Of Earth Day and a past, present and future Earth

For two years I’ve written about Earth Day on Earth Day (Apr. 22nd) and I figure: why should this year be different?! Witness “Earth Day 2014: ‘Conserve’ is the word” and “Earth Day 2013: The view of one interested observer.”

So, here is this year’s Earth Day message.

I never know exactly what I’m going to write until the time arrives to actually start writing. Using word-processing software via a computer makes writing with pen and paper seem so anachronistic. With advancements in technology introduced at seemingly such an accelerated rate, one has to wonder what’s next technology-breakthrough-wise. Holographic keyboards and screens?

That’s the future. And, it may not be that far off.

In contemplating and talking about the future today, I can’t help but be reminded of the same exact exercise being conducted in times past. I’m specifically talking 1964-’65 in the Big Apple (New York City), and more specifically of the World’s Fair and of the “Futurama” exhibit in particular. The future, as you can well imagine, is what this exhibit was all about.

What I remember specifically, is entering the building not really knowing what to expect and catching sight of a moving conveyor belt of seats arranged side-to-side with fair-goers each taking a seat. When it was my turn to do likewise, that the seats were attached to a continuously moving conveyor, I can imagine it taking some degree of finesse to transition from a standing to sitting position without stumbling. I was all of 11 or 12 at the time.

Moving from left to right, before too long I was conveyed to a room which revealed what cities could look like in the not-too-distant future. In my mind’s eye it was the kind of 3-D model a person might expect an architectural firm to design and build, a diorama of sorts or something very similar.

Here is an account of how “Futurama” is described on Wikipedia:

“At the New York World’s Fair of 1939/1940, industrial exhibitors played a major role by hosting huge, elaborate exhibits. Many of them returned to the New York World’s Fair of 1964/1965 with even more elaborate versions of the shows they had presented 25 years earlier. The most notable of these was General Motors Corporation whose Futurama, a show in which visitors seated in moving chairs glided past elaborately detailed miniature 3D model scenery showing what life might be like in the ‘near-future’, proved to be the fair’s most popular exhibit. Nearly 26 million people took the journey into the future during the fair’s two-year run.”

Though this isn’t about the 1964/1965 exhibit per sé, this description nevertheless should provide sufficient insight as to what that might have been like. Described in some detail is the original “Futurama” exhibit at the New York World’s Fair of 1939/1940.

“The popularity of the Futurama exhibit fit closely with the fair’s overall theme ‘The World of Tomorrow’ not just in its emphasis on the future, but also in its redesign of the American landscape. The highway system was supported within a one-acre animated model of a projected America containing more than five hundred thousand individually designed buildings, a million trees of thirteen different species, and approximately fifty thousand motorcars, ten thousand of which traveled along a fourteen-lane multi speed interstate highway. It prophesied an American utopia regulated by an assortment of cutting-edge technologies: remote-controlled multi lane highways, power plants, farms for artificially produced crops, rooftop platforms for individual flying machines and various gadgets, all intended to create an ideal built environment and ultimately to reform society.”

Now compare that to what actually transpired. The “remote-controlled multi lane highways” bit brings to mind the introduction of today’s self-driving car, although, I’m not sure what to make of the “rooftop-platforms-for-individual-flying-machines-and-various-gadgets” idea. The closest representations along these lines I can think of are flying automobiles and drones.

To expound further, imagine the 14-lane highway being the infrastructure of choice in a time only two decades into the future? And to expect these to have multiple operating speeds (something on the order of autos 55 mph; autos with trailers, trucks 50 mph, possibly) all the while still maintaining unrestrained traffic flow, unfortunately, this is not exactly the way things panned out. I’m sure to the designer the whole idea then made sense.

Because the New York World’s Fair was so very long ago, a half-century ago in fact, my recollection of the whole thing is vague at best. The Pennsylvania Railroad providing dependable and yes, sustainable transportation in the form on an electrified train trip is what I remember most about the entire experience and what enabled me to get to the fair and back. Back then, that really was the future! High-speed passenger rail transportation is what immediately comes to mind.

Back to the future, in this case the present, how we arrived where we are in the world today is no accident. It all has to do with the collective accomplishments and failures we’ve made along the way. Learning from the mistakes and by not repeating them, then this can lead to even more accomplishments being made. In so doing and in learning, growing and moving forward as a result, that right there, progress, now that’s what I’m talking about!

That all said, today is the day to celebrate and respect and take care of the earth. Though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t reiterate what was said here in the past, and that is: as far as I’m concerned, Earth Day is every day or should be, anyway.


– Alan Kandel

1 thought on “Of Earth Day and a past, present and future Earth”

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful article. It is going to be amazing to see how far we come for Earth Day 20 years from now. We have had so many advances.

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