Angry Toxicologist

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.

Comments

  1. #1 GregV
    April 22, 2008

    My problem with Earth Day is that it’s no longer sufficient. Back when it was the most public part of the environmentalist movement, I can see where you’re coming from – but nowadays, what with energy policy, pollution, climate change, etc. all interweaving in more and more obvious ways, Earth Day should be every day. Like cake. ;) Unfortunately, environmentalism is still partisan no matter how obvious what’s happening. I agree with your friend, though.

  2. #2 Nicole J.
    April 22, 2008

    I totally agree with you. Earth Day is a bumper sticker moment at best. Americans will need to be continually reminded that humans can’t survive without drinkable water, cleanish air, and food. I think more should be made of the very serious water problem (shortage) the world is going to see in the near future. But that’s abstract and scary, so most people will choose to ignore it as an issue and continue to run their sprinklers.

  3. #3 GregV
    April 23, 2008

    I hate to be cynical, but I feel that people haven’t really caught on to the severity of the problem. Most people are satisfied with “greening” their lives in some trivial aspect, and shutting down at that point. For example, they’ll switch to CFLs, but they’ll still leave the lights on. Or they’ll buy a Prius and, guilt thusly obviated, continue a sprawled, suburban lifestyle.

    Check out Al Gore’s 2008 “update” to Inconvenient Truth:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/243

    I could continue to talk about this all day, but this is not an appropriate soapbox for my views.

  4. #4 danny bloom
    April 24, 2008

    GregV, so right. People only want to go so far, and then shut down after they reach that personal point of lifestyle sacrifice or change. But we are heading to the very possible extinction of the human species, not now, but in 500 years, if we don’t take dramatic, drastic, deep action NOW and every day after today. We are headed to polar cities in the north, year 2500 or so, and you can see images here. It’s a wake up call, yes.

    http://pcillu101.blogspot.com

    we should be listening to Dr Lovelock, yes!

  5. #5 Phil Boncer
    April 25, 2008

    Oh, give me a break. We’re not going to extinguish our species. The Earth has been both much warmer and much colder than it is now, without developing any “runaway” processes that wiped out all life.

    Global warming is real, and people are contributing to it. Agreed. The rate of change is very high, in large part because of this human contribution, and that will spell the doom of many species that have small distribution and/or poor adaptation capabilities. The changes will result in problems for many people and places, and people will have to move/change lifestyles/grow different crops/etc.

    But let’s get real here. We’re not going to make the planet uninhabitable or wipe out all life or kill ourselves off. We have a serious situation, that we should pay attention to and avoid if possible, but it’s not the end of the world, no matter what we do or fail to do.

    PhilB

  6. #6 George Gartley, RN
    April 26, 2008

    All “green” initatives are just triage. They aren’t solving the problem, they’re just attempting to stop the bleeding. All our environmental problems come from population growth. I’m wildlife biologist as well as a nurse and I can tell you that our population growth comes from our food supply, just like it does for any other species on this planet. If we grow more food this year then we did last year we will have more people next year. This is what’s been happening for the last 10,000 years and despite local famines, natural disasters, war and pestulence our population has been growing with our food supply. No one is every going to suggest that we start growing less food, so as long as we can keep growing more we will keep straining the planet with more people. There is a limit to what we can product but we’re no where near that limit yet and the process of getting there is not going to be pretty and when we do get there…..then what!

  7. #7 Phil Boncer
    April 27, 2008

    Again with the Malthusian disaster scenario. Wildlife grows proportionately with food supply because non-human animals pretty much eat and breed, period. However, it has been well established that humans who become wealthy enough find other things to do, and birthrates consistently fall in wealthy societies.

    Population predictions cover a range of possibilities, but pretty much all predict, based on known human behavior patterns, that the human populations will stabilize at some point and stop growing, once the majority of humans have achieved a decent standard of living. The average prediction is a stable population of about twice the current, which could be sustainable on the Earth at a good stadnard of living, with the application of a reasonable amount of conservation and good judgement.

    So again, stop with the doomsday garbage. We can, and ought to, work on sustainable longterm energy solutions, and on producing and consuming goods in a less damaging and more rational way, and so on. But the real solution to the problem is to help/allow the poor people and countries of the world to develop a standard of living that exceeds roughly $12,000 per capita per year (today’s dollars) everywhere. It is at about that point that people can begin to stop worrying primarily about survival and start to care about the environment and the future and so on.

    PhilB

  8. #8 George Gartley, RN
    April 28, 2008

    1. Humans are animals with as strong a biological drive to reproduce as any other animal. It’s not “finding other things to do” in affluent countries that has reduced population growth, it’s birth control methods. All our efforts to export birth control to third world countries have been dismal failures. Nowhere as good as our ability to export food.
    2. I have not seen any of these population stabilization pattern statistics extrapolated beyond the small percent of affluent people in the world, but if their based on proper resource distribution and sound political judgement I can not see anything in the current political landscape to indicate that we are headed in that direction. I also see nothing in the history books to indicate that humans are that smart and selfless.
    3. As for “can” and “ought to” that does not translate into “will do”. The human race is not even facing up to the current problems let along addressing them.

  9. #9 Adrian2514
    April 28, 2008

    Great blog about earth day. Earth day is very important to me and I did my part to show my support for a cleaner environment.

    Following Earth Day, I am still trying to find some easy, simple things I can do to help stop global warming. Have you seen the http://www.EarthLab.com is promoting their Earth Day (month) challenge, with the goal to get 1 million people to take their carbon footprint test in April? I took the test, it was easy and only took me about 2 minutes and I am planning on lowering my score with some of their tips.

    I am always looking for places to find more tips for living more environmentally friendly. If you know of any other sites worth my time let me know.

  10. #10 Phil Boncer
    May 1, 2008

    George Gartley, RN wrote: “1. Humans are animals with as strong a biological drive to reproduce as any other animal. It’s not “finding other things to do” in affluent countries that has reduced population growth, it’s birth control methods. All our efforts to export birth control to third world countries have been dismal failures. Nowhere as good as our ability to export food.”

    It’s been absurdly consistent that a higher standard of living has resulted in a lower birthrate, everywhere. A higher standard of living is more than imported food. It includes adequate medical care, for instance. Birth control methods are the *way* that these societies have reduced their birth rates, but that is not the cause; if people still wanted lots of kids, they’d still have them. ANd this shows by the fact that, as you note, “efforts to export birth control to third world countries have been dismal failures”. They’re not ready, because they do have a sufficient sense of safety and prosperity and assurance that if they have fewer kids that these will reach adulthood.

    George Gartley, RN wrote: “2. I have not seen any of these population stabilization pattern statistics extrapolated beyond the small percent of affluent people in the world, but if their based on proper resource distribution and sound political judgement I can not see anything in the current political landscape to indicate that we are headed in that direction. I also see nothing in the history books to indicate that humans are that smart and selfless.”

    It’s not “sound political judgement”; the best governments can do is, as usual, get the hell out of the way and let people live their damn lives. If we can get more of that going, then better resource distribution will result.

    You may look at the current world and see little evidence of smartness, selflessness, or good judgement, but if you really fairly compare today’s world with any previous point in history, you’ll see that much of the world is better off and better run that it has ever been, and the rest is not worse than in the past, just not better yet.

    George Gartley, RN wrote: “3. As for “can” and “ought to” that does not translate into “will do”. The human race is not even facing up to the current problems let along addressing them.”

    As usual, we’ll face our problems and solve them when they become critical. We, as a species, aren’t necessarily much for foresight, but we’re pretty damn ingenious when pressed.

    Some things will get worse, some things will get better. Relax, do your own part to work toward what you see as solutions the best you can. Many others are doing and will do the same, and we’ll get there. Bellyaching about doomsdays is neither helpful nor realistic.

    PhilB

  11. #11 DoctorToxic
    May 12, 2008

    Angry Toxicologist Rules! I just found this blog and it is has now usurped Toxipedia.org as my startup page.

    Way to go Angry Toxicologist!!!

  12. thank you

  13. #13 Ankara Nakliyat
    July 21, 2008

    thankss

  14. #14 david herrera
    October 7, 2009

    is the earth really going to end in 2012

  15. #15 Whiten Teeth
    October 14, 2009

    We should take very soon a right action to save our earth.

  16. #16 Whiten Teeth
    March 20, 2010

    Everyone of us can play a part for Earth Day to stop global warming. I’m also going to take part in this year Earth Hour by going offline. Every little bits helps.

  17. #17 Autoresponder
    July 1, 2010

    We all need to be more responsible with our planet. We’ve only got one..

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