Once again, Earth Day is upon us. Hooray!
Forty-eight years after its pivotal creation on April 22, 1970, tens of millions of Americans will temporarily set aside our differences and come together to celebrate Mother Earth: plant trees, pick up trash, and high five each other for doing our part to save the planet.
We will leave our gas-guzzling SUVs in the driveway and walk to the grocery store, perhaps check out the local farmer’s market, or maybe even swear off single-use plastic.
But what happens on April 23? How many of us well-meaning tens of millions will wake up the morning after Earth Day to demand change? How many will make significant sacrifices in our own lifestyles to effect change?
So it begs the question, why bother? What’s the point in celebrating Earth Day today if we’re just going to shrug it off tomorrow?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for saving the planet. If we don’t do something, we’re screwed. The effects of climate change are becoming catastrophic, from more droughts and heat waves to increased hurricane and wildfire severity and a global refugee crises. We are drowning the planet in plastic, so much so that the theme of this year’s Earth Day is “End Plastic Pollution,” a noble goal and monumental task.
I don’t hate Earth Day itself. Organizing community cleanup events, engaging our schools, and planting more trees are brilliant concepts.
I hate the fact that our society needs token, feel-good holidays to make up for the rest of the year when we are just too damn busy to give a sh*t. It’s the same with Thanksgiving, the specified day to focus on gratitude so we don’t wear it out, and Veterans’ Day, the one day a year we pat ourselves on the back for thanking the brave servicewomen and men by buying a new mattress.
I’m as guilty as the next person. I love long, hot showers. I shop at Costco and Amazon. I eat meat, though I try to only buy local, sustainable, and organic. I live in a car-centric community and even though I just bought a hybrid, I still drive too much. Next week I’ll hop on a plane to the east coast, which pretty much wipes out my electric vehicle GHG savings and environmental cred of my reusable bags/tea mug/stainless steel straw for the next decade or so.
I’m fully aware of how difficult it is to be a conscious consumer. I’m literally writing the book about being an environmental hypocrite.
When I Googled “Earth Day 2018,” I was rewarded with a plethora of ways that I, too, could save the Earth, such as “50 Sustainable Projects from Every State” and “Projects to take care of our Planet” and “Earth Day 2018 Takes Aim at Plastic.” But my favorite was “Apple Store Employees to Celebrate Earth Day With Green Shirts.” Does that make up for the fact that Apple’s devices are horrible for the environment and almost impossible to repair, contributing to the billions of mobile devices poisoning landfills around the globe?
Full disclosure: I’m picking on Apple because it is vocal about its “sustainability commitments,” and because I own and have sent too many Apple devices to the great e-waste graveyard. We might start our Earth Day celebration by urging Apple to take back broken or obsolete products for recycling/resource recovery.
I also stumbled upon this gem on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website while reading about the history of Earth Day:
“It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that was perfectly legal. They could not be taken to court to stop it. How was that possible? Because there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.”
I had to read it again to make sure it didn’t say “2018.”
All irony aside, what can we do to make this Earth Day different than the last 48? How do we keep this momentum going and make 2018 the tipping point?
This cannot happen without a massive shift in consciousness. All of us as consumers need to snap out of autopilot and pay attention to the impact of our actions and choices. We need to choose products that are Fair Trade Certified or organic, or better yet, just stop buying so much stuff we don’t need. And, as uncomfortable as it is, we need to be honest with ourselves when it comes to our shopping habits propagating factory farming and promoting global deforestation.
We need to know that these actions alone are not enough.
We need to demand transparency and corporate responsibility from companies that deny climate change for profit at the expense of a livable planet (#ExxonKnew), and perpetuate our participation in this cycle of buying disposable, toxic, endless junk in the name of economic growth.
This all seems impossible, given the current political climate and systematic dismantling of science and environmental policy from this administration. But we can’t let that stop us.
Renewable energy use is growing, despite Trump’s tariffs and industry tied administration. Thousands of businesses, local and state governments, universities and tribes have declared, “We Are Still In,” despite Trump withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.
We need to keep marching, protesting, and taking whatever small actions we can in our daily lives. We need to keep teaching science and critical thinking. And most importantly, we need to keep showing up to make our voices heard by calling congress members and voting.
A democracy only works if we the people participate. There, in the wreckage, hope springs eternal. We need to make every day Earth Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving.
Or maybe we need to start with Just Be a Decent Human Day.
Author: Heather Higinbotham
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina