a lot of sound practices (i.e. green architecture) in other countries  but he was questioning about their potential to be put to use in the United States. Instead of actual practices, Mr. Hayes went on to say that it was most important that the international  community agree on a set of values and adhere closely to them.