Today is Earth Day – a holiday I have serious mixed feelings about.
On one hand, hooray Earth Day! Let’s all be responsible to the planet! Let’s recycle! Go Druidry! Go Earth Mother! Yay!
On the other? Is this kind of popular activism actually changing anything? Somehow I don’t think so.
Earth Day really strikes me as a big fat cop out a lot of the time. Like Earth Hour (where you use no electricity for one hour on one evening in March), it’s a day where people can pretend to do things that are good for the Earth and feel good about themselves, and then go right back to doing whatever they were doing before. It’s about the warm fuzzy feelings, and not about meaningful change.
For example, today in celebration of Earth Day my office “environmental team” is handing out “Earth-colored” cupcakes and cookies. That’s how we’re celebrating. Who knows what kind of dyes are in the coloring for the cookies and cupcakes, or where they were purchased, or if they come wrapped in plastic. It’s Earth Day! Any excuse for baked goods is a good excuse! Oh and there’s a contest for the best Earth Day poster, created by the child of an employee.
Still, the sentiment is a good one, and so I’m torn about it. It’s good to do even little things to help the Earth. But I don’t want to overstate the importance of things like Earth Day in the face of very real activism and the very real changes that need to happen to reduce our impact on the planet.
If we keep going how we’re going, we’re going to quickly run out of planet to take advantage of. We’re already pushing close to (or past) peak oil – the point after which the amount of oil we can get out of the ground can no longer continue to expand, but after which our desires for oil and electricity aren’t going to go down. It’s a scary thought, but one that is bolstered by alternative and nontraditional energy sources (of which I think there won’t be “one star savior”, but it will take a combination of energies and conservation attempts and changes in our lifestyle to make work).
In the face of things like that, or the rash of oil related disasters, or the floating trash “islands” or the constant degradation of our wetlands (like the swamp near which I live), it’s hard to be really positive about Earth Day, because I don’t feel like it provokes meaningful change. It’s a great thing to teach kids, but as adults, it loses some of it’s oomph for being just another social excuse and day of pointless social-media-activism.
Of course, I have no better ideas about how to provoke meaningful change from people who aren’t interested in changing. In fact, I think that exercise is pretty fruitless, so maybe it’s through campaigns like Earth Day that we find little handholds and footholds for bigger environmental projects.
And I’m always drawn back to the words of the great Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax:
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
The whole point of the Lorax is individual change, and the impact that one person can have – good or bad – on the world around them. And maybe that’s the whole point of Earth Day – maybe it’s fruitless and silly and superficial, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t personally take it as a challenge to myself as a Child of the Earth.
In short, I want my own Druidry to be a recognition of Unless. I’m going to take up the mantle of Unless, and use today as a reconfirmation of the things that I CAN do to protect the Earth and reduce my footprint, even as a cubicle-working, long-commute-driving, suburb-living Druid.
I CAN compost, and plant trees, and garden organically, and turn lights off, and use LED bulbs, and recycle as much as I can (and try to buy less plastic too). I CAN re-use produce bags and bring my own grocery sacks. I CAN combine errands so that I’m not doing unnecessary driving, and make sure my car is in good working order for my long (70 mile round trip) commute, so that I pollute as little as possible. I CAN work from home when I’m allowed, to save gas. I CAN work on hobbies and crafts that promote reusing things, repurposing things, and valuing the hard work that goes into them. I CAN donate my clothes to goodwill when they no longer fit, instead of throwing them away. I CAN work to value people, time, and experiences over things, money, and stuff. I CAN spend time with my landbase, and support organizations that take care of it and the wildlife who live here.
I can’t change how other people react (or don’t) to Earth Day or Earth Hour or whatever other pop-culture, warm-fuzzy environmentalism that gets tossed around on Facebook but doesn’t create any progress. In the face of the overwhelming mess that we’ve made of the planet, something like Earth Day can seem silly – and maybe it is.
The changes made for one day are only useful if they truly become changes made for every day. A tree planted on Earth Day, but left untended, will die of lack of water in the Texas heat.
I can’t change what Earth Day has become, and I can’t make other people change their habits or live up to the cute graphics they post on social media.
But I can take up the mantle of Unless for myself.