While Earth Day turns 40 today and environmentalism is back on the list of important issues some question the efficacy of the day long event. Most notably is Grist with it's provocative Screw Earth Day campaign and it's thoughtful "Does Earth Day Still Matter" series. The basic argument that is levied, and has been for years, is that one day isn't good enough, everyday should be Earth Day. This I agree with whole heartedly, but the question remains is Earth Day a celebration and reminder that strengthens this end or is it a cop out that gives us license to forget out the planet the other 364 days of the year? Here's a few quotes from Grists series...
Dan Akst from Earth Day: the ultimate empty gesture:
"Thank God for Earth Day: another occasion for affluent white Americans to feel good about themselves by enacting some pointless environmental ritual. Perhaps we can all drive to the festivities in our hulking SUVs."
Jennifer Oladipo from Losing Earth Day in the eco-babble:
"Forty years of “save the whales,” “save the rainforest,” and now “save the polar bears” can only produce so much concern or action among regular folks."
Rick Bass from We need Earth Day more than ever:
"Who are we kidding? Giving up on or slacking off on Earth Day is like deciding not to celebrate your grandmother’s birthday any more simply because she’s gotten older, or has a cough."
These are just a few points that are raised in this thought provoking series. They lose a little meaning when taken out of context so I recommend reading them in full, but the quotes do frame the argument. To answer the question, I took a look back at my first Earth Day.
For me Earth Day is about 19 years old. The first earth day I remember was 1990. I was in 4th grade and along with the rest of Mrs. Reed's class we did art projects and activities to celebrate. Back then I had such a simple understanding of our environmental challenges. Basically, the largest environmental hazard was pollution which to must of us equated to litter. I remember a specific sense of pride when I would refrain from littering or when I'd remind my mother to give a hoot.
That sense of pride stuck with me and as I grew older, I never littered. Even in my High School and College years when I paid very little attention to the environment I never littered. Earth Day was an entry point for me to get involved with the environmental movement, and it effectively got me to celebrate Earth Day everyday. Unfortunately, because of the messaging, for me environmentalism was mostly about not littering. My failure to engage in more issues as I got older and more knowledgeable was not because celebrating Earth Day eased my guilt and gave me license to slack, it was because I was lazy.
A major challenge for environmentalism has always been and continues to be to engage the disinterested general public and engender their support. Earth Day is a great way to catalyse this, because many people need an event or milestone to jump start change in their lives. Most importantly it is a point to organize around and a great way to mobilize the youth. Hopefully in the context of the greater Green movement and a more relevant message, this Earth Day will be even more effective in fostering deeper engagement and instilling the idea that Earth Day is Everyday.
So my take is lets keep celebrating and pushing to remind people that Earth Day is everyday.