It’s still Earth Day
Coming into April, my inbox was inundated with messages about Earth Day events and ideas. Some were hikes and planting days, seed-sharing ideas and energy-savings tips.
Far more were what I would classify as lightly greenwashed advertising campaigns. For Earth Day, I was told, I should use wheat-based natural kitty litter, wear appliquéed recycled T-shirts and eco-friendly bracelets, purchase sustainable wooden toys and become gorgeous with Earth Day-inspired beauty products.
Or I could just drink. “In celebration of Earth Day, raise a glass to the environment and enjoy these eco-friendly cocktails,” one email said, offering some recipes. I think it was from the same company that pushes cocktails for other big drinking holidays, like Father’s Day and Arbor Day.
I’m all for using Earth Day as a reminder about how to take care of the only home we have, just as fire departments use daylight saving time to remind us to check our smoke detectors. But just as we need smoke detectors every day, we need to care for our world every day.
Earth Day got its start in 1969, the brainchild of a peace activist and environmentalist named John McConnell, who pegged March 21, the spring equinox, as the official date for honoring our Earth.
McConnell, who died last October at 97, was a religious man and once said he was inspired by Psalm 115, which says, in part, that while the heavens belong to God, “the earth He has given to the children of man.”
McConnell took that not as a declaration of ownership, but as a call to protect and preserve the world. He’s the one who designed the Earth Flag, with that iconic image of Earth as seen from space.
Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin is the one responsible for us celebrating Earth Day in April: He picked April 22, 1970, for a national Earth Teach-In, where people would share ideas and information to raise awareness on environmental issues. That has continued as Earth Day.
Denis Hayes, who coordinated that first Earth Teach-In, founded the Earth Day Network, which shares Earth Day information and events worldwide, and promotes environmental awareness and activism.
You’ll find news reports and literature naming any one of those three as the founder of Earth Day, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we remember that we are Earth’s stewards, the only ones Earth has. If we don’t take care of it ourselves, no one will.
Unfortunately, the signs of our poor stewardship are all around us. When we drive into a cloud of urban smog, or find tires thrown into the ditch on the side on the road — that’s a nice reminder of what a lousy job we humans do. Every day.
So Earth Day was last month, or today, or we’re in the middle of Earth Week or we can Earth Network all year long. Whenever it is or was, it’s a great reminder of our individual and collective responsibility. What little steps can we take every day — using less electricity, driving less, buying and living in a way that produces less waste? We can work on big-picture issues too: more responsible energy and food production, mass transit, the elimination of toxins from our food and water. I’m still trying to work out how the cocktails fit in.
It’s great to take our kids on an Earth Day hike, or bring them out to pick up trash off the side of the road in honor of Earth Day. But we can also resolve to get the kids outside every day, and teach them to honor and protect the environment all year long. It’s their home.
In the spring, the trails clear and we can get up the mountains again. When the snow melts, the trash along the side of the road becomes visible again. That makes spring a good time for cleanups, and one of my plans for last weekend was to bring the boy and a couple of garbage bags along with me on my morning walk to clean along the road to the beach.
I know an Earth Day cleanup won’t solve anything long-term. As long as people keep throwing junk out their car windows all year long, there will be plenty to pick up off the shoulders for the rest of us.
All I can hope for is that over time, there will be more and more of the cleaner-uppers and fewer and fewer of the trashers.
I’m afraid that’s the only hope the Earth has.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.