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
  • Steve Bloom

    The rest of us can only aspire to the innate moral superiority of journalists.     

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    You want to challenge the point of the post, or is it just easier to be snide? Here’s some additional reading to chew on, should you decide to have a real debate over this.

  • Steve Bloom

    Keith, has it occurred to you that I’m vastly better informed than you are on most of the environmental issues you write about?  I seem to recall worrying about this particular issue since the ’80s, maybe ever before that noted environmental thinker… Russell Baker?  *snork*

    I realize this sort of sarcasm does little to advance the discussion, but it’s hard to suppress the urge to engage in it when someone who is to all appearances a complete dilettante says he’s jaded.

    For something you can think seriously about rather than wear out your teeth prematurely, try these Earth day thoughts from someone who has a right to be a little jaded.  

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Actually, Steve, I knew that wasn’t the case almost as soon as you started commenting here over a year ago. Then it was confirmed when you admitted being ignorant over the Cronon/Foreman wilderness dust-up. Was that your Rip Van Winkle period?

    So you’ve been worrying about the commercialism and vapidity of Earth Day for several decades. The point of my post was to show how nothing has changed in the 20 years since that Baker column. That if anything, the rank commercialism and even more problematic, in my opinion, the self-congratulatory, “morally superior” attitude of greens is even more perverse today. You’re like a living embodiment of it.

  • Steve Bloom

    Thanks for linking back to that, Keith.  I’d forgotten what a good job I did dismantling Cronon’s central thesis and how little interest you expressed in defending it after I did so.  Funny, that.

    It’s telling that you’d mistake the isolated debate over Cronon’s poorly conceived idea for any sort of environmental issue.  I’m quite sure that there were a dozen other similar intellectual dust-ups during the same period that I also ignored since they had no connection to anything real or important.  But I suppose as a purely armchair “environmentalist” you’ve got to grasp at any available straw to convince yourself that you’ve got anything to say on the subject that’s of much interest to anyone else.

    Thanks also for reminding me of your “Church of Al Gore” business, which in retrospect looks even more like cheap wingnut polemic.  

  • Judy Cross

    If only the Environmental movement had not been co-opted by the Banksters, we might be spending money on cleaning up the ocean now.  Instead, we are being conned into thinking that the minor trace gas CO2, present only in parts per million, which plants need to make carbohydrates,  is demonic instead of being beneficial.

  • Steve Bloom

    The conspiracy is wider than you think, Judy.  Malign scientists and their environmentalist catspaws have demonized the essential trace element selenium.  Without it, humans (and much other life) are dead.  It beggars the imagination to think that excess quantities of such a thing could ever be a problem.  In fact, if I were you I’d refuse to live in a world where that was true.
     

  • John from Michigan

    I’ve never held much respect for Earth Day because I don’t believe it’s just coincidental that it falls on Lenin’s birthday.
    I do think it’s important to be aware of reasonable efforts to protect the environment all year long and to live our lives that way.

    Note to Judy…I don’t think it’s wise to bring up the global warming fraud here.  People who actually believe in the ridiculous notion that CO2 could cause global warming believe it as much as the pope believes in God.
    I suspect they also believe the world is flat and the Earth is the center of the universe.  They adamantly remain deniers of the facts that prove their CO2 beliefs wrong.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and 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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