Looking at the World through Green Tinted Lenses

Oak Tree in Cupertino California (Photo taken by Sue Chambers)Earth Day Wake-up Song

This morning when I woke up, one of the first songs I heard on the radio had a decidedly earth friendly message. In honour of Earth Day, the program host of CBC Radio 2 decided to play some of the songs on David Suzuki’s “playlist for the planet”.  Among them is Danny Michel’s 2008 catchy tune, “Feather, Fur and Fin”.  If you haven’t heard this song, you can check out the official video at Danny Michel’s website.  I’m assuming that most people have heard of David Suzuki, but just in case you’ve never heard of this well known Canadian environmental activist and spokesperson, you can find out more about him and his work here.

Originally, I had planned to write a post on critical thinking skills, but instead I was inspired by Danny Michel’s song to write a short (Well, short for me, lol!) post related to Earth Day. Earth Day is intended to inspire appreciation for the Earth and awareness of environmental concerns that, left unchecked, will damage our remarkable blue planet beyond repair.  So how successful have we been in translating this intention into results over the last 41 years?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, how green are we after all?

I’d say that the success of the environmental movement in raising awareness, developing long term, sustainable energy alternatives, and stemming the tide of irreparable environmental (and atmospheric) damage is uneven, at best. On the one hand, environmental education programs teaching us how to tread more lightly on the planet have helped to make a difference in the behaviours and habits of many individuals, as well as to the policies and practices of numerous municipal level governments and some corporations. We have also seen the emergence of some innovative technologies that, if widely adopted, would greatly reduce our carbon foot print and reliance on fossil fuels.

On the other hand, we are still seeing too many environmental disasters (e.g., the oil “spill” in the Gulf of Mexico last year) and increasing levels of political inertia apathy antipathy toward passing legislation that would be much tougher on corporate and industry polluters whose practices ruin not just the environment but people’s health and well-being. Furthermore, in the last 40 years we have rapidly exceeded the safety limit (350ppm) for the concentration of CO2 particles in the atmosphere. From the first Earth day in 1970 to now, 41 years later, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from 328.14ppm to 392.83ppm in April 2011. (If you happen to relate to pictures better than words, check out this chart at CO2Now.org’s website or these charts in one of my earlier blog posts, Tyrannosaurus Rex Goes to the Mall. You can also check out either link to find out why it’s important to reverse this trend as fast as possible.)

Has Earth Day been co-opted in its middle years?

Social critics such as Rebecca Tarbotton have commented that Earth Day’s original purpose and political nature have now been diluted into little more than PR and marketing opportunities for companies and professional services that sponsor Earth Day community events.  In her article “Has Earth Day become Corporate Greenwash Day?”, Tarnbotton wryly notes that even some of the environmental bad guys in the oil and agribusiness industries (mis)use Earth Day as an opportunity to put a green spin on their products and policies.

Other critics such as Alex Steffen claim that Earth Day has outlived its usefulness as an annual celebration. It has essentially become a celebration that is sympathetic to the idea of environmental sanity, but with its emphasis on individual actions, it fails (either by accident or design) to direct people’s attention to the systemic flaws that must be confronted and changed if we want to create a sustainable future.

The personal and the political

I understand these critics’ concerns and I agree with them to some extent.  I also understand why some of them have written off Earth Day as a mere shadow of its original self. But I think we need to start where we are, take the original spirit and purpose of the day, and carry it forward into our lives every day.

It’s a mistake to write off the personal acts such as recycling, spending less time in the shower, adding solar panels to a house, or opting not to buy bottled water as insignificant in their ability to make a difference. On the contrary, when people feel empowered as a result of taking on small changes (especially if they have a way of measuring the impact of those changes on the environment), they are more likely to feel equal to the challenge of advocating for change at the systemic and political levels. Social change and environmental movements gain momentum one person at a time, through action and education.  One person’s earth friendly habits probably won’t make much of a dent, but encouraging a significant proportion of the population to adopt earth friendly habits will make a difference. If we want to persuade others to be part of the change, we would do well to remember that we influence others more by what we do than what we say.

I listed a few earth-friendly habits and actions you can take to learn about and reduce carbon emissions in my post ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex Goes to the Mall”. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll offer up some new  earth-friendly actions you can try.

1.      Just say no to acquiring “stuff” you don’t need; you’ll be doing the environment and your bank account a huge   favour.  If you haven’t seen it already, check out Annie Leonard’s video “The Story of Stuff.” For more ideas, check out the “Give it Up” website.

2.      Stop buying bottled water.  Most of it is tap water, and if it’s imported from certain South Pacific Islands the carbon foot print of that water is astronomical. Find out from Annie Leonard why bottled water is so environmentally unfriendly.

3.      Skip the disposable cups and opt for a reusable travel mug when you’re out and about.

4.      If the choice is between local, sustainably grown food and imported organic food, opt for the local grown or produced food.

5.      Find out how your federal and provincial (or state level) politicians stand on environmental and social justice issues (they’re closely connected issues).  Vote for politicians who have solid reputation for supporting environmental and social justice issues.

It’s your turn to share.  How did you celebrate Earth Day?  Is it a celebration that’s past its time? What earth-friendly actions do you practice on a regular basis?

© Susan Chambers, 2011

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If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy reading these posts related to social justice or environmental issues:

Reflections on International Women’s Day

Vision, Intention, Action! Planting the Seeds for a Healthier Food System

April 22, 2011 · Susan · 4 Comments
Posted in: Environment

4 Responses

  1. Kate - April 25, 2011

    Hi Sue,
    I agree! We need to value individual actions, and we need to also be acting at the systemic level.
    Other thoughts:
    We need to be educating people about green washing, AND its great that corporations are talking the talk. That makes it easier to pressure them to walk the walk.
    If an Earth Day event catalyzes both individual and collective action, (and with thought, they all can) they have the potential to be awesome.
    And I think it’s great that a bunch of Vancouver high school kids organized a march for this most recent Earth Day.

  2. Susan - May 2, 2011

    Hi Kate, thanks for responding. Apologies for the delay on my part. I usually get an email notifying me of new comments, and it seems it went AWOL this time. Yes, I definitely agree that we have to do a lot of education around greenwashing, and part of that education involves teaching people to ask more questions and think critically.

  3. Pam Sourelis - April 27, 2011

    I agree, Sue, that we change the world one person at a time.

    I also agree that it’s important to buy locally. But I’m not going to buy pesticide-laden produce just because it’s grown locally, you know? I’m glad that my local farmer’s market is sporting more and more organic produce each year.

  4. Susan - May 2, 2011

    Hi Pam,

    My apologies for taking so long to reply. My notification system went AWOL on me. I hear you on the not wanting to buy local, non-organic if the crops are full of pesticides. Often local farmers who take their produce to farmers’ markets do follow organic practices but can’t afford the certification practice, so it requires doing a bit of digging (no pun intended) for information.

    For crops that are heavily sprayed with pesticides, I will either wait until they appear locally, or I try to find an alternative. When I was confronted a few weeks ago with a choice between local, hot-house grown bell peppers and organic peppers from Israel (half way round the world from here), I had to really question the carbon footprint attached to the organic red pepper.

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