One of my friends in high school introduced me to classic rock, and I was not quite hooked right away. Still, I did my due diligence for their sake, pouring over albums like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin’s self-titled album, or any Rolling Stones album.
Years after this first introduction, I became obsessed with Led Zeppelin and The Doors, and along with them their lead singers, Robert Plant and Jim Morrison. Therein the idea for this column was born. Robert Plant couldn’t have been his real name—most rockers I knew went by different names than their given name. Did Robert Plant choose his name with the environment in mind? Was he making an ecological statement? He was not, as one quick search reveals that Plant’s given name is actually Robert Plant. But, there is still an argument to be made that classic rock has roots (hah) in environmental well-being.
Classic rock as a commercial genre formed to appeal to an older audience—it was crafted to mix rock music from the ’60s and then-modern music from the ’80s. Still, the original fans of this now-classic rock and its more psychedelic subgenre were the engines of the counterculture emerging in the 1960s. These were the people who were reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring when it was fresh off the presses and were celebrating the first Earth Day. In their free time they went to Grateful Dead concerts, and many of them took acid.
If these hippies were lucky, they would have also been in attendance at Woodstock ’69, which in time became the shining jewel of the whole counterculture movement. Yet, Woodstock by all metrics should have been a disaster. There were insufficient amounts of toilets, medical supplies, food, and water, and on top of that, 300,000 extra people showed up. How is it possible that despite this, Woodstock is remembered fondly as the three day festival of “Peace and Music?” The answer is clear: it was the people.
And let me tell you, the lazy-stoner stereotype does not ring true on the whole for these hippies. These were ambitious hippies. They championed many causes: anti-war movements, drug legalization movements, the Civil Rights movement, and of course, the green movement. At the time, they were viewed as oddball tree-huggers, but their philosophy of reciprocating love to Mother Earth, preserving natural landscapes, and eating clean was all environmentally progressive—and are commonplace today.
The use of psychedelics was widespread among rock fans of the ’60s. It would be disingenuous to ignore the role that psychedelics played in this movement and how the psychedelic experience still today contributes to environmental awareness. This concept is not new, though—indigenous communities around the world have utilized drugs like MDMA, psilocybin, and LSD as a means to experience kinship in spirituality and with nature. Scientists have observed that the “trips” that people take when on psychedelic drugs promote ecologically friendly behaviors and establish the connection with nature that we so often lack in the modern era. This euphoric feeling of being an active player in nature rather than just an onlooker most definitely contributed to the birth of the environmental movement as well. Recent clinical trials have shown that even in an exclusively indoor environment, psychedelics still elicit a connection with the natural world. Both qualitative and quantitative scientific evidence suggest that the psychedelic experience increases, not only an awareness of nature, but also pro-nature sentiments and environmental behaviors. Could psychedelics be the catalyst for the socio-cultural restructuring required to bail us out of our ecological crisis?
Maybe. I think that would be quite the adventure for all of us, but I also think that if we were all to take psychedelics at once, we would quit our jobs and spend the rest of our days ogling at our joint hallucinations. (Is this so bad a reality? That’s a tale for another time.) That is not the point I’m making here.
The type of people who were willing to take psychedelics in the ’60s were the type of people who were open-minded enough to hear our Rachel Carson and to take her, a female scientist, seriously enough to advocate for change. They were open-minded enough to realize that their current lifestyles were destructive and took constructive criticism in stride to change said lifestyles.
Hippies did not accomplish the birth of the environmental movement alone though, and this is where college students—including Boston College students—come into the story. By the late ’60s, hippies knew that the government would never listen to them because of their association with the anti-war and pro-drug movements, so they took to college campuses across the country, explaining to students the gravity of the environmental crisis. This strategic move was a resounding success as the students espoused the issue and chose April 22 (conveniently between midterms and finals) to be “Earth Day.” The first Earth Day in 1970, which boasted 20 million American participants, led to substantial governmental action such as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
I find this so empowering, and I am usually not about telling people how to feel, but I think you should feel empowered too. We are finding ourselves at the crux of another sociopolitical and ecological tipping point, where we need to pressure the government to take definitive action against climate change. Although we don’t quite have groups of hippies acting as our guides, that does not mean we should throw in the towel because we think the government won’t listen or that we are too young or inexperienced to incite change.
I’m excited for our future (and that’s something I know we don’t hear a lot in the context of the environment). But I am. This generation cares about the outdoors—I’ve seen it among my peers. And as BC students, we’re big on connections—we love to just be around each other. After all, in what other school do all the students move back on campus for their senior year to voluntarily live in doubles?
We have the power to create a sustainable society, and there’s a historical precedent for it. I’m quite confident that we are the generation to do it. Call me a hopeless optimist, I don’t mind. I don’t think the hippies quite cared what people called them either.