October 6, 2009 in Idaho

Co-chair of first Earth Day calls on youth to act

Former Calif. congressman speaks at NIC forum
By The Spokesman-Review
Kathy Plonka photo

Pete McCloskey, left, a former California congressman who co-authored the Endangered Species Act and co-founded Earth Day, shares a laugh with Rocky Owens, right, of the Human Rights Education Institute before giving a talk at North Idaho College on Tuesday, October 6, 2009.
(Full-size photo)

Bio: Pete McCloskey

• Age: 82

• Decorated Marine who served in the Korean War, attended college on the G.I. Bill and became an attorney before being elected to Congress.

• Served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 15 years as a Republican from California.

• Challenged former President Richard Nixon for the Republican nomination in 1972, called for Nixon’s impeachment following the Watergate scandal.

• Changed parties in 2007, saying the Republican party’s dramatic shift forced him to become a Democrat.

A former California congressman who co-chaired the first Earth Day celebration in 1970 said Tuesday that today’s young people need to stand up more for what they believe in.

“In 1970, those students changed the policy of the United States,” said Pete McCloskey, who served for 15 years in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican from California.

Students who became involved in the first Earth Day went on to label members of Congress with the least environmentally friendly voting records as the “dirty dozen,” he said. Some of those congressmen were defeated in subsequent elections, McCloskey said, and a “new force” in American politics was born.

The 1970s saw the passage of landmark environmental legislation including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act, said McCloskey, who spoke at North Idaho College. His address was part of a Human Rights Education Institute series that asks people to consider the relationship between the environment and human rights.

McCloskey implored today’s young people to return to the activism of the 1960s and 1970s, saying they have the power to change the world when they get involved. They can use their buying power to pressure companies with bad human rights records to change their ways. They can force political and business leaders to consider the plight of people displaced when a dam is built. They have the ability to draw attention to genocide or oppression around the world, he said.

“The problems around the world affect every young kid today. What I worry about is that our young people today will not get involved in the political process,” McCloskey said. “Look what they did back in 1970. Thousands of kids turned out and changed the policy of the United States to have an environmental balance.”

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