Curatorial Projects > Battle Emblems (2006)


The modern American ecology movement seeks to influence political process by lobbying, education, activism, and setting personal examples to protect the earth’s natural resources. Some issues of concern for the ecology movement include pollution, species extinction, waste reduction, recycling, global warming, and genetically engineered foods. Three landmark events in the formative years of 1970-71 helped to make ecology and environmentalism household words. The first event was the inaugural Earth Day on April 22, 1970. One of the founders of Earth Day, former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), credited the antiwar teach-in movement as a primary inspiration. The main objective was to organize public demonstrations nationwide to show popular support of having environmental issues as a part of the political agenda in government. The spontaneous response at the grassroots level turned out 20 million people, including thousands of communities, colleges and universities, grammar and high schools in nationwide demonstrations on environmental problems. The first ever Proclamation of Earth Day was issued in 1970 by San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto. The second event was the publication of the ecology flag (the ecology symbol on a U.S. style flag) in the April 1970 edition of Look, a general-interest magazine published in the U.S. from 1937 to 1971. The third event was Keep America Beautiful’s television public service campaign “People Start Pollution, People Can Stop It” starting in March 1971, in conjunction with the second Earth Day.

In classical Athens, the Greek letter theta was used as an abbreviation for the word for death, thanatos. Vaguely resembling a human skull, theta was used as a warning symbol of death, similarly to how skull and crossbones are used today. According to a 1993 edition of The Flag Bulletin, a bimonthly publication issued by the Flag Research Center of Massachusetts, the ecology symbol was made by American cartoonist Ron Cobb, combining the letters “e” and “o,” for the words environment and organism, and first published in print in 1969. The Flag Bulletin also mentions that the first ecology flag was manufactured by San Francisco based Paramount Flag Company in 1967. The theta-based ecology symbol has since been superseded by photos of Earth as seen from space first taken during NASA’s 1969 Apollo 11 mission and the arrow-based recycling logo as the ecology movement’s best recognized symbols.