Apr 24, 2012

It’s time to retire Earth Day...the day has long outlived its usefulness. From @garyglx5 at @GreatLakesEcho

Commentary on another Earth Day and you can put me in the camp that believes the day has long outlived its usefulness.

Gary Wilson - Others are more blunt, as an I hate Earth Day Google search illustrates.

Why spurn a day designed to put a spotlight on Earth’s environmental problems?

It’s simple: Earth Day long ago devolved to the point where it reeks of symbolism over substance.

Corporations use it as another selling opportunity. This year Walmart has an Earth Month Music Special featuring Alison Krauss. They’ve also featured items like recycled flip flops. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either product, but the giant retailer’s message is still consume, not conserve.

Walmart exists to get us to consume mass quantities of its products and a little Earth Day window dressing won’t change that.

But Walmart is an easy target.

What about us? Are we any better than Walmart?

Is our priority consuming or conserving? Are we honest with ourselves when we examine our habits?

It’s always best to first look in your own backyard when you ask a question like that so I checked the Earth Day plans of my town, Oak Park, Ill.

Regular readers may remember Oak Park from my commentary last year when it promoted the 350 carbon emission awareness program. The commentary illustrated the contradiction between what the village says – be aware of carbon emissions – and what the village does – promote the use of cars in its traffic management decisions.

Sure enough, Oak Park is having an Earth-Fest in conjunction with Earth Day. I wouldn’t expect less from a town with no shortage of green ego, deserved or not.

The event’s site says it will feature “the local, sustainable food movement… and eco-focused vendors.”  Fifty vendors will participate and sponsors are Citibank, Waste Management and others.

Despite being a village sanctioned event it is focused around vendors. Vendors sell things, which means the emphasis is on consumption – not conservation. That’s typical Earth Day fare so I inquired about the contradiction.

“The reality is that we live in a consumer-driven society and that isn’t going to change,” says event organizer Maria Ornesto-Moran, owner of Green Home Experts.

“The purpose of Earth-Fest is to give consumers information that will empower them to make informed decisions about and how much they are consuming,” she said.

That sounds good but it’s really doing the minimum, if that.

Like treading water, it will keep you afloat for a while but it won’t get you to shore. I doubt many experts think our consumption rates are sustainable, green products or not.

The incrementalists are similar. They believe every little step like recycling, using rain barrels and driving a hybrid car like a Prius will eventually put us over the sustainability hump.

They perceive they’ve done their part and will tell you so- at least the Prius owners will.

Only good can come from recycling and rain barrel use but those are safe enterprises and don’t require much of us.

As for the hybrid Prius owners, they’re good too but I’d be more impressed if they told me that they’d gone from two cars to one. That would be something to crow about.

And why do hybrid owners not buy another one, as a recent survey showed, when it’s time? Was the first one about symbolism?

I hope not.We already have plenty of symbolism.

How do we get past Earth Day stagnation and complacency?

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