Environmental Teach-In

Harley Christensen dons his ECO armband on Earth Day, 1970. (UW Oshkosh Archives Photo 70-205.10)

Student and ECO chair Harley Christensen addresses mankind's moral responsibility toward a better ecology (9:06)


The devastating losses of Dr. Shapiro and the four ECO students marked a giant setback for the organization of Earth Day on the WSU-O campus, but they compelled two individuals who fatefully backed out of the trip to Stout State at the last minute, ECO chairman Harley Christensen and biology professor William Sloey, to rally the other ECO students to the Earth Day cause. As Christensen and his dedicated student colleagues completed preparations for what would become full day of events, WSU-O president Roger Guiles announced that classes would be cancelled so that students could attend them.


As the inaugural Earth Day approached, hopes ran high for what the events planned on April 22 might trigger. While the Paper for Central Wisconsin editorialized that Earth Day would mark “the beginning of what may well become the greatest crusade in American history—the crusade for a decent, sane environment,” the more decidedly left-of-center Fox Valley Kaleidoscope hoped that it would be “the day to say farewell to Amerika's get-more-things culture and start building a culture where the earth and people and animals can all live in peace.” The Kaleidoscope added, “April 22 isn't a day, it's a movement.”




An estimated twenty million Americans confronted the global environmental crisis in Earth Day activities in 1970. At 2,000 American colleges, 10,000 elementary and secondary schools, and in thousands of local community forums, Americans deliberated the challenges the world faced in preserving its resources, protecting plant and animal species, and halting the spread of industrial and automobile pollution.

Schools within the region engaged ecological issues with surprising (and at times alarming) enthusiasm. While several area schools conducted small-scale teach-ins, prepared antipollution newsletters for parents, held poster contests, and engaged in hands-on clean-up efforts, Lakeview Elementary School in Neenah, located ten miles north of Oshkosh on County A, went to unusual lengths to dramatize the impending effects of uncontrolled air pollution and overpopulation. Lakeview students were not allowed outdoor recess and were frightened into thinking that the water in the water fountains was polluted and undrinkable—a ploy which had a young kindergartner crying for several hours. Worse yet for some, students were denied seconds on school cafeteria lunches in the hopes that they might appreciate the effects of impending food shortages.


Dale School sixth-graders voiced environmental concerns in dramatic style as they picked trash up in downtown Oshkosh. (The Paper of Central Wisconsin, April 23, 1970.)

Without a doubt, WSU-O served as the site of the largest and most meaningful Earth Day consciousness-raising in central and northeastern Wisconsin. Six large classrooms and the gymnasium of Albee Hall served as venues for round-the-clock panel discussions, presentations, workshops and documentary film screenings. Filmed lectures by noted ecologist Barry Commoner and Zero Population Growth president Paul Erlich complemented addresses by an assistant to the Secretary of the Interior, local politicians, businessmen, the Democratic candidate for Wisconsin Attorney General and a WSU-O biologist who warned audience members of the effects of mounting carbon dioxide levels brought on by the burning of fossil fuels.

Dr. James Flannery, assistant to the Secretary of the Interior, delivered the keynote speech at the Earth Day plenary session in Albee Hall. WSU-O president Roger Guiles looks on. (UW Oshkosh Archives Photo 70-205.26)


Welcoming address by WSU-O president Roger Guiles

Introductory remarks by Oshkosh Common Council president
Byron Murkin (5:11)

ECO faculty advisor William Sloey, assistant professor of biology at WSU-O. (UW Oshkosh Archives Photo 70-206.04)

Young Democrats, Young Republicans and members of the Young Socialist Alliance squared off in public debate while students inhabiting a “free speech area” distributed literature and collected signatures for petition drives. More interesting yet was the “environmental happening” WSU-O art students created in an attempt to simulatewitnessing our dead planet years in the future—in Earth A.P. (After Pollution). Visitors to the happening were asked to don a surgical mask and navigate a defoliated maze strewn with skeletons, corpses with gas masks, vestiges of extinct plant life and belches of smoke emitted from a giant floor-to-ceiling smokestack bearing the slogan “What's good for General Motors is hell for the U.S.A.”



Hundreds of Earth Day posters, created by area schoolchildren, were on display in Dempsey Hall.
(UW Oshkosh Archives Photos 70-206.25 & 70-206.29)

Paper company Kimberly Clark, based in Neenah, was eager to present a public image of itself as company committed to a healthy ecology.  But it was unwilling to bear primary responsibility for the fight against pollution or submit to costly regulatory measures.  In his Earth Day address, Richard M. Billings, VP and Director of Environmental Control, gamely addressed these issues while admonishing the public to lead responsible environmental campaigns and "don't just point." (Q & A excerpt, 9:14)

One of the most nettlesome issues confronting Earth Day speakers focused on the responsibility Wisconsin companies must bear in controlling and cleaning up industrial waste. Milwaukee attorney and Democratic candidate for attorney general, Thomas Jacobson, struggles to finesse the issue in his Earth Day speech. (Speech and Q & A, 46:19)