Fifty years ago, in April 1970, the UNLV campus teemed with activism, with the student newspaper and yearbook reporting on a number of antiwar activities and other protests. Out of a larger environmental movement, the first Earth Day was planned and a campus organization emerged, Ecology Action for Southern Nevada. The group of students, professors, and community members was the driving force behind UNLV’s Earth Day activities.
A wide variety of campus and community events were planned around Ecology Action Week, which culminated in the Environmental Teach-In on Wednesday, April 22. The previous evening, UNLV students camped out in front of the student union in preparation for a morning of campus trash pick-up. In an act of rebellion, which might seem naive to modern sensibilities, some of these same students took plastic Pepsi bottles they had gathered and dumped them on the steps of the local Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co.
As reported in that day’s issue of the Rebel Yell, which was specifically devoted to ecology concerns, demonstrations were to occur throughout the day in front of the Moyer Student Union, alongside booths which featured groups from Las Vegas high schools, the League of Women Voters, and other local organizations with environmental concerns.
The daylong “teach in” showed evidence of UNLV’s strong community connections. Talks began at 9 a.m. and continued for every 30 minutes for nearly 12 hours. Speakers from biological sciences, political science, psychology, and anthropology gave talks as did the newly formed Black Student Union. Local and state entities, including the Clark County Health Department (then in the midst of anti-pollution negotiations with the Mojave Steam Plant) and the Bureau of Land Management. After a day of nonstop talks, a panel of state and local politicians took questions including the soon-to-be Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike O’Callaghan and his future running mate, the young Assemblyman Harry Reid.
Although it hasn’t been consistent every year, Earth Day has been a popular cause for commemoration on the UNLV campus ever since. In more recent years, it was incorporated into Festival of Communities.
Although we likely won’t see students camping out in front of the student union this semester, the first UNLV Earth Day celebration can still offer some important lessons. It emphasized the importance of “individual action and personal ethics,” the significance of “creating new lifestyles to reduce the waste and destruction of our environment” and “learning to rely on yourself and your friends.” All useful advice for Earth Day 2020 at UNLV and beyond.