‘Earth Days’ sums up the environmental movement

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, December 11, 2009 12:01am
  • Life

In the world of green documentaries, “Earth Days” takes a moment to look back rather than prognosticate; this is an account of success stories of the environmental past.

It’s a useful summary of the high points of the modern eco-movement, with a chorus of talking heads chiming in with opinions and memories. Like many such accounts, director Robert Stone (“Oswald’s Ghost”) pegs the early stirrings of the modern environmental movement to the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” a broadside against the liberal use of pesticides.

Ticking through the highlights of the ’60s, Stone interviews Paul Erlich, whose 1968 book “The Population Bomb” re-configured (not without controversy) the subject of willy-nilly growth.

Stone talks to “Whole Earth Catalog” guru Stewart Brand, the deviser of that counterculture bible for the 1970s. He’s the kind of hippie survivor who begins a story with, “In 1966, I was taking LSD on a rooftop in San Francisco,” which is one of those sentences you generally want to hear the rest of.

In recalling the Apollo Moon program and including the memories of astronaut Rusty Schweickart, the film notes how one unexpected side effect of the lunar journeys was the sight of the Earth seen from a distance, a speck in the vastness of space, the reminder of the planet’s borderless fragility.

Many things coalesced on the first Earth Day, in 1970, an event fondly recalled by its chief organizer, Denis Hayes. The timing was right, but the massive success of that first Earth Day, which bloomed all over the U.S. on the same day, must have taken even its organizers by surprise.

“Earth Days” bemusedly reminds us that it was Richard Nixon, not otherwise noted as a devout ecological warrior, who signed off on many environmental policies, including the Endangered Species Act.

This film is unabashedly a fan of its topic, so don’t expect a lot of opposing arguments. One commentator does note, though, that the eco-movement should have done a much better job of learning to work with, rather than against, loggers in American forests.

“Earth Days” falls short in becoming something more than just a thoughtpiece for the already sympathetic and it seems wistful for the days when the movement was still new (and still scoring significant victories, like getting pollution-friendly politicos voted out of office).

With the exception of the lightning rod of climate change, environmental issues have been absorbed in larger ideas lately; maybe this movie exists to correct that shift.

“Earth Days”

Documentary recalling the coming-together of the modern environmental movement, featuring interviews with many of the key players from the heyday of the 1960s and ‘70s. It feels overly pitched toward the already sympathetic, but the history is dutifully laid out.

Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter

Showing: Varsity

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