Is it possible that the brightest days of the environmental movement—and indeed the planet—now lie behind us? Such is the ominous, unmistakable conclusion of Robert Stone’s backward-looking survey of eco-activism in a time of decay. Weaving a thread through the boom years of postwar America, the documentary contrasts yesteryear’s consumerist suburban mind-set that unleashed a wave of destructive human infrastructure with an activist backlash that came to fruition on the first Earth Day in 1970.
Stone highlights nine key voices in the green sector, including Earth Day’s organizer Denis Hayes (who points to the publication of NASA’s first big, blue marble photo as a galvanizing event) and former secretary of the interior Stewart Udall, the man who eventually paved the way for the EPA. But the doc doesn’t view the victories of the past entirely through rose-colored glasses: Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, reminds us of the as-yet-unaddressed issues surrounding overpopulation, providing a much-needed voice of dissent. We also witness Ronald Reagan disassembling the White House’s solar panels, GM scrapping its electric cars and industrial farms emerging as the status quo. Earth Days has a lot to say about the minor victories of the past. It’s too bad that the film ends at the dawn of the 1980s—all but ignoring the most important chapter of this ongoing saga.