Reflections on Earth Day

We asked our authors: In today's age of slacktivism, has Earth Day become meaningless as a way to make impactful environmental change? Check out what they had to say below.

Travis Beck, author of Principles of Ecological Landscape Design
April 22nd, Earth Day, is also National Jelly Bean Day. How should one celebrate National Jelly Bean Day? The internet suggests guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar, making jelly bean jewelry, or, simply, eating lots of jelly beans. The internet also suggests a number of ways to celebrate Earth Day in my immediate area. They include an Earth Day Celebration, an Earth concert, an Earth Day cleanup, a film screening, a moonlight hike, a 5k run/walk, an Earth Day festival, and an Earth Day fair. Or, if you’ve been invited to United Nations headquarters on that day, you could sign a global climate agreement.

All of this—the jelly beans, the festivals, and the signing ceremony—falls under the heading of marketing. The Earth needs good marketing. It’s too easy to ignore the pervasive, perplexing, and long term environmental issues we face in the rush of everyday life. Those recent video spots from Conservation International with Julia Roberts as the voice of Mother Nature, etc. are impactful, but a bit grim. Why not go on a moonlight hike instead, take in a film, wander a fair, or think about your nation’s CO2 emissions? And while you’re at it, enjoy a few jelly beans. Green ones.

John Pastor, author of What Should a Clever Moose Eat?
We have holidays to celebrate the planting of trees, the harvest, the four key points that define the Earth’s orbit (the solstices and the equinoxes), so why not a holiday to celebrate the whole Earth? And so we do, Earth Day, April 22. When Senator Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day in 1970, he hoped to promote environmental activism and demonstrations, especially on campuses. Today, some campuses still have demonstrations against environmental degradation, but these are not as large as they once were. But I am encouraged by the growth of many environmental and nature organizations since the first Earth Day, such as the Xerces Society for the conservation of rare insects, WildOnes for the establishment of native plant gardens, and many others.  Demonstrations on Earth Day may not be as common, but people seem to be putting their energy into actively doing something for and learning about nature and the environment. Nonetheless, the idea of Earth Day as a day to celebrate the wonder of life on our planet home is still worthwhile. So celebrate Earth Day: if it makes you feel good, find and join a local environmental or nature organization in your area.

Global selfie - Earth Day, April 22, 2014. By NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

Yoram Bauman, author of Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change
Earth Day is a way of connecting like-minded people who care about sustainability, and hopefully (as with the Yes on 732 carbon tax campaign I’m part of in Washington State) those connections lead to more and deeper types of involvement!

Rob McDonald, author of Conservation for Cities
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”- a hackneyed quotation, but a true one. Yes, the kinds of minimal individual actions sometimes promoted for Earth Day don’t add up to much themselves. Given the magnitude of the challenge of climate change, for instance, biking to work one day a week is a pretty minor step toward reducing my carbon footprint. Similarly, avoiding food waste in my home is only a teeny step toward reducing global agricultural production. These kind of good first steps have some value on their own, but their real value is getting people to be educated and committed to an issue. For a small subset of people, these kind of first steps lead to bigger, more significant steps. Or they may lead to political support for broader legal or policy changes that do have a meaningful environmental impact. So, instead of criticizing the “slacktivists”, tell them what other steps they should take next, if they want to prove greater dedication to the environmental cause.