The Trouble With Earth Day

by Dayo Olopade | April 22, 2008

Today, kids, is Earth Day--a celebration made official by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 (incidentally, one of his last acts in office), ten years after the original Earth Day touched down in cities across the US. The New York Times provided excellent coverage of the 1970 Manhattan gathering:

Each visitor to the square had to improvise his own Earth Day, by deciding where to spend his time. Some resolved the range of choices by taking part in a nonstop Frisbee game on Union Square Park's piebald lawns. Thousands crowded into a block-long polyethylene "bubble" on 17th street to breathe pure, filtered air; before the enclosure had been open to the public for half an hour the pure air carried unmistakable whiffs of marijuana.

...

On 14th Street a "guerilla" theater group acted out a skit portraying the plight of a hibernating bear who awakes to find a Con Edison nuclear reactor had been built above his cave.

How vintage. The "festivities," however, underscore one critique of the environmental movement that's been around since its inception: that it is leisured, elitist, fanciful and plain "out of touch"--a critique I explore a bit in this piece. Where were all the people who couldn't take the day off to celebrate their planet? What's so "environmental" about smokin' pot? At the time, New York City's EPA director frowned, "It looks awfully young... I hope it's not just another Woodstock with people venting their frustrations for one day. We want them to change their lifestyles." 

Indeed. Hindsight being 20/20 and all, I'd say this early focus on anthropomorphized animals, a smiling planet and the like--rather than the rapidly-growing consumption habits of humans--has really segregated the environmental movement by class and race, and left today's greens with lots of wounds to heal

--Dayo Olopade

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-vine/the-trouble-earth-day