Earth Day – uh! What is it good for?

Of course, the next line of Edwin Starr’s iconic anti-war anthem is “Absolutely nothing.” If you take a look at the incoming press releases I’ve received for the past month or so, you might conclude that’s an appropriate judgment for the current manifestation of Earth Day: brands and companies have latched onto it as their opportunity to show their commitment to the environment. If that “commitment” doesn’t involve addressing a company’s main environmental impact, well, you know, look the other way, and take one of these reusable shopping bags with our logo on it.

OK, that’s cynical: I’m definitely not against brands trying to go green, or even against reusable shopping bags. Business needs to lighten its impact if we’re ever going to make a real difference. But I am bothered by the notion of Earth Day as an event for promoting shopping our way to sustainability, rather than making meaningful changes in the way we live, work, and interact with one another. The founders of the original Earth Day managed to contribute to the creation of the EPA, as well as the passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts; surely, we can do more that buy a few cheap CFLs 42 years later. We still need that spirit of activism that infused Gaylord Nelson, Denis Hayes, and others back in 1970.

Those opportunities are out there this weekend – you’ll just have to look beyond the “official” Earth Day celebrations in your city. The Earth Day Network is still pushing an action-based agenda with its Billion Acts of Green campaign. No doubt local organizations (or local chapters of national organizations) are hosting service projects near you. And good ol’ fashioned protest will no doubt be on display – the Occupy movement, for instance, has definitely embraced environmental issues as a part of their alternative narrative. Pick an activity with some substance, and show up – Earth Day means as much as we allow it to mean.

Got a great activity planned? Let us know how you’ll be celebrating Earth Day 2012.


Image credit: Bsivad via photopin cc