Do We Still Need Earth Day?


This is the first Earth Day I have made an effort to take part in its celebration. My regular readers may find this a bit odd given the topics about which I opine. As an educated environmental scientist not taking part in the annual April 22ndobservance in some capacity may well be seen as dipping a toe into the pool of heresy. Perhaps it is. But then again I tend to be Earth Day-ish everyday.

I am religious about recycling or I recycle religiously. Three rubbermaid bins sit out in the garage, mouths opened wide awaiting their individual meals of plastics, tins, aluminum, paper and cardboard. They find themselves overflowing, in need of attention twice as often as the garbage cans. I take it for granted and tend to become lost when I can’t recycle. On a return trip to Anchorage, Alaska for my thesis defense, a friend noticed my discombobulated expression at the university’s coffee counter, “What’s wrong?

Where’s the recycling bin?

Oh”, he chuckled a bit, “You’re not in California anymore.” and he pointed to the garbage can rapidly filling with recyclable coffee cups, stirrers and plastic lids. Now that was sacrilege!

       I buy local, or regionally at least. Dairy products, artichokes, lettuce and orange juice from central California, apples and ice cream from Oregon. I favor a salsa made fresh from a local Mexican food restaurant sold in my regular grocery store. I shop the farmers’ markets throughout the spring, summer and fall. I avidly grow my own food. Successfully? No, but I’m blindly optimistic I’ll acquire my green thumb eventually. I use, almost exclusively, CFL light bulbs in my home. And when running errands I choose the most efficient route to cut down on emissions and, yes, to save me money. I even save my used motor oil for the next trip to the recycling center.

So do I need Earth Day? No, not really.

But do we, as a society, as a global community, still need Earth Day? Well, if I may lay out a few illustration…

      Over the last few years we’ve heard a flurry of cries to rollback the majority of environmental regulations and even demands to dismantle the entire EPA. We’ve witnessed the hurling of maledictions upon the warnings of climate change and the prodigious growth of mistrust in the science intended to educate us all about it. The stalwart resistance to the transition to renewable energy sources has been astounding. And we’ve heard the rising siren call of Drill baby Drill!, even in the wake of Earth Day 2010’s Gulf oil spill disaster. How exactly was the irony of that one lost on so many? With the swell in religious overtones throughout this election season, how could the BP spill not be seen as a sign from above?

Given these few examples it appears there still is, indeed, an overabundance of need for Earth Day.

      Initially begun as a national “teach-in” on environmental issues, Earth Day has expanded in various forms into a broad brush to promote awareness of environmental issues, appreciation for nature and to foster education of ecology. From organized beach cleanups to environmentally themed festivals to promoting community gardening to the South Bronx Fest’s first ever Recycling Olympics organizers  continually re-imagine their events’ activities every year to churn up the public’s enthusiasm. Much of the focus is on the schools and students, exposing them to nature, a first time thing for many of them. It’s amazing what a bit of bare earth under one’s feet can do to entice an appreciation of the world in which we all live.

      So is there still a need for Earth Day? Until a global paradigm shift occurs embracing sustainability then, yes there absolutely is, and will continue to be, a need for Earth Day.

An Eclectic Mix of Earth Day Events around the US:

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7 Comments to “Do We Still Need Earth Day?”

  1. I live in Britain and all these X…. days I have no interest in or knowledge of. This does not mean I don’t care about the environment, but I think it requires a change of attitude 365 days a year 24/7 to make the difference, not on some special day.

  2. If Earth Day does nothing more that give us renewed awareness how precious our earth is in all its beauty, then hopefully that will give renewed respect for our environments and how to protect what we want to enjoy for years and years to come

  3. At first reading, I thought it ironic that people in California are so concerned about recycling, whereas those that live amidst a wilderness (like Alaska) are not. However, upon further reflection, this is not surprising because, as I have even said myself many times, a frontier mentality is understandable when you live in a sparsely populated wilderness; whereas it is no longer appropriate on an over-populated planet.

    Therefore, the only problem with Alaskan reluctance to embrace the need for sustainable living is that, in all likelihood, Alaskans are not living independently in their supposedly pristine environment. As Jared Diamond points out in Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed, we now live in a globalised world where there are no more Easter Islands – collapse of one society will probably mean the collapse of all but the most well-prepared and resourceful individuals; who are able to live independently of all others (and stay that way when others try to do the same).

    Congratulations! The experiment has been running for 200 years now and you have the dubious honour of probably being alive to see the result. Good luck to you and your offspring (should you choose to have them).

    • Alaska is really an odd one. It’s hard to get a handle on it as a whole. Most of it is rural and isolated where people see themselves as being self-sufficient. Many are but of course they do depend on some resources from the “outside”. Heating oil is a big one in some of those far flung villages. I’m not sure how much goes to waste out there but in Anchorage, the biggest city, and where I spent most of my time (unfortunately) there was a lot of waste. It has two universities there and one would think some of the sustainable living mentality would rub off onto others but it doesn’t. There is definately an independent (or frontier) living mentality there, a wannabe one, because the people living there are not any more independent than anyone else residing in a big city in the Lower 48 states.

      Thanks again Martin for another thought provoking comment.

      • Exactly. They would like to think they are independent but, it does not matter which end of the Ice Road Truckers’ highway they live, they are highly dependednt on imported goods and, given the physical geography of the region, I presume most of them come in by ship or plane. Undoubtedly, there will be some people living independently of modernity (i.e. for a full 12 months in every year) but I would suspect the vast majority are not… However, I must confess I know relatively little about Alaska – apart from the fact that it has suffered at the hands of Exxon-Mobil; and raised Sarah Palin, who probably still thinks oil exploration in the Arctic is a good idea… George Santayana would not be impressed. Good luck to you and all the fur-trappers up in the NPR-A.

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