I’ve lived in Florida since I was fifteen years old, but I was born and raised just outside of Manhattan in northeastern New Jersey. In the sixties. One of the last things I saw in NJ was the trek of people up to Woodstock – and returning from Woodstock.
At the time, this part of the country was a great place to grow up. Art, culture, Broadway – all big things and quite an influence on a young developing mind. Moving from there to what I came to call “the cultural armpit of the country” – Daytona Beach – was quite the shock to the system. However, I adapted.
Besides the beach and Daytona International Speedway, I got to see something that was rare in northeastern New Jersey – blue, blue, blue skies. “Springtime Blue” is what we called it, since in the spring there were frequent rainstorms that cleaned the air of particulates. The rest of the year, the skies were hazy or gray with what I now know was air pollution. Common at the time for many U.S. cities, it is no longer the case in New York City and most of the other large cities.
In reflection, there were two things that I remember as a youngster in that particular environment. My mom’s sister worked at a chemical company, but she didn’t drive. We would go to the site in the middle of a busy industrial area (names omitted on purpose) to pick her up from work most days at around five. As a young boy, there was nothing better than playing in the dirt with cars and trucks – but while waiting, I wasn’t allowed to play in the dirt. That is because the various piles of dirt on the ground next to the railroad tracks and next to the gravel parking lot contained things like arsenic and cyanide. Deadly chemicals. Dumped on the ground next to the tracks by rail cars. So no playing in the dirt piles.
The building was a dull grey color. Sometimes when we arrived the building had turned bright orange because on that particular day they were making Agent Orange – known for its use in Vietnam and its ability to cause horrible, long-term health issues. It was on the outside of the building.
Growing up we always had a Boxer dog in the house. Boxers are known to be big lovable dogs who are around seventy-five pounds, but think that they are lap dogs. Each of our dogs was female, light brown (fawn) color, and a real delight. They lived to be five or six years old, then some tears, and a new puppy – all named “Dinah” for some reason.
When we moved to Daytona, we had a Dinah who was just under three years old. She adjusted to the southern climate pretty well, and she lived to be twelve years old. Twice as long as the other Dinah’s before her. Mom and Dad kept up the tradition, and all of the Dinah’s lived to be at least ten or eleven years old in Florida.
Mom’s sister eventually contracted COPD, but refused to blame the twenty-five years of the chemical company environment for her disease.
I had someone ask me the other day about the pollution in New York City in the sixties. It was bad – much worse than anything that we see today. That made me think about when I lived there, and these two items came back to me. In the sixties, air pollution alone was horrible, and I cannot testify about soil, water, crops, or other pollution issues.
The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, and the Environmental Protection Agency was born. America started Earth Day in 1970. I won’t bore you with statistics, but know that since the early 70’s, suspended particulates, smoke, smog and CO emissions measured in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area have steadily decreased.
Pollution is still a problem, but there are many, many more “Spring blue” skies there all year round. Just like what I found in Daytona Beach.
So what is the point of this very un-scientific analysis of air quality over fifty years? We are making significantt and long-term progress in America with cleaning up our act. I look at places like urban China and India and see what is happening in those places with smoggy skies and polluted water. I see conditions like what I saw fifty years ago – conditions that are much better today. I know that we are doing better, and I also know that THEY can do better, too. Not in fifty years, but now.
I do get a little upset when I hear younger folks say that we – today’s Americans – are killing the planet. We are doing a lot to help save her, and unfortunately others are not. New York in the sixties was what Bejing is today.
Give us old hippies a little credit – no?