Earth's Hallmark Holiday

By Keith Kloor | April 22, 2010 7:53 am

I’m a little jaded on the annual Earth Day love-in. If children showed appreciation for their parents only on Mother’s Day or Father’s day, the human race would be screwed. Is it a nice thing that we venerate our parents once a year? Sure. But who are we kidding: many of us approach these hallmark holidays like programmed robots. It’s Mother’s day: cue the flowers, the breakfast in bed, the Sunday Brunch.

So it is with Earth Day. Cue the park clean-ups, the lofty (and cautionary) speeches, the obligatory rallies. Yeah, been there, done that. Come the day after, it’s back to the same old, same old: taking the planet we live on for granted, just like we do ma and pa.

As The Washington Post correctly observes today in an excellent article, the original 1970 protest/celebration has now become

a national ritual halfway between a street party and a guilt trip.

What’s that you say, this one is special: 4oth anniversary. So was the 20th and here’s what legendary NYT columnist Russell Baker opined then, in an imaginary conversation between him and his editor:

Editor: If you intend to come out against Earth Day, go ahead and do it, but please, please, stop the hot air about public relations and get on with it.

Artist: You’d like me to come out against Earth Day, wouldn’t you? You think all humanity would be so horrified that they would rise up against me crying, ”What kind of monster would be down on Earth Day? What kind of paper hires such a beast?” Then you’d have an excuse to fire meEditor (interrupting): If you want to write piffle nobody’s going to read, it’s no skin off my nose. I’m just advising you: If you’re against Earth Day, say so. If you’re not, just say whatever you’re trying to say and wind it up.

Saying which, the Editor walked away, shaking his head. How little he understands the literary art. Here am I, struggling to paint a portrait of a once great nation that has fallen prey to the public-relations plague, and all he wants is for me to take an editorial stand on Earth Day.

They just don’t make them like Baker anymore. In that same column, he expands on his thesis that a well-intentioned cause had become just another modern-day marketing extravaganza:

If good sense were involved here, of course I would be against Earth Day, for the simple reason that practically everybody else is for it. When you find something being supported by practically everybody, watch your step.

Anything that isn’t opposed by about 40 percent of humanity is either an evil business or so unimportant that it simply doesn’t matter. In the first category I list the Tonkin Gulf resolution, approved by every member of the Senate but two, which President Johnson later used to justify full-scale war in Vietnam.

The second category (simply doesn’t matter) is probably where Earth Day belongs. It’s a media event, which is to say a public-relations stunt for the folks of P.R. World.

So, anything different today? What’s the message enviro-minded citizens have internalized best after 40 years? According to that WaPo article, many people

have absorbed the lesson that the best thing for the environment is to buy things. This year, a poll conducted by professors at George Mason, Yale and American universities showed that respondents who were most alarmed about climate change were more than eight times more likely to express their concern through shopping for “green” products than by contacting an elected official multiple times about it.

Not today, though. It’s all about you, planet Earth.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: earth day, environmentalism

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets.From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine.In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest.He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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