It’s true. I know I shouldn’t say it (I run marketing for a company that sells eco-friendly products), but I do.
It’s not so much that I dislike what Earth Stands for… more what it has become.
Back in 1970, the first Earth Day meant something. New York’s Fifth Avenue was closed to traffic. People picnicked right on the sidewalks; Governor Rockefeller bicycled through Prospect Park; dead fish were dragged through the streets. In D.C., demonstrators poured oil in front of the Department of the Interior in protest of oil spills. In Richmond, Virginia, bags of dirt, symbolic of the “good earth,” were handed out.
No one expected much that first Earth Day. To the surprise of most, including Earth Day’s founder Senator Gaylord Nelson, twenty million Americans took part in one way or another without much in the away central coordination.
This weekend, New York City remains a place to be for Earth Day events. Only now, that means taking part in the Five Borough Eco Treasure Hunt for the chance to win a TV. Companies can pay up to $5,000 for exhibit space in Time Square to show off their eco-friendly wares. And in D.C., you can attend a workshop at the United States Botanic Garden to learn how to green your garden.
I’m not trying to be petty. There are lots of speeches, rallies, and official concern for our environment. But no one is pouring oil and dragging fish through the streets. You can’t win a TV doing that.
Well-meaning, organized events were never what Earth Day was intended to be; Earth Day was supposed to be grassroots, to shock, to make a statement. Attending seminars or handing out reusable tote bags or serving lunches on biodegradable plates make people feel good but in the end, is not going to make any lasting change in our behavior, attitudes or policies.
Earth Day has lost its meaning, bite, and edge. That’s nothing to celebrate. At 42 years old, it’s time that Earth Day has a midlife crisis; one with another public outpouring that organizes itself. One in which millions act boldly, unpredictably, and perhaps even a little chaotically. It’s time we reclaim Earth Day to highlight the severity of what we’re facing, not just another day to pat ourselves on the back.
Brenna Donoghue is the President of Marketing and Sales for Ethical Ocean (http://www.ethicalocean.com/), a North American retailer of eco-friendly, organic, vegan and fairly-traded products. Previously Brenna headed up marketing and fundraising for Engineers Without Borders, the opportunity that got her hyped about the possibilities of fair trade.