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Earth Day Won't Save Our Planet A wire tray of green and blue Earth Day cookies with little red hearts

Earth Day Won’t Save Our Planet

Introduction

Tomorrow is a very special Earth Day. It’s the 50th anniversary of the holiday since it began in 1970 in the United States. Every year since, April 22nd has been a national then international holiday to raise awareness about our deteriorating environment and encourage citizens to protect it.

History of Earth Day

Earth Day was founded by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson who, spurred by a 1969 oil spill in California, sought to bring environmental protection to the national stage through a “national teach-in on the environment“. His target audience was college students, many of whom were participants of anti-war protests. Because of this, he chose April 22nd for the date so it landed between Spring Break and final exams.

The nation was already growing more and more in favor of environmental protection thanks to Rachel Carson’s powerful book Silent Spring which was published in 1962. Silent Spring argued that pesticides were harmful to non-target animals and the environment, that the manufacturers made false claims of safety, and that the government readily accepted those claims without scrutiny.

On April 22, 1970, a whopping ten percent of the country’s population took part in protests from coast to coast. Earth Day had brought together people from different political and socio-economic backgrounds for a singular cause. By the end of that year, Congress passed the Clean Air Act and the government established the Environmental Protection Agency.

Twenty years later, Earth Day went global. Over 200 million people from 141 countries participated in their own calls for environmental protection. For Earth Day 2000, 184 countries were participating. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and over 190 countries around the globe will be celebrating.

Earth Day Won’t Save Our Planet

While Earth Day started a global movement that pushed environmental issues to the forefront of politics, one day a year is not enough. Earth Day is often celebrated through litter cleanups, planting trees, and protests. These are well and good, but in my opinion, it has led to a superficiality and blinds us to the harsh reality of our situation.

One day of action will not remedy a year’s worth of environmental damage. A single action will not make a habit that sticks. By creating an event rather than a lifestyle movement, Earth Day has become contorted by corporations to make an extra buck. “Going green” for a day convinces ourselves we are better stewards of the planet than we are.

Our planet will not survive if we only fight hard to save it one day of the year. We must do more and do it consistently!

My Realization

The idea that Earth Day is not enough came to me two years ago when I had been planning on signing up for a volunteer event. Two days after Earth Day, I realized not only had I not signed up, but I didn’t do anything special for Earth Day at all. At first I shrugged and thought, “There’s always next year…” But then I realized what a bad thought that was.

If we treat Earth Day like the one day a year to care about the environment, we’ll only have another decade before we see the disastrous effects of climate change. This prediction is based on the IPCC’s 2018 report providing a 12 year deadline for unprecedented changes to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

I started thinking to myself, why does April 22nd have to be the one day a year I specifically do something impactful? What about the other 364 days in the year? My activism should not be dependent on the calendar, nor should it be limited in frequency.

I then had “the litter realization.” I had planned on signing up for a litter cleanup. But does that cleanup mean all that much if the litter gets replaced within a week or two? We’re working from the wrong end of the problem. We need to work on preventing environmental impacts instead of just focusing on cleaning up the mess.

Greenwashing

You may have heard about greenwashing when it comes to products in the store. The terms “eco-friendly” and green packaging convince us the product inside is good for our environment. This is not necessarily the case though because there is no regulation on words like “eco-friendly” or “green” ensuring a product is a good as it’s presented.

But today I’m talking about greenwashing companies and even ourselves.

Corporate Greenwashing Examples

Companies have turned Earth Day into a sales event and advertising campaign to sell more products that may not even be good for the environment. Here’s a brief list of examples I discovered.

Coca-Cola Case Study

Clearly companies are exploiting an environmentalist cause for their own profits. For example, Coca-Cola donated syrup drums for use as rain barrels for Earth Day in 2012. This post references a Dasani ad campaign pushing bottled water sales to celebrate Earth Day.

While this is great, it blocks out the fact that Coca-Cola is the world’s biggest plastic polluter.

For the sake of journalism, I will note that Coca-Cola has started the World Without Waste initiative promising to make 100% recyclable packaging by 2025 and use at least 50% recycled materials in packaging by 2030. They also plan to recycle one bottle or can for every one they sell by 2030.

Coca-Cola is pushing PET bottle-to-bottle recycling as a “circular solution” to the plastic problem. This is good, but recycling is not the answer. According to this Huffington Post article, virgin (new) plastics are often infused with the recycled plastics to increase durability. Even so, the plastic will eventually degrade so much that it is no longer recyclable. This is not a “circular solution.”

Despite these sustainability initiatives, this article published just last week shows Coca-Cola is still the largest plastic polluter. By far.

Greenwashing Ourselves

Companies aren’t the only ones to blame for using Earth Day as a pat on the back. Some of us may celebrate the day and do some good things, but the day after is business as usual. One day isn’t enough to make a real change. It takes weeks to form a habit that sticks. We can’t rely on a single day or a single action to change our lifestyles permanently.

In addition to this, our green actions can make us forget that so many people just plain do not care. There are still climate change deniers, profiteers, and uninformed or misinformed people all around us. Tomorrow will be just another Wednesday for them. For us, the holiday is important, but we can’t pretend like everyone is as eco-conscious as we are.

Every Day Must Be Earth Day

We need to treat every day as Earth Day. Caring for the environment must become second nature to us, all of us, for our planet to survive. Educate yourself and others, set goals to create habits, and make it a point to do something sustainable every day.

It doesn’t need to be something big. For example, have a PB&J instead of a ham sandwich for lunch. Look for clothing secondhand first. Sort through your recycling. Pick up a piece of litter on your walk.

The most important thing we can do is spread the word. Join an environmentalist group. Attend a climate strike. Write your politicians. Educate your friends and family about climate change and the low impact movement.

Due to the circumstances, celebrate Earth Day 2020 virtually with Earth Day Network’s 24 Hours of Action. There are digital events planned around the globe.

Conclusion

The point is one single Earth Day isn’t enough. It is an important step, but it cannot be treated as a solution or a pat on the back or a sales event. We cannot set aside just one day of the year as “the day I do something good for the planet.” We must change our lifestyles, make our voices be heard every day of the year, and hold companies accountable by not taking their sustainability plans at face value.

Check out my post on What More Can You Do For Our Future? or the resources below for more information on getting involved.

Resources

Environmentalist Groups

Who Are My Elected Officials?

Earth Day Won't Save Our Planet A wire tray of green and blue Earth Day cookies with little red hearts
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What More Can You Do For Our Future climate activists holding cardboard signs at a climate strike to demand political action

What More Can You Do For Our Future?

Introduction

The zero waste and low impact movements center mainly on individual consumer actions that lead to a more natural lifestyle and a more sustainable future. Although these actions do help the planet, they alone are not enough to stop climate change, clean up our environment, and prevent future destruction.

Just 100 companies are responsible for over 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. All of the top 100 companies are energy companies (coal, fossil fuels, etc.), but this does not mean product companies are not also pumping toxins into our environment.

Pure Earth compiled a list of the 10 Most Polluting Industries. They list product companies at #9, chemical companies at #8, and tanneries (leather processing) at #4. These companies use many toxic and even carcinogenic chemicals during production which can harm workers and poison the surrounding environment due to the company’s irresponsibility with their waste.

As far as litter is concerned, Greenpeace sponsored a worldwide litter audit and called out the top 10 companies whose litter they picked up. Coca Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle are the top 3. Greenpeace also started the #IsThisYours hashtag trend where you post photos of litter and tag the company it belongs to in an effort to hold them accountable for their packaging and material choices.

This post focuses on advocacy and activism which can help address our environmental crisis on a larger scale than individual actions. By advocating for a sustainable future, you can help create major change.

So what can you do?

Online Advocacy

Spreading the word and promoting change in your town, state, or country is an important first step in advocacy. With the internet and social media, you can reach a huge audience with a few clicks. Social media has evolved into an invaluable tool for dissemination of news and knowledge that can generate change. Share important environmental news articles, promote zero waste events in your area, and connect with organizations and companies (both those who are making steps toward sustainability and those who you’ll have to provide a little push in the right direction).

You can also use social media to create an online group that works to influence change. Share your knowledge with like-minded people from around the globe. Learn how others organized a trash cleanup or zero waste event, or brainstorm new ideas for solving today’s problems. These groups can inspire and motivate yourself and others to become climate action leaders.

Volunteering

Get out from behind the computer screen and volunteer as a climate change, environmental, or social justice advocate. Check out the websites of these organizations to get involved and/or find chapters in your area:

You can also look for local organizations that promote environmentalism, animal rights, social justice, and more. Volunteer at a town litter cleanup or with your Parks and Recreation Department. Search online or your community for opportunities.

Specifically in Massachusetts, here is a quick list of environmental advocacy groups.

Industry Activism

Industry and big corporations are the main cause of climate change, deforestation, and pollution. For decades they have tried to push responsibility onto the consumer as if it’s our fault they sell items packaged in unrecyclable trash and contract with factories with unethical labor practices. So what can you do to stop them?

Boycott

First off, you can boycott the company. Refuse to buy items they sell and let them know what you are doing and why. This can be through social media or writing a letter to the company. 

Here’s a sample letter for Snapple’s change to plastic bottles:

Dear Snapple,

I used to love buying Snapple. Raspberry tea was my favorite flavor. I loved that you bottled your drinks in glass, but now that you have switched to plastic, I have decided to no longer purchase them and am encouraging others to join me.

Glass is a reusable material that is infinitely recyclable without a loss in quality. Plastic can only be downcycled once or twice before it must go to landfill. Plastics do not fully break down even after thousands of years. In addition, plastics are made from fossil fuels and their production releases toxins into the environment.

By switching to plastic bottles, you are taking a step back from sustainability during the most crucial years of human history. I am disheartened that your company has chosen convenience over the more sustainable option and the future of our planet.

So I will be switching to your competitor Nantucket Nectars, who still bottle their teas in glass.

Your former customer,

NAME

When you go the boycott route, be sure to do some research. Large companies may own a whole list of other brands. Nestle for instance owns many other companies like DiGiorno pizzas, Purina pet foods, and Gerber infant foods.

Contact Companies About Practices

If you don’t want to boycott a company, you can write companies about their practices. For smaller businesses, talk to a manager or owner in person. First, get their attention and let them know you are a frequent customer and enjoy their product or service. Don’t just complain about the problem; offer solutions AND show how those solutions make sense business-wise (i.e. will save money). Inform them about the consequences of their actions like pollution and harming wildlife. You can also explain why environmentalism is important to you and why a sustainable future should be important to them.

Here’s another sample letter for a restaurant using disposable eating ware:

Dear RESTAURANT,

I have been a customer at RESTAURANT for X years now, and I love getting your ITEM ON MENU. It’s so delicious! However, it bothers me that I have to use disposable cutlery and paper plates when I come to eat.

I care a lot about our environment, and disposables are a huge problem. They cannot be recycled, and many times they end up not even making it to landfill. Instead they get littered throughout the environment or make their way out to the ocean. Plastics never fully decompose and pose a huge problem for wildlife because the tiny pieces get mistaken for food.

I suggest you make the switch to reusable plates and cutlery. Although this has a larger upfront cost than disposables, over time there will be a big cost savings. Switching to reusables will also improve customer experience and elevate the first impressions people make of your restaurant.

I urge you to make sustainability an important part of your business model. Climate change affects all of us, and we should all do our part to help prevent it.

Your customer,

NAME

Vote With Your Wallet

Voting with your wallet is also a big way you can influence change in a company. Here are some ideas:

  • Shop local
  • Shop secondhand
  • Buy organic
  • Avoid palm oil or buy items with certified sustainable palm oil
  • Buy items with less packaging
  • Support companies with a strong environmental vision
  • Support companies who are transparent about their practices
  • Donate to non-profit organizations and charities

Political Action

Next, call and/or write your government officials and let them know environmentalism is important to you. Voice your support or disapproval of current legislation and bills. Your elected officials work for you so it your duty to make your voice heard. It only takes a few minutes of your time. If you’re in the US, find out who represents you and how to contact them using the links on this website.

Voting in all elections, especially local elections, is an important responsibility as a citizen and a great way to influence change. In local elections, voting for activist candidates and for or against certain ballot measures can influence change on a smaller scale. But that change still affects your life and the lives of thousands in your area.

Join a climate strike to show your government you demand climate action now and support a sustainable future for yourself and your children. Paint up a sign and get out there with a group of friends. Our right to assembly is crucial in voicing our disappointment with the ways we are being governed. Actions speak louder than words, and a large crowd speaks louder than individuals.

If you’re feeling ambitious, run for office! There’s no better way to make your voice heard than being the one making decisions.

Local Groups

Lastly you can join or create a zero waste or environmentalist community group in your area. Not only will you get the opportunity to gain and share knowledge and experiences, but you will also become more involved in your community. You can plan and participate in various events and have your message heard by a wider audience than if you were just working alone.

Get some friends and neighbors together or start a local Facebook page. Ask to put up a flyer in your local natural foods store or zero waste shop to advertise. Put together an event to host at your local library or community center to recruit some new members and share your knowledge.

Conclusion

Individual lifestyle changes are important and DO help our planet. Every contribution to a more sustainable future IS worth it. But unless businesses feel pressure from sinking profits, new legislation, and protests, they will not change.

What ways have you gotten involved to raise awareness your community or online? What organizations are you a part of?

What More Can You Do For Our Future climate activists holding cardboard signs at a climate strike to demand political action
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