Happy Earth Day!
Today is the 40th anniversary of the original Earth Day. (Funny.... I remember the 20th earth day, 1990. I was in middle school, and we volunteered all day at the huge Earth Day celebration the park district had... and it seemed like this huge deal, re-energizing earthday, reviving it from its temporary grave. Now I work at a school where we drop everything and celebrate it for a whole week each year. Anyhow...) The very first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, organized by Senator G. Nelson of WI and many grassroots volunteers. It was described as a demonstration... the first earth day was, essentially, a protest and a wake-up call. Forty years later, things are a lot different.
Are we in a better place, environmentally? Probably not. Certainly more people are aware of environmental problems and issues; they even say that green is the new black. Or that every day is earth day. People do lots of little things like use compact florescent light bulbs and recycle things that can be conveniently put in a curbside bin. But despite the awareness and the many small behavior changes, the big issues have gone un-checked, gotten worse, even. The average American home size has more than doubled since the 1950s (from 983 sq ft in 1950, to 1500 sq ft on the first Earth Day, to 2,349 in 2004). So we're using over twice as many resources to build our huge houses -- with luxuries like whirlpools and restaurant kitchens -- and then we're cutting out consumption by... what? less than 5 %? by buying a new kind of light bulb or a steel water bottle or an earth-friendly cleaner or something. We have a higher standard of living -- just our expectations of what is basic, what we deserve to have, what we "need" have increased -- and this may be good for the economy but it is bad for the environment, and I don't think it's especially good for society, either. (Shout out to my sustainability students who got that reference!)
And people, I'm guilty, too. I wash ziplock bags and re-use them for years, eat local food almost all of the time, and drive a Prius... but I still drive everywhere I go (almost... for Earth Day, Naomi has her bicycle in her office and will be commuting on it, although the true reason for this involves a school bike trip, not idealism, but I am making mental commitment to ride more often now that it's nice -- we'll see how that goes). I still live in a house that has about 1000 square feet of living space per person, which is inexcusably large. And I try to feel good about my efforts.
Oh, And, here's a difference between Earth Day 2010 and Earth Day 1970. Have you noticed that WalMart is sponsoring Earth Day this year? And NBC has all these things about how they're doing Green Week? Environmentalism has gone corporate. We see this every day, too, not just the third week in April. Clorox doesn't just make bleach, but also earth-friendly cleaners, now. And Johnson and Johnson, I think, advertises green products. But here's the thing. We can't shop our way out of this problem*. In fact, shopping of any sort probably exacerbates the problem. And as long as corporations have a hand in it, well... they want you to buy their stuff. I applaud all these companies for going green. It's better than not going green. But I'm not stupid enough to think they're doing it altruistically. They are benefiting, sales-wise, PR-wise, somehow, they are making the other kind of green from their green efforts or they wouldn't be doing it.
So... the institutions that were being protested at the first Earth Day (government and corporation) have now co-opted the celebration as their own. And where have all the hippies gone? Moved to McMansions, every one. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?
ps -- Have you people noticed that when I share my thoughts, rather than just reporting on flowers, I am rather a downer? Sorry about that.
*I can't take credit for that, I heard it in a speech at the NAAEE conference and I can't even remember the lady's name who said it to give credit, but it resonated with me...