Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Earth Day activities can keep us as busy as ever on this historic day of celebration. Just make sure you leave some time to actually help protect what’s being celebrated.
The counterculture movement that started in the 1960s has lent itself well to modernity. It’s not just the environmental advocacy Earth Day has become synonymous with. One needs only look in any direction to see the impact of our bell-bottomed parents and grandparents, be it the commercialization of spiritual practices like yoga and meditation made popular by the long-haired disciples of “gurus” of yesteryear or things we now barely bat an eye at, like unleaded gasoline, clean air regulations, and restrictions on harmful chemicals, let alone all the kombucha.
And like those Merry Pranksters of the 1960s proffered, psychedelics are now showing promise in treating some of the biggest health crises of our time. There are ‘60s and ’70s-inspired changes to fashion, transportation, design, technology, and even finance. Even tofu is no longer the pariah it was in decades past.
The modern environmental movement took shape in 1970. But it had been brewing for years; Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had spent the better part of a decade opening eyes to the reality of agrochemicals and their impact on the planet.
In Vietnam, an herbicide was one of the most lethal weapons: Agent Orange, the dioxin-producing defoliant made of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, brought decades of disease and death to Vietnamese and Americans alike, reinforcing the need for chemical regulations and corporate responsibility.
There were rivers on fire from chemical contaminants. There were “forever chemicals” being poured into cookware and takeout containers. Earth Day came to fruition as a change agent, and year after year, it seems, we need the reminder of its potential more than ever.
Remember lockdown? And those quiet, early months where nature rebounded almost overnight, with animal sightings in the most unlikely places, as if they’d just been sitting on the edges of civilization, waiting patiently for us to take our leave? That’s the level of impact we should be striving for in all that we do.
A changing world
The good news is innovations are happening in every direction, from food to finance to fashion. Traceability — whether your new handbag or diamond ring — can help erase the mysteries of the global supply chains and help consumers make more responsible decisions. There are change agents working around the clock to right the ship, and for that, we should be thankful — on Earth Day and every day.
For all of the good news, though, the harsh realities of ongoing devastation and destruction persist. The Amazon rainforest is seeing some of its worst razing in a decade. This is linked predominantly to the growing demand for meat; Brazil is now home to the world’s second-largest cattle herd. Ranchers continue their Lorax-like destruction of the world’s most important rainforest for a pound of coffee and an ounce of palm oil.
The cerulean blue oceans so visible on Earth from outer space are now thick with plastic debris and human trafficking, while trillions of fish and marine life are being pulled from the oceans every year. This, while we’re simultaneously dumping unthinkable amounts of plastic and poison into the waters. By 2050, experts say plastic could outnumber fish in the oceans. This is a problem that will impact the oxygen levels on the planet, freshwater supplies, as well as the oceans’ ability to sequester carbon.
The oceans are also facing big changes from melting ice shelves; a recent report found a significant crisis ahead as the planet warms. Another report found that 60 of the world’s largest banks have actually increased their investments in fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement. And the most recent IPCC report says we will most certainly see temperatures move beyond 1.5°C Paris Agreement targets, bringing with it devastation to billions of people around the world.
Then, there’s the matter of greenwashing — the false promises propped up by bottom-line-driven industries all vying for your sacred dollar. It’s such a problem that the E.U. has now passed legislation aimed to protect against such platitudes. That’s not to say capitalism can’t be an agent for good — we shop far more often than we vote, after all. But are we really convincing anyone that we can shop our way out of the climate crisis? Is that the true spirit of Earth Day?
Earth Day every day?
There’s an old Zen koan: “Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” The only thing that shifts there, of course, is the perception of the world, or at least, of the wood and water. The acts that seemed mundane before a sense of self-awareness, perhaps “enlightenment”, transform into a practice of mindfulness after.
Similarly, it is our belief that the world must change in order for us to change that got us in this mess in the first place.
Earth Day is not just about shifting our habits of excess to the most sustainable option. It’s not about elevating corporations to savior status, either, or waiting for politicians to push through the bureaucratic red tape and do the work for us. It’s about remembering, honoring, and celebrating this swirling blue ball we call home. Take time for that. Make time for that.
Earth Day is the largest secular celebratory event in the world, with more than one billion expected to participate this year. It’s a memorial as much as it is a register, a metronome for a planet out of tune with itself. We take stock of our commitments and remember why it matters today a bit more than it does on those otherwise ordinary days. But if we’re not living the Earth Day Every Day philosophy, celebrating it only once a year does neither us nor the planet any good.
So do we need to celebrate? That’s a personal choice, certainly. But if we think we’ve enlightened ourselves because we “fixed” (some of) our problems by committing to ditching plastic or buying an electric car this year, we soon forget that the work keeps going. Every day becomes the practice of celebrating the earth and protecting it —chopping wood, carrying water. And if we’re doing it right, we soon realize those are the celebrations, not the chores.
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