Let’s talk about Earth Day. Yes, yes, I’m about a month late. But there will be another one next year, and another the year after that, so perhaps now’s actually a good time for this reflection (especially as those planning 2024 events probably haven’t started yet!).
Some days after Earth Day I read several Earth Day-themed comics (I regularly fall behind on my comic pages reading), an essay, and a comment that together sparked this essay. Let’s start with the comics, the earnest one first:
The comic above, Mutts, has a man and a dog sitting at a tree with a quote by Jane Goodall: “To reconnect with nature is key if we want to save the planet.” It’s a standard ‘warm and fuzzy’ comic, and is a good Gaian sentiment for every day, not just Earth Day.
Then, at the other extreme, there’s Jump Start, where a little girl wakes up to her alarm clock and runs downstairs to be greeted by her parents holding presents standing near an (ick) Earth Day tree—yes, another cut evergreen tree adorned with what look to be plastic ornaments.
That one was horrifying—for the portrayal of a fully commercialized Earth Day, reinforced by Stefanie Hollmichel’s astute comment in her blog, A Stone in the River:
“Yesterday was Earth Day, and, judging by all the sale emails I received, it’s apparently now a shopping holiday for “green” goods. But even if the item is “Earth Friendly” it’s still consumption of (very likely) something people don’t actually need. And if you don’t need it and buy it anyway, you are not being Earth Friendly, you are just being a capitalist consumer trying to assuage your guilt by buying something “green” that will harm the Earth a little less than the item’s non-green counterpart. Is there something capitalism hasn’t co-opted? Grrr.”
Stefanie’s point is an important one—Earth Day is some sort of meh holiday—increasingly the equivalent of a green-themed President’s Day. At times it’s being appropriated by business interests, and at times, as Paul Greenberg and Carl Safina write in Time Magazine, a “collective yawn that brings a shrug.” Greenberg and Safina note that at its start, back in 1970, Earth Day was the largest single-day protest in history—with school children actually being encouraged to take the day off to go protest (very different than with the Fridays for Future movement where students are often at odds with school administrators). But now on Earth Day, people are prompted to buy green goods, or like Dagwood Bumstead in Blondie, use the day as an excuse to not mow their lawn.
Unfortunately, instead of exploring how we could better celebrate Earth Day, Greenberg and Safina wax philosophical about how we might need “a whole new religion,” “an earth-reverent belief system…with Earth Day at its center.” Clearly, you’re not going to get an argument from me on that point (other than that Earth should always be capitalized)! Though it would have been nice if they brainstormed some specific ways to improve Earth Day. Granted, they did raise an excellent point that gratitude should be front and center on Earth Day and other annual holidays (specifically the stations of the wheel of the year), a point a final comic, Frazz, grapples with as well:
Frazz’s point is a key one: we should not get self-congratulatory, but we should celebrate our planetary mother—and offer gratitude for Her continuing to put up with us.
Also, like Mother’s Day, perhaps we should offer gifts of thanks to Gaia. Of course, just like giving flowers to mom is a token gesture (incomparable to the gift of life and caregiving), whatever we offer will be underwhelming. But token gestures are important reminders of gratitude and dependence. So token gestures on Earth Day are valuable too—but what? Clean-ups, activism, education, and festivals—though ideally with a focus on celebrating not buying stuff—could all work.*
Earth Day Celebrations
I admit I spent my Earth Day at an Earth Day Extravaganza that didn’t feel all that joyful. Mostly tables either promoting different environmental organizations’ work (including the Gaian Way) or selling green stuff. But in hindsight, I realize that was my fault. I stayed glued to my table (in the table zone) instead of listening to the Mayor or to a band, getting something fixed at the repair café, or joining in an exploration of sound in the tunnel under the highway that connects the park to the city.
The following week I came across a poster for a neighboring town-wide Earth Day Celebration with multiple events all connected via a Trolley. There were gardening events at farms, recycling events at local shops (drugs at the pharmacy, paint at the hardware store), a repair café at the library, hikes, music, a town clean up, and even a chance to meet birds of prey. While it was spread out, perhaps making it harder for people to experience it all (though the free trolley worked to address that), it also created a town-wide vitality and true festiveness that our cold little riverfront did not.
Ultimately, that felt like a really celebratory way to get people connecting with all sorts of aspects of the environmental movement and think it’s quite replicable. Imagine your town or city: a rally at the town hall; gardening training at the local garden center; forest bathing at a local nature spot; outdoor yoga at the river front or local pond; eco-story time at the local library, a repair café at the town recreation center, all connected by free buses circling through the stops. Yes, that’s a lot to organize but perhaps not more than organizing it all in one spot, and definitely not all that much to celebrate our overworked and underappreciated Mother.
What do you think: what are some better ways to celebrate Earth Day? To make it into the truly global holiday it deserves to be? Add your comments below—and if there’s interest, we can organize a Gaian Conversation to continue the discussion.
*Greenberg and Safina also note that “Super Bowl is America’s unofficial national day of celebration.” While they don’t directly ask ‘how do we make Earth Day into this?,’ it is an excellent question. Perhaps we need some sort of national spectacle—the country’s worst eco-criminals fighting tigers in a colosseum? Or maybe each other? Or, as that sounds far too Mad-Max-y, how about an annual eco-themed race—reality show style that captivates people—mixing adventure with Earth-healing activities? But then again, that means people will be glued to screens rather than engaging with their communities, so perhaps bringing Earth Day to Super Bowl scale is actually self-defeating.