Corporate Takeover of Earth Day Underway


Three years ago, BP kicked off Earth Day with an oil spill of epic proportions that flowed for three months. It was a signal, perhaps, of the failure of decades of preceding Earth Days to save the planet from this sort of ruination.

This year, it’s time to acknowledge the cold and unappealing truth: Earth Day’s poignancy and relevance has faded. That there should be an appointed day when we humans should all give a hoot about the planet appeals to the lowest common denominator and opens the door to all manner of marketing gimmickry and greenback-seeking hoi polloi.

In an era when the “Lorax” movie is cross-promoted with an SUV, plastic bottles are touted as green and the inventor of plastic cups stuffed into Styrofoam cups sponsors April cleanups, the corporate takeover of Earth Day is inevitable.

When it was first observed in San Francisco and other cities in 1970, Earth Day was a useful tool for raising awareness about the plight of the planet. But today, it seems very much a lesson of one-and-done, a wink and a nod to the dearness of our planet. A day for parades, cleanups, festivals and kids’ activities. And then?

This week, plan to be inundated with invitations to volunteer at cleanups around the Ocean State. These efforts are well intentioned and result in many, many thousands of pounds of trash removed from beaches, parks and neighborhoods by hardworking people.

ecoRI News participated in several of these cleanups last year and even sponsored one of our own. We diligently combed through neighborhood blocks and beaches, picking up the fragments of our throwaway culture —cigarette butts, straws, plastic bottles, Styrofoam cups and all manner of other litter.

But a year has passed, and those neighborhoods and beaches we and many other Rhode Islanders helped clean are trashed once again and in need of cleaning. And so more volunteer crews will be enlisted this year to clean up the same mess. And then?

It takes so much more than just a day to tend to and care for our planet. We’re talking behavioral shifts that must be taught in schools and religious institutions; awareness that resources are finite; appreciation that our existence on this earth is tenuous, at best, and inextricably linked to the health of our waters, soil and air.

And so, it is time for us to evolve beyond Earth Day and instead commit to the dowdier alternative: making small but important gestures every single day to be good stewards of the planet we call home.

The rules are simple and unsexy, and you don’t get a free reusable tote bag with purchase: Buy less stuff, reuse, repair what you already own, recycle and compost food scraps.

Joanna Detz is the executive director of ecoRI News.