Earth Day is so twentieth-century.
Fantastic mash-up illustration by SpicyStewedDemon
Earth Day is now more than 40 years old, and yet most of our Earth Day events seem to be using the same strategies and actions that it started with.
Sure, the protest rallies, mass tree plantings, and community clean-ups are now organized via the web, and recorded in thousands of digital photos and videos that get uploaded in the days following April 22.
And yet, I would venture to guess that the vast majority of people, particularly in the U.S., still don't recycle, still take their groceries home in plastic bags and get their takeout in styrofoam containers. They still drive themselves to and from work Monday through Friday, clear cut new housing lots and build new homes and offices next to delicate wetlands.
So, if the public's behavior hasn't changed in 40 years, can we assume that Earth Day events aren't actually effective in changing the relationship of most modern Americans with the environment?
In my humble opinion: Duh.
An article I read recently basically said that we will not be able to improve environmental conditions on this planet until we change the way people view their relationship to the environment.
People need to shift their thinking from viewing human beings as separate from the ecological system, to seeing the reality which is that we are very much part of the environment. It's not just dreamy, idealistic word play. We simply could not have evolved on any other planet. And just as much as we are impacted by the environment (weather, droughts, volcanoes, mosquitoes), the rest of the planet is impacted by us and our collective behaviors.
It's not just the bad stuff either: everyone has their favorite foods– guess where they come from? Think about how everyone seems to be happier on a warm sunny day. Our outdoor activities make us feel better. Our relationship to animals– not just pets, but even the most common birds and small animals in our yards, and awe-inspiring big animals in the wild– make us happier, calmer, inspired, awestruck.
The reason these things make us feel so strongly is because somewhere inside, past all the stressed-out-monkey-chatter in our brains, our bodies and our hearts/spirits/souls/whatever you want to call it, our very molecules know that we are actually part of the same web, the same delicately balanced ecology of trees, mountains, winds, rivers, oceans, bugs, and animals.
So, the question is not, how do we save the planet. The question is, how do we save ourselves.
Marketers try to make you believe that they are acting on the idea that "Earth Day is every day". They're probably lying– but not about the every day part.
Every single day on Earth is a day that we need to be thougtful, active, and committed in our relationship with our beautiful little planet. We need to think about, and probably research, the impact of the supply chain of the things we buy and the activities we do every day. We need to take action to lessen the negative impacts, increase the positive impacts, and sadly correct the negative impacts of our ancestors (and the less-enlightened around us). And we need to commit to doing these things every day, and doing more of them, forever and ever.
It seems like a lot. We've all already got too much on our plates. But if you were waiting for shit to hit the fan to do something impactful, guess what? We are in the middle of the shitstorm, and there's more on its way.
If you've been recycling for a while, what's the next step you can do to take your environmentalism up a notch?
Here are some ideas:
- Instead of gifts, plant trees or other plants in honor of your friends and family.
- Commit to a shopping fast for longer than you think you can do it– and journal or blog or post to Facebook about it. Get your family involved.
- STOP. BUYING. BOTTLED. WATER. Get yourself a snazzy water bottle (or a couple) and a faucet filter– better yet, a whole-house filter. Trust me, it's cheaper in the long run. And you can recycle faucet filters at Whole Foods or mail them in to Preserve Gimme 5.
- Start taking public transportation or walking, as much as possible. It might seem inconvenient at first, but if you live in an urban area of any size, and you know you're going to do your errands on a certain day anyway, I bet you can do it. Take a look at the bus and train routes, pack up your reusable bags and your "granny cart", and see how many you can accomplish without your car. This could be a great activity for your kids to work out for you.
- Stop mowing your lawn. At least stop watering it, weed-killing it, or fertilizing it. Turn it into a garden, or plant native grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers, and enjoy the view from your deck or patio (or a much smaller, maintained lawn.)
- Stop eating beef.
- Donate as much and as often as possible to reputable, impactful environmental groups. And support your elected officials who are environmental heroes.
- Be that "weirdo" who brings their own silverware and food containers to the restaurant, to avoid using disposable utensils and plastic or–horrors!–styrofoam takeout containers.
Environmental Badasses That Inspire Me:
Mary Beth Terry of My Plastic Free Life