Panel discussion: Origins of Earth Day and legacy of U-M’s 1970 Teach-In on the Environment

March 9, 2020
Written By:
Jim Erickson


DATE: 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 11, 2020

PLACE: Room 1040, U-M Dana Building, 440 Church St., Ann Arbor

EVENT: The March 1970 Teach-In on the Environment, a four-day event on the University of Michigan campus that served as a model for the first Earth Day, was organized by the U-M student organization Environmental Action for Survival (ENACT). Many ENACT members went on to make significant contributions in environmental and sustainability fields.

Six leaders of ENACT and of the national Earth Day planning committee will hold a panel discussion that honors the rich history of U-M’s Teach-In on the Environment. They will also share insights on the evolution of the movement and the work they’re involved in today.

Wednesday evening’s panel discussion is part of a weeklong series of events, March 9-14, to commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of Earth Day and U-M’s role in that seminal event, as well as the urgent need to address climate change.

Panel members:

Matt Lassiter, panel moderator, U-M history professor and award-winning author. Lassiter’s multimedia exhibit “Give Earth a Chance: Environmental Activism in Michigan” chronicles the history of the four-day ENACT Teach-In at U-M in March 1970, the national Earth Day mobilization the following month, the formation of the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, and related environmental campaigns in the state of Michigan during the 1960s and 1970s.

Barbara Alexander, consumer affairs consultant and former director, Consumer Assistance Division, Maine Public Utilities Commission. Alexander graduated from U-M in 1968. After working for the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign in Indiana, Oregon and California, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she joined The Conservation Foundation. She was the Midwestern Coordinator for the first Earth Day in April 1970.

David Allan, professor emeritus and former acting dean, U-M School for Environment and Sustainability. In 1969 and 1970, while a doctoral student at U-M, Allan joined with other students and supportive faculty to form ENACT and helped organize U-M’s Teach-In on the Environment.

George Coling, occupational health and environmental justice advocate, and former executive director of the National Fuel Funds Network. Coling enrolled in the U-M School of Public Health in fall 1969 after obtaining a biology degree from the University of Rochester. He soon became involved in ENACT, the campus student group organizing events for the March 1970 teach-in. Following that event, he was one of the founders of the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor and then moved to Washington to work for Environmental Resources, the affiliate of Environmental Action, which organized Earth Day nationally.

Arthur Hanson, Canadian ecologist, professor, distinguished fellow and former president, International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Elizabeth Grant Kingwill, mental health counselor and former Board of Directors member, Sierra Club local chapter. In fall 1969, as a graduate student at the U-M School of Natural Resources, she saw the opportunity to include the local Ann Arbor community and the state of Michigan in the planning for the ENACT Teach-In and took on the responsibility of chairmanship of community relations. After that event, she remained in Ann Arbor for the summer and was hired to help start the Ecology Center as a nonprofit. She found a building to house the center’s offices and hired the first director.

Doug Scott, career strategist and lobbyist for conservation and the environment, and former associate executive director, Sierra Club. Scott was a student at the U-M School of Natural Resources in 1970 when he co-chaired the group that organized the ENACT Teach-In on the Environment. He also served with Sen. Gaylord Nelson on the board of directors of the national Earth Day organizing group.

SPONSOR: U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability

INFORMATION: The panel discussion is free and open to the public, but those planning to attend are asked to register.

Read “U-M to celebrate role in first Earth Day, address ever-urgent crisis” in the Feb. 24 University Record.

Read “Give Earth [another] chance,” U-M College of Engineering, March 4.

A complete list of the March 9-14 activities is available at