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Earth Day at 50: Why the legacy of the 1970s environmental movement is in jeopardy

Denise Chow, NBC NEWS

Changing global and political landscapes have made the kind of broad and bipartisan agreements reached in the 1970s seem impossible.

The first Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970, marked a turning point for U.S. environmentalism, capturing the growing activism of the 1960s and putting the country on track to create the Environmental Protection Agency and many major pieces of legislation in the 1970s.

Fifty years later, those efforts are at risk of being rendered null.

For the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, veteran climate activists are offering words of warning about the changing global and political landscapes that have made the kind of broad and bipartisan agreements reached in the 1970s seem impossible.

“What’s disturbing to me about what’s happened over the last 50 years is this steady drift of the Republican Party toward opposing environmental action and dismantling 50 years of environmental progress,” said Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University.

And with countries around the world in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, some experts fear that climate action could fall by the wayside as nations attempt to restart their economies. Rather than investing in infrastructure to support renewable energy and focusing efforts on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, for example, countries could revert back to the status quo in a bid to recoup coronavirus-related economic losses.

But the path ahead won’t be easy. Humanity is quickly running out of time to keep global warming below2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) and slow the most damaging impacts of climate change. And even with aggressive action, the planet is still at risk of rising seas, drought, wildfires, extreme weather and other potentially damaging consequences of the warming that has already happened.

Still, David Muth remembers when taking environmental action wasn’t always a partisan fight.

As the director of Gulf restoration for the National Wildlife Federation, Muth knows that climate policies have always been hard-won, but beginning in the 1960s, as the severity of human-caused pollution was becoming more apparent, people started to demand change.


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Ted Eliot, Sonoma County conservationist and retired diplomat, dies at 91


Earlier this week, Ted Eliot lay in bed recuperating after minor surgery and reflected on the meaning of a man’s life. It was an unusual moment of introspection for the former diplomat and fervent conservationist.

Eliot wasn’t one to ruminate, his daughter, Wendy Eliot, said. He was a doer. But on that day, confined to bed in a convalescent hospital, Eliot looked back over his 91 years with the question, “What is the purpose? What is it all for?” He settled on a simple answer to a big question: “To be of service.”

By that definition, Ted Eliot had more than met his purpose when he died Thursday at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital of a heart attack. He was a longtime resident of Sonoma, but recently moved to Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa.

Eliot served for 30 years in the U.S. foreign service and State Department, including a post as ambassador to Afghanistan. He served on and headed a multitude of boards both corporate and nonprofit, from the San Francisco World Affairs Council and the World Peace Foundation to the Planning and Conservation League of California and the American Academy of Diplomacy. In Sonoma County, along with his late wife, Pat, he will be best remembered as one of the region’s most vociferous and effective advocates for conservation, open space, public access and environmental protection.

“We all shared the thought that the purpose of life is to leave the world in a little better shape than we found it. I was able to tell him clearly, you accomplished that,” said Wendy Eliot, who followed her parents into environmental service as conservation director for the Sonoma Land Trust.

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Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom touts California’s green economy in Sonoma County event 

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday took to a stage in Santa Rosa before a crowd of leading North Bay environmentalists to tout activism and government policies that have made California a global leader in the green economy.
“California is a climate of hope. If you don’t like the way the world looks when you’re standing up, stand on your head, because remarkable things are happening at the local level,” Newsom said.
The former San Francisco mayor is a leading contender among Democrats running to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown next year. He gave the keynote address at Sonoma County Conservation Action’s “Grassroots Gala,” an annual event that honors local environmental leaders.
His remarks came after a tumultuous couple of weeks for the United States on the global stage, punctuated by President Donald Trump’s announcement he would pull the country, the world’s largest historic emitter of climate warming gases, out of the landmark Paris agreement on climate change.
Newsom pushed back on Trump’s contention that pivoting toward a fossil fuel-free world would irretrievably harm the U.S. economy.
“What is so wrong about de-carbonizing your economy? What’s so wrong about what California’s done? Seven years, 2.7 million jobs, 2.9 percent GDP (growth),” he said. “You remember that Goldilocks budget that Trump announced two weeks ago? It’s predicated on 3 percent growth and everyone says that’s not achievable — I say hold on, come out to California. It’s absolutely achievable.”
For many in the room, Newsom’s comments reflected the emergence of a new generation of environmental leaders pushing a movement that seeks alliances with industry. The growth and success of the renewable energy sector, they say, shows the environmental movement can both save the planet and create jobs.
Read more at: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom touts California’s green economy in Sonoma County event | The Press Democrat

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Wineries’ impact brings taste of bitterness to Sonoma campaign

A supervisors race between two liberal candidates in Sonoma County has turned into a good ol’ Wine Country brawl amid fear that the region is too quickly transforming into a pricey, water-sucking theme park for the almighty grape.
The tug-of-war over the seat being vacated by disgraced Supervisor Efren Carrillo is billed by some as a choice between forests and vineyards, farmlands and event centers, conservation and industry.
But the election pitting organic farmer Lynda Hopkins against former state Sen. Noreen Evans for supervisor of the Fifth District, which covers western Sonoma County, including the entire coastline, is more complicated than that.
Both candidates purport to want the same thing — to protect the environment, particularly the Russian River; create affordable housing to counter skyrocketing prices; improve roads and other infrastructure; and prevent the county from turning into a wine monoculture.
The argument over which candidate can achieve those things has turned into a mud-slinging imbroglio, mainly over the alleged influence of special-interest groups.
At stake, if you believe the two candidates, is the future of bucolic Sonoma County, which has seen an explosion of winery development and a population increase of almost 4 percent since 2010.
“The major issue is the influence of wineries and agriculture,” said Ernie Carpenter, a former supervisor who is supporting Evans. “We are having a corporate buyout of many old family vineyards and wineries.”
Evans and her supporters say Hopkins is bankrolled by mineral extractors, real estate developers, and dozens of vineyard and winery owners worried about the government restricting tourist-friendly projects that would, in turn, clog already over-tapped roads.
Read more at: Wineries’ impact brings taste of bitterness to Sonoma campaign

Posted on Categories Local Organizations, Sonoma Coast, Sustainable LivingTags

Ernestine Smith, beloved SRJC teacher and environmental advocate, dies at 100

Ernestine “Ernie” Smith trekked the globe playing top-level field hockey as a young woman, then came to Sonoma County and scored powerful, lasting impacts in two arenas: women’s athletics at Santa Rosa Junior College and protection of the environment and wildlife from perils such as dredging, dams, offshore oil exploration, nuclear power plants and hilltop development.
Twinkle-eyed yet indefatigable, Smith would have turned 101 years old on Sept. 22. Longtime friend, former student and fellow coach Caren Franci of Sebastopol was with her hours before she died Aug. 12 at a care home alongside Santa Rosa Creek.Franci recalled, “I told her it was time to move on to other environments, that they needed her stewardship.”
Smith was for decades a key activist with the Madrone Audubon Society, Sonoma County Conservation Council, Sonoma County Tomorrow and Citizens Organized to Acquire Access to State Tidelands (COAAST). She volunteered as a docent and trained docents at Sonoma Valley’s Bouverie Preserve.
She successfully fought alongside other early environmentalists to halt PG&E’s plan to construct a nuclear power plant on Bodega Head, to protect Jenner’s Penney Island from inundation by proposed dredging at the mouth of the Russian River, and to persuade the state Highway Commission it would be devastating and foolish to proceed with plans to build a four-lane Russian River bridge at Bridgehaven, just inland from Jenner.
Read more at: Ernie Smith, 100, recalled as beloved Santa Rosa | The Press Democrat

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Hundreds turn out to pay tribute to Sonoma County environmentalist Bill Kortum

Bill Kortum, Sonoma County’s premier environmental activist, was remembered Saturday as a family man, home winemaker, veterinarian, croquet enthusiast and a personal inspiration to others who joined him in defending the landscape here and along the entire California coast.
More than 700 people, representing a who’s who of the local environmental community, attended a celebration of Kortum’s life at the Sonoma Mountain Village Event Center in Rohnert Park, 4 miles north of the Kortum family home, known as Ely Hill, on the outskirts of Petaluma.
Kortum, who spent most of his life fighting to rein in urban sprawl and protect public access to the coast, died at home Dec. 20 after a three-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 87.
Read more via Hundreds turn out to pay tribute to Sonoma | The Press Democrat.

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Bill Kortum, Sonoma County environmentalist, dies at 87

Greta Kaul, SFGATE.COM
 Press Democrat article
Bill Kortum, a longtime Sonoma County environmental activist, died early Saturday in Petaluma after battling prostate cancer for more than three years. He was 87.
Mr. Kortum’s extensive resume as an activist began in the 1960s and lists many of California’s most important land-use campaigns.
In 1972, he worked to pass Proposition 20, a measure that established the California Coastal Commission, the agency that regulates land and water use along the state’s coastline. Mr. Kortum also helped establish an open space district in Sonoma County and worked to create Sonoma County Conservation Action, an organization that aims to educate the public on environmental issues.
He did it all with a twinkle in his eye, said Sheri Cardo, communications director at the Sonoma Land Trust and a longtime friend of Mr. Kortum.
Soft-spoken but tenacious, “Bill was like a big, strong redwood tree — bending with the wind but never breaking, and always looking far ahead,” Cardo said. “He was an amazing guy. Even his political opponents liked and respected him, which is saying something in Sonoma County.”
A veterinarian by trade, Mr. Kortum grew up on a poultry farm outside Petaluma, where he and his wife, Lucy, — the strategist to her husband’s idealism — later raised their own three children and where they lived together until his death, said their daughter, Julie Groves.
“He would light fires under people,” Groves said. “As a kid, that was true, too. There was a lot expected of us and you never felt pressured, you just were motivated.”
The fire in Mr. Kortum’s own belly came, in part, from his father, Max. During his early years, it seemed like the family could hike or pitch a tent almost anywhere in Northern California.
“We were allowed huge liberties in those days,” he told The Chronicle in 1998. But, his dad warned him, such opportunities might someday be lost to development.
Bill and Lucy Kortum became especially concerned about California’s oceanfront after traveling to hike the coasts of England. Groves said they were inspired by that country’s open access to coastal land and came back worried that California’s would be blocked from the public.
“Wilderness is still rare in this country and marine wilderness is rarer,” Mr. Kortum wrote in a 2011 Chronicle opinion piece urging the preservation of Drakes Estero.
Mr. Kortum saw public office as a way to advance the causes he was passionate about. He was appointed and re-elected to Petaluma’s school board in the 1960s and was elected as a Sonoma County supervisor in the 1970s, though he was later recalled for what his family said were his strong stances on environmental initiatives.
In Mr. Kortum’s later years, he fought for voter approval on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, a train that will connect the two counties.
Cardo met him 20 years ago working to open Lafferty Ranch, a 270-acre parcel on Sonoma Mountain, to the public.
Cardo said he was developing strategies for that project, which is still ongoing, until his last breath and that someday she hopes to see the ranch turned into a park with her friend’s name on it.
“The thing about Bill Kortum is he never gave up and he never stopped fighting for what’s right,” she said. “He was fighting for all of us and for future generations.”
Mr. Kortum is survived by his wife, Lucy, children Frank of Glendale, Julie Groves of Los Gatos and Sam of New Haven, Conn., and five grandchildren.
A celebration of the activist’s life will be held in the new year. In memorial, his family suggests donations in Mr. Kortum’s name to Sonoma County Conservation Action, Coastwalk California and Room to Roam.
via Bill Kortum, Sonoma environmentalist, dies at 87 – SFGate.