Why I Hate Earth Day: thoughts from an Environmental Hypocrite.

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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.

~

Relephant:

What Choosing a Plant-Based Diet has to do with Human Rights.

Earth Day: Then, Now & Every Day In-Between.

~

Author: Heather Higinbotham
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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Heather Higinbotham

Heather Higinbotham is a writer, rekindled poet, TEDx speaker, recovering people pleaser, bridge builder, and an eco-warrior. She is literally writing the book on being an environmental hypocrite. When she’s not busy saving the planet, she can usually be found sleeping, soaking in hot springs, adventuring with her precocious kid and pirate husband, drinking tea, writing poetry, geeking out on sustainability, and trying to make the world a better place. Connect with Heather on Instagram or Facebook.

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Andrew Blanchford Apr 24, 2018 4:51pm

Great article, Heather! Living on an island in the Pacific really puts the plastic issue in front for me right now. The beaches here are really trashy and it's mostly plastic. The Okinawan's struggle to find reasonable replacements for plastic and use it for most packaging and incinerate all but #1 plastic. Cases of bottled water that has traveled from the US are the norm here. There is a vending machine full of plastic bottles on every corner. And it's really hot here so we need cold drinks, right? I am using my increased awareness to educate my kids. They love the Story of Stuff videos and are learning to make better choices. This is a great place for us to contribute to the solution. There are many beach cleanup opportunities here. Looking forward to your book!

Megan Rebecca Campbell Apr 24, 2018 3:20pm

Thanks for the great read!

Dawn MacLaughlin Apr 24, 2018 11:37am

Nice to know I'm not the only one who feels that way about these holidays. Thanks for a great article.

Erin Roberg Apr 23, 2018 8:47pm

It is hard work being a "decent human!" but something we should always be striving for....not perfection, as that destroys ones spirit, but trying to be more decent-er is something we can all work toward. Thanks Heather for this article and reminder that we should never forget to better oursleves, our planet and fellow humans!!!

Ron Laswell Apr 23, 2018 4:47pm

This is why I don't sign petitions trying to change governmental policies about climate change. Even back in the 1960s, people my age - well, at least those who evolved - realized that you can't force the outer world to change without first changing ourselves. Western culture itself is a pariah and is not sustainable!

Chris Berman Apr 23, 2018 1:44pm

I love Heather’s brutal honesty about how difficult it can be to be environmentally friendly in this day and age. But! She gives us examples of what can be done without sounding pretentious (because she struggles with it as well). I think the key is slowing down and living simple!

Heather Higinbotham Davies Apr 23, 2018 2:14am

YES! Absolutely, Leontien. Every day.

Leontien Reedijk Apr 22, 2018 7:32pm

My motto is simple: Every Day is Earth Day!

Heather Higinbotham Davies Apr 22, 2018 5:01pm

Thanks Katie! Thanks for all you do. <3

Katie Lineberger Thomas Apr 22, 2018 3:06pm

this is awesome, heather! <3 i love and appreciate your work on this important subject! xo

Heather Higinbotham Davies Apr 21, 2018 9:22pm

Thanks so much, Tod! You hit this exactly: "before we are Christians, Americans, Democrats, or Republicans, we are Earthlings first." This is too often forgotten or overlooked. I love your reminder that our lives change accordingly, based on our actions! Thanks!

Heather Higinbotham Davies Apr 21, 2018 9:20pm

You're right, Katy. It is so much easier to give in and take the "easy" (convenient, lazy, damaging) way out. It is such an overwhelming issue, the defeat and cynicism are hard to conquer. Thanks for doing your part with all the little things, and being such a powerful voice for awareness and change!

Heather Higinbotham Davies Apr 21, 2018 9:19pm

Thanks Tracey! I'm glad it resonated with you, and thanks for everything you do!

Heather Higinbotham Davies Apr 21, 2018 9:18pm

Happy Earth Day to you as well, Ainsley! Your comment about awareness is so important. If we aren't aware of the impacts of our choices, there's no reason to do anything different. And, it is frustrating when it's so difficult to access things like comprehensive recycling programs. Good for you for finding small solutions!

Heather Higinbotham Davies Apr 21, 2018 9:16pm

Thanks Aubrey! You're absolutely right--we are the collective voices that will effect change. Thanks for everything you do!

Heather Higinbotham Davies Apr 21, 2018 9:16pm

Glad it resonated with you, Aric! I think the biggest takeaway from your comment is the idea of "doing less bad" vs. actively working to create more good. It's a struggle, and will have to be a conscious choice we all make over and over again. Thanks for reading!

Simmering Nirvana Apr 21, 2018 4:12pm

“There, in the wreckage, hope springs eternal.” Beautiful. Thank you for pulling on our collective sleeve to remind us that, before we are Christians, Americans, Democrats or Republicans, we are Earthlings first. And we need to act accordingly, every day. And the funny thing is how empowered we become in our lives, how lives just start working better when we align with our original, planetary identity. As goes our Earth, so go we!

Katy Walker Osterloth Apr 21, 2018 5:34am

So good! It is so easy to just give up.... and it makes me feel so much better that other people out there feel that same sense of defeat or cynicism sometimes. But we have to pick up and keep doing the right things little by little. Every little bit does count, adding a new practice here and there. Thank you!

Tracey Yokas Apr 21, 2018 3:26am

Lady, even if you eat meat and drive too much, you're a decent human every day!! Thanks for these important words. It's hard to read that each of us has to do more, but of course you are right. I'm inspired to try. XO

Ainsley Helen Apr 20, 2018 9:09pm

Happy #EarthDay. It wasn't on our radar growing up, so I've never been super driven about environmentalism, but I've really enjoyed as an adult living in states where I could compost, burn, and recycle, and have hardly any "trash" going out. I wish it were easier to recycle in Montana. There are things I'm happy to change about my lifestyle that make seemingly no difference, but I appreciate my shift in awareness. For instance, inspired by some friends here in Butte, I reuse the green produce bags for storing food, and put my leftovers in yogurt tubs rather than buying tupperware. I wish the big organizations who are responsible, and who actually have power to make significant changes on the earth, would.

Aubrey Marlette Apr 20, 2018 6:53pm

Yes to everything here! My feed is slammed with earth day posts in April and then it's as if everyone forgets...I, too, am responsible. Let's not forget and realize that it's the little choices that add up and the collective voice that effects change.

Aric Ho Apr 20, 2018 6:38pm

This is so spot on! For me, it relates to the notion of personal responsibility, and how easy it is for us to not take it. I also think it sort of relates to the general disconnect between the impacts on my environment, and my general decision making. When I don't clean out my plastic containers well, it still just goes into the recycling bin. When I choose to drive instead of bike to work, I get there faster - and life is so damn busy! And the reality for me, a lot of my actions are focused on 'doing less bad', and I'm not doing a lot to 'create more good'. I could blame this on our economic system, but I'm still making the choices to participate in the way that I do.