Happy Earth Day. Sharon Astyk thinks its all b.s.; here’s part of the reason why:
I see Earth Day as the new Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, a Hallmark holiday for us to give lip service to the environment. There are contrary forces, good in the mix – but then there are good things in the mix of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or Valentines as well. But the reality of Mother’s Day doesn’t seem to be that it inspires us to be more respectful of the needs of mothers – what comes out of Mother’s Day isn’t more calls for breastfeeding stations and child friendly policies, but a “we told you we loved you last Sunday…aren’t we done yet?” The same is true of Valentines Day – there’s no compelling reason to believe that once a year special chocolates and sex really do all that much to lower the national divorce rate.
The problem of living in a culture whose dominant message is that consumption is all – that we are not citizens but consumers, is that we learn to think of ourselves as baby birds with our mouths open. Our job is to create markets, to buy the right things, to spend money. And how you spend your money definitely matters. But it matters in context with how you vote and act and live your life and demonstrate and speak and model a meaningful way of life. More is simply required of us that opening our beaks.
Isak Dineson famously said “All suffering is bearable if seen as part of a story.” The emptiness that people feel when they live a life primarily as consumers is no accident – the problem is that the story we’re engaged in isn’t very interesting. A story where your primary role is to create a market, to consume and come back for more is incredibly dull – try writing one someday. But the good news is that there really is a worthwhile story to be told – just not one to be told one day a year. It has all the best elements you can imagine – survival against odds and courage and journeys through difficult circumstances. It has heroes and acts of heroism and passion and drama. It is the story of our lives in the circumstances we find ourselves in – and it is no accident that despite the fact that bazillions of dollars are spent telling us we are just consumers, and that’s all the story we could ever need, people by the thousands and sometimes even millions are frustrated and looking for a better story. And it is here.
Forty years later, the day has turned into a premier marketing platform for selling a variety of goods and services, like office products, Greek yogurt and eco-dentistry.
For this year’s celebration, Bahama Umbrella is advertising a specially designed umbrella, with a drain so that water “can be stored, reused and recycled.” Gray Line, a New York City sightseeing company, will keep running its buses on fossil fuels, but it is promoting an “Earth Week” package of day trips to green spots like the botanical gardens and flower shopping at Chelsea Market.
F. A. O. Schwarz is taking advantage of Earth Day to showcase Peat the Penguin, an emerald-tinted plush toy that, as part of the Greenzys line, is made of soy fibers and teaches green lessons to children. The penguin, Greenzys promotional material notes, “is an ardent supporter of recycling, reusing and reducing waste.”