Does Earth Day matter as a serious day of environmental action? Yes, in as much as St. Patrick’s Day matters as a serious exploration of Irish culture. There’s nothing wrong with these days, but to consider either of them serious — or something that “matters” — is frankly delusional.
On St. Patrick’s Day, school children are shown where Ireland sits on a map (it’s up there in the far corner of Europe — just on the margins) and are presented with pre-sliced shamrock cookies. Older folks, depending on their station in life, either don plastic bowlers and guzzle cheap beer or wear a green tie and get on with their day. Regardless, no one is considering Yeats, Parnell, or the brutally beautiful game of hurling. (Some may be considering another form of hurling.)
On Earth Day, our children are blessed if an enterprising teacher uses the occasion to discuss climate change (they’re less blessed to be confronted with a teacher who spreads denialist propaganda). Adults gorge themselves on something “green” — be it recycling or shopping at Whole Foods. The next day our children go back to their disposable lunch trays and the adults back to their GMC Yukons.
The insidious thing about both of these holidays is that they provide the delusion we’ve participated in something bigger. On St. Patrick’s Day we’re all “Irish for a day” — as if being Irish simply meant getting drunk and eating overcooked corn beef and cabbage. On Earth Day, we’ve done something for the environment — we’re green acne. When in reality we’re lucky if we’ve done something just slightly less injurious to the environment.
The truth is, we don’t need an Earth Day or an Earth Hour — we need an Earth Generation:
- We need a generation that will apply the same ingenuity it applied to Facebook and iTunes to finding sustainable, scalable and affordable solutions to our insatiable appetite for energy.
- We need a generation that doesn’t see natural landscapes and the services they provide as an inexhaustible dumping ground, but builds those services into the financial equations of development and wealth.
- We need a generation that looks for beauty in grasslands and mountains, not just on LCD screens and netbooks.
Unfortunately, we needed that generation to start running things about 10 years ago. Like so many times in the past, America is now acting when it is practically too late. The solutions to climate change and environmental degradation we must implement now will likely be twice as expensive, require twice the sacrifice and be half as effective as they might have been had we had that Earth Generation already in place.
That said, the great thing about generations is that they are constantly coming of age — so perhaps it’s not too late and perhaps Earth Day can have some real value this year. If you have kids, use the day as an excuse to get them outside and away from the television. Take that opportunity to introduce them to the natural world. Use the day as an excuse to start forming the Earth Generation.
And if you can’t get them outside for real, at least take them to see the movie.
(Image: St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Chicago. Credit: ChicagoGeek, used under a Creative Commons license.)