A Challenge From A Pragmatic Environmentalist

As someone who works in the environmental field, I should enjoy Earth Day. Instead I actually find myself hating it more each year. For me, Earth Day has turned into an annual day of inauthentic concern and celebration for the planet.

The environmental community advocates 365 days of the year, with 364 of those days usually involving some sort of opposition and challenge. Earth Day is the one-day about us; where the media and the attention are focused on the planet. We do not have to “fight” per usual because for a mere 24-hours everyone seems to be a born-again environmentalist. We are given 24-hours where the opposition does not have an equal footing and environmental organizations and advocates let it be used for “happy” pictures and simple celebratory sentiments about the planet.

Maybe I would not be as frustrated with Earth Day if organizations used tactics to move the Earth Day “slacktivists” into more active advocacy roles. Instead, organizations and advocates allow for the annual day of born-again environmentalism to go untapped.

It is not enough to pick up a piece of trash or post a Happy Earth Day status.

Here is a reality check:

  • Municipal waste only accounts for 3% of total waste production in the United States.
  • Taking shorter showers will not stop the planet from running out of water. It will not fix drought stricken regions. Over 90% of water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The other 10% is split between municipalities and individuals.
  • If every person in the United States did everything Al Gore suggested in “An Inconvenient Truth,” U.S. carbon emissions would only fall by about 22%.

A picture of “happy trees” in honor of Earth Day will not make a difference.

In case there was any doubt, a “Happy Earth Day” post will not:

  • Secure the termination of the proposed Energy Answers incinerator in Curtis Bay. The hard, on-the-ground work, of United Workers and Free Your Voice did that.
  • Stand with concerned citizens in opposition to proposed mega-CAFOs, on Maryland’s lower eastern shore, threatening the public health of surrounding communities. Assateague Coastal Trust, Food and Water Watch, and the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project are doing that.
  • Improve the air quality of overburdened communities. Your zip code should not dictate your life expectancy. This is a reality that is very much within the confines of the state of Maryland. The Maryland Environmental Health Network is fighting for that.
  • Work long hours from January-April defending the right to a clean and healthy environment during Maryland’s Legislative Session. The countless advocates and constituents do that year after year.

Personal change is not enough. It is not a powerful political act.  Personal change does not equal social change.  

To the 24-hour born-again environmentalists: If you mean what you said or posted today, connect with your local environmental organization and get involved. The environmental community is fighting too many serious issues for you to hide behind a computer.

To the environmental advocates: Work to engage “slacktivists” in more active advocacy roles and utilize this day, and any where we are given more attention and leverage than the opposition, to its absolute fullest.









“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

…but that means actually caring for the environment all 365 days of the year.