To be clear, I'm not annoyed because I don't like the Earth or anything. Actually, I like it quite a bit. Rather, I'm annoyed that 43 years after Earth Day made its debut, our planet is in more danger than ever.
Earth Day was launched in 1970 by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson, and it was taken international in 1990 thanks to environmental activist Denis Hayes, who was involved with the cause from the start. Today, cities all over the world are trumpeting their efforts to make a big thing of Earth for this annual event. These range from the practical and educational, to the ridiculous. For example, the official Earth Day website notes that in the City of Veracruz, Mexico, "Tortugas Fundacion Yepez is mobilizing volunteers to protect the habitat of sea turtles by cleaning up the local beaches and organizing a reforestation campaign." That's positive. Meanwhile, over in Seoul, "Ecomom Korea is organizing an 'Eco-style' Earth Day Flash Mob, a variation of the popular song 'Gangnam Style...'" Hmm.
And in New York City, people can visit Union Square and Grand Central Station for live performances, talks on sustainability, and more.
Regardless of their utility, Earth Day events that allegedly raise awareness are a lot like New Year's resolutions. Maybe they stick with people for a few days, but soon enough it's back to paper coffee cups and donuts. (Goodbye, washable mug. Goodbye, gym membership... Maybe next year!)
Furthermore, I'm not even sure Earth Day is doing its job to make people aware of anything. Apart from seeing a few #EarthDay! Instagram photos of parks, I certainly haven't heard a word from anyone I know about what they plan to do to commemorate this day. I'm not even sure the masses are aware of it. (Indeed, in an IM conversation about this holiday's UK relevance, my colleague Rich Heap said: "Earth Day, yes, I guess it's a thing here. We have the Google graphic with it on. That's all I'm aware of.")
Oh, and by the way MSNBC.com, Future Cities is hardly impressed that you're turning your website logo green for the occasion. Try keeping it green every day!
This, of course, is not a tirade against Earth Day, which is well-meaning and has served a purpose: Back in 1970, launching an annual Earth Day made a lot of sense. There wasn't any heightened awareness about the troubled state of the planet then. Everyone was just running around littering and drinking gasoline from styrofoam cups and leaving their water running just for fun! (OK... I wasn't here in 1970, but that's what I imagine.)
But seeing as we haven't done our part since, despite having learned quite a lot about the terrible state of our planet, we shouldn't get the luxury of having an Earth day anymore. What we need are more comprehensive plans, like New York's PlaNYC, Copenhagen's plan to be carbon neutral by 2025, or Vancouver's Greenest City 2020 plan. What we need are government-driven programs to reward people for changing their behavior year round, and to punish them if they don't.
What we need are better recycling laws, more investment in public transit and alternative energy, and energy conscious property developers. What we need is an engaged citizenry and active global government that keeps this issue front and center, no matter the date.
Environmental consciousness needs to be part of our every day. And the pressure is on cities, which stand to lose the most from climate change, to stop standing still.
Re: Radicals wanted It just seems that the revolutionary spirit has left us for the most part -- certainly my generation isn't living up to the examples set in the 60s and 70s. Granted, things aren't quite as off balance as they were, but we still have so much to overcome. The world is in bad shape, climate-wise, socially, and so on.
Re: Earth Day I agree that much needs to be done to make Earth Day relevant again. I don't think it is enough for people to just stop and think about the cause when they hear the phrase or see the day marked on their calendars. They need to go out and do something more than just think about the cause.
Re: Radicals wanted I agree with you, Mary. It's human nature to lose interest. The early zeal of a movement eventually gets transformed into something more mainstream and quieter. Whether Earth Day can be reinvented is questionable, either way the consciousness-raising needs to continue and be ramped up in some manner.
Of course, there are hundreds of nonprofits trying to engage the public in various ways to protect the environment, so perhaps we hear so much about it these days that it gets tuned out to some degree.
There also isn't much on the scale of Earth Day. The global aspect is impressive if nothing else.
Re: Radicals wanted IMO, every big shift requires continued momentum. It's easy to get a few things cone and feel that a cause has been served. It's tougher to persist when the novelty has worn off. I think it's human nature to lose interest after awhile.
That said, just because a certain edge has been taken off some important movements does not mean problems are solved. Raising consciousness is only the first step!
Re: Earth Day Annoyance! It's sad to see Earth Day exploited for commercial gain. In the old days, Earth Day had a countercultural feel to it -- it was an idea that went against the grain and challenged people to think about how they interacted with the environment. Now, its pizzazz has been lost. Perhaps we need another kind of notable celebration to get motivated again.
well said! I agree, it's about integrating good ideas into social networks and not just talking about them. It's also little changes that help. Cycling past a disabled parking bay with the word DISABLED doee not help us integrate. Maybe a coloured line would be more subtle, or priority space, anything but the dreaded word DISABLED which is so negative and engrained we hardly notice it's connotations, pike racial words that are offensive but often used out if habit by older people.
Re: earth day simlarities @CitySolver: "If we are an integrated society we dont need 'black day' or 'gay pride day' or my personal gripe 'the paralympics'."
I think you hit on something important here. I always find myself feeling frustrated by how much we have to celebrate people who aren't able-bodied white males... Not because these people don't deserve to be celebrated. They do. But because it's absurd to me that we've treated people differently in the first place. But society has treated pretty much everyone else so poorly for so long, and continues to do so, and we're not anywhere near a place where that's just history. So in the meantime, until society is truly integrated, we'll continue to have separate events to celebrate those who've been treated as separate, and those who still have to fight to be equal and not have their rights taken away (ladies: I'm looking at you).
Tying this back into Earth Day, I hope that in time we won't need separate days, weeks, months to celebrate human beings, or important causes. In an ideal world, we will treat all individuals and the planet with respect, always.
Re: Radicals wanted Susan: Really great points here. Why do you think it is that citizens have become disengaged? What happened to the radicalism that set movements like this one, and civil rights movements, and the like, in motion?
Re: Earth Day @arv: I agree that it's certainly not a bad thing if anyone took a moment yesterday to make a different behavioral choice. That's great. But we need people to do that every day, and those actions must coincide with big changes enforced by government policies, and the like.
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