Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. That’s 18250 days we’ve been, supposedly, trying to “save the planet”. In that time global population has tripled, CO2 emissions have more than doubled, CO2 ppm have increased from 320ppm to 416ppm, wildlife populations have declined by 60%, plastic pollution has increased an order of magnitude, mining has doubled, and overall things are looking bleaker every single day. The US did a lot of work to clean up its act in the 70’s following the first Earth Day, primarily by offshoring the dirtiest industries to other countries in Asia. The Trump administration is rolling back many of the environmental protections that have been put in place over the past 50 years, so we too here in the USA might soon find out what it’s like to live in a country with few environmental controls (which we’d absolutely deserve, since offshoring toxic industry to poor people in other countries is simply environmental racism and genocide).
The 50th anniversary of Earth Day feels more like a day of mourning than one of celebration to me. And yet my inbox and Facebook feed are flooded with exhortations to celebrate. Organizations and corporations across the board are urging me to join their virtual celebrations, in lieu of in-person gatherings, since we can’t all get together in the streets because of Coronavirus 19, a virus unleashed upon the human world because of our greed and disrespect for the wild world we once inhabited.
Earth Day began with concern for the pollution that humanity was unleashing upon the world: chemical pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and more. In recent years, the primary concern related to Earth Day is climate change — CO2 pollution (and CH4 and NO2 and others that are rarely mentioned, too), with a small bit of biodiversity and sixth mass extinction concern thrown in here and there.
However, Earth Day has never, and likely will never, address the actual problem facing the planet: industrial civilization and the fantasy of infinite growth. As Earth Day has been co-opted by corporations and corporate-backed organizations over the years, we’ve watched the day be transformed from a day to honor the Earth and reduce pollution by fighting against the corporate giants causing the bulk of that pollution, into a massive PR opportunity for the very corporations who are doing the most damage. To randomly pick one corporation that makes a product that no one actually needs and inflicts a huge amount of unnecessary plastic upon the world—Coca Cola:
“Today marks the 50th Earth Day. A day of hope, optimism and action towards a better world. The 2020 Earth Day theme is climate change and whilst we may be apart, that doesn’t stop voices being heard globally on the importance of mobilising our planet to make positive change for future generations.”
And their lovely Earth Day image to go with this lovely fantasy:
Put a planet with some leaves in a picture and you can greenwash the brown stain and piles of plastic right away!
Coca Cola points us to EarthDay.org. I see one of the corporate sponsors of EarthDay.org (with a tiny little logo on their supporters page) is Wells Fargo, one of the top financiers of the Tar Sands oil extraction.
Pull any thread, and it leads to more of the same: growth, pollution, destruction, and a profound disrespect for this planet we call home.
I am deleting every email asking me to join a celebration. I will, shortly, turn off the computer, and walk outside into the pouring rain (the first rain we’ve had here in the Pacific Northwest in about three weeks, so I’m incredibly thankful for it), and whisper some words of gratitude to the old fir tree by my front door; and to the flickers making their spring home in a cavity near the top of the tree; and to the bluebells and daffodils gracing me with their presence; and to the hummingbirds thronging around the feeder, fighting in their tiny fierce ways; and to the sky for finally unleashing some rain on the parched ground; and to the moss getting greener by the moment as it soaks up the water; and to the whole natural world for sustaining my life another day.
I hope you get a chance to listen to nature and be grateful today. And if you need something else to do, I urge you to watch the new film Planet of the Humans (available free for the next month, online). The film’s message is difficult to hear, especially on this 50th Earth Day, when corporations and “green” organizations will be urging us to support wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, artificial intelligence and data, and other snake oil tech gadgets they want to sell us as they claim to be solving the problems caused in part by too much technology. Most of us would like nothing more than to believe that we can somehow solve the crises we face if we just invent enough new things, or that we can build our way out of the crisis as soon as we get back to normal.
We can’t. The sooner we face that truth, the better. Then we can get ready for the real work.