What’s wrong with Earth Day?
The name, for one. Earth day. Protecting mother earth. Saving the environment. What’s wrong with these? They’re all about the earth. No humans mentioned. For a day that’s supposed to highlight the damage we are doing and to energize some action, it’s woefully off the mark. The degredation of the environment is harmful for people, this is what matters. Doubtless, there are those who care about the environment for the environment’s sake. You are entitled to your value but let me tell you that the majority of humanity does not share your outlook. They majority may, however, agree with the same means and ends with different a different ‘why’. Concerns for human health, recreation, and preservation of our natural heritage for culture’s sake can cover the same ground and the tent of ‘environmentalists’ can pretty much be expanded to include a vast majority of Americans. The tendency to leave humans out of the picture is not only off the mark, in my estimation, it is dangerous to the very movement it comes out of (Read more about this tendency at Slate and my thoughts on a World Without Us here). For one, it allows people to comfortably not care (I don’t care about the earth), and two, it tends to turn into a national beautification day (tree planting).
For environmentalists, the key thing to be working for is enlarging the tent. The environmental movement still has a bit of a hippy, confrontational, and uncomprimising, “don’t sell out to the Man” vibe. This is slowly changing, fortunately, as shown by developments like the United Steelworkers joining forces with NRDC and the Sierra Club, and is likely due to a combination of younger leaders emerging and a look at the failures in the last 30 years.
I am reminded of two statements that I think environmentalists should keep in their heads this Earth Day:
The first is from President Truman when asked by a reporter if he thought we’d get any credit for the stuff we would send to Europe through the Marshall Plan. He responded that he didn’t expect any credit. We were doing it because it was right. We were doing it because it was necessary for our survival. Even one of the greatest instances of humanitarian aid ever had to be sold as self-interest (and not falsely sold, either, I might add).
The second is from an ex-coworker who once remarked in reference to environmental health and a political election: “I don’t want [our side] to win, I want the whole issue to be moved to the center so it’s no longer partisan”.
That’s exactly what we should be working for and the only way we’ll get things done. Let’s make this Earth Day about the inhabitants.