TODAY WE PAUSE briefly to tip the cap to Mother Earth — or, more specifically, to the people plugging away at the day-to-day jobs of saving her life.
People in the Northwest have a particular stake in Earth Day, a now-global event celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. The very first one was organized by Denis Hayes, a Southwest Washington-reared environmental advocate who would go on to a long career at the helm of Seattle’s Bullitt Foundation, doer of good environmental deeds for decades.
Cover story: 50 years ago, the global Earth Day movement was born — and so was Western Washington University’s Huxley College. Both have shaped, and reflected, our national environmental conversation.
It struck a particular chord here, where sparkling saltwater shores and majestic alpine peaks have long been the touchstones of a region whose people share a visceral connection to wild places.
Over those five decades, much has been done to clean up, preserve and set aside key parts of that precious natural bounty. Alas, not enough to withstand the crush of humanity flocking here to partake of the same plenty, and not even close to enough to avoid a new environmental crisis — climate change — that threatens to overwhelm the very concept of conservation.
With that in mind, we chose to mark the occasion by tracing the evolution of what now stands as a Northwest green institution: Huxley College of the Environment. Because it was born the same year, and from the same social momentum, as Earth Day, the Bellingham institution serves as a useful mirror of the evolution of the environmental movement itself over the past half-century.
A distinct college within the bounds of Western Washington University in Bellingham, the program named for 19th-century British scientist Thomas Huxley was unique in its blending of physical and social sciences to produce enviros who could not only quantify problems, but also help solve them.
Has it worked? Yes, in many ways. Huxley, celebrating its own 50th this spring, has seeded national government agencies; planning departments; research institutions; nonprofits; and, increasingly, private businesses with key players steeped in a sustainability mindset.
Many of those people received their environmental training before anyone was seriously warning of pending planetary upheaval because of global warming. But the skills they acquired, largely motivated as means to combat specific problems, such as pollution, leave them perhaps uniquely qualified to take on the new, even larger, questions.
In keeping with journalistic tradition, one of the initial questions we asked folks from Planet Huxley was borderline rude: Has all the environmental progress of the past half-century been rendered moot by this pending tsunami of tsunamis?
Their answers — eloquent; patient; and, indeed, environmentally educated — offer hope and direction for the future near and far in a place where we tend to take environmentalism not only seriously, but personally.