It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Earth Day began in the 1970s, the decade of hippies. The day was developed to celebrate Mother Nature — and in my mind, its founders dreamed it up while wearing tie-dye, flashing the peace sign and emitting guttural exclaims of “Yeah, mannnnn.”
In the ’70s, the developed world was just beginning to wake up to the knowledge that we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the world’s bounty indefinitely. We were starting to realize that resources like forests, fish and oil were finite and that the lifestyle of automation, convenience and ease that began in the 1950s was not entirely sustainable. From these newfound realizations came Earth Day, meant to demonstrate a commitment to honor, respect and protect the world we live in.
Earth Day every day
As it turns out, I was half right. One of the names frequently tossed around when it comes to the origins of Earth Day is Ira Einhorn. Some have called him a founder, while others have disputed that claim. I think we can all agree that while he was a total hippie, Einhorn engaged in some pretty unsavory behavior (but that’s a whole different article). Where there does seem to be widespread agreement is that Gaylord Nelson, a state senator, is credited with founding Earth Day (either single-handedly or with help, depending on your interpretation). Nelson conceptualized the idea of after witnessing the horrific effects of an oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif. The first Earth Day was held April 22, 1970, and today it is celebrated in more than 190 countries each year.
In the years since its incarnation, it sometimes feels as though Earth Day has come to resemble Valentine’s Day in a lackluster marriage. Corporations capitalize on the message and pay lip service to the cause and then come April 23, go right back to what they were doing before. I mean, sure, it’s better than nothing, but is it enough?
5 ways to ensure Earth Day is every day
Just like a healthy marriage, a healthy planet takes work. It takes time and effort and attention, not just on the one day designated for displaying it, but the other 364, too.
Here’s a quick list of ways to ensure that this year, Earth Day doesn’t become a one-off.
1. Make it a beginning instead of a celebration
Calling something a celebration often indicates a sense of success and achievement — we’ve done it! Mission accomplished! But anyone familiar with environmental issues knows that we are far, far from reaching the point where we can declare climate change solved or pollution stopped. Instead, environmentalism needs to be an ever-evolving process, and what better time to begin?
This April 22, create a beginning. Whether it’s in your home or in your office, set a meeting, brainstorm initiatives and create positive environmental change that will last all year-round.
2. Make resolutions
Treat April 22 as though it was Jan. 1, and make some Earth Day resolutions. Instead of pledging to lose 10 pounds, pledge to reduce your garbage by 25 percent; instead of vowing to quit smoking, promise to stop buying plastic. Set simple, concise, measurable goals and then get to work making them a reality. Social media can be a great tool in tracking your progress. Follow other like-minded enviro types and push yourself to consistently do better.
3. Team up
Creating change can be tough at the best of times and near impossible if you live or work with others who aren’t on the same page as you are. Earth Day is the perfect time to capitalize on good intentions and rally the troops to commit to the cause. Pledge to create change together, ask for support on environmental initiatives, and ask for their input and ideas as well. Basically, listen to the immortal words of Vanilla Ice: “Stop. Collaborate and listen.”
4. Take action
I am an enthusiastic proponent of slow, sustainable change. I believe that creating small incremental shifts is the most likely way to ensure success in most self-improvement endeavors — including those that prioritize green measures. But (you knew that was coming) sometimes you need a good shake-up. Sometimes you need to donate or go cold turkey, sometimes you need to replace all the light bulbs in your house in one fell swoop, sometimes you need to actually recycle all the electronics sitting in your garage waiting to be recycled. In short, this Earth Day, we need action. Change your life, change the way you live. Write to your local politician and make your voice heard. Put your money where your mouth is and make Earth Day count.
5. Keep it going
When you wake up on April, imagine you’re in that fabulous Bill Murray movie but instead of Groundhog Day, it’s Earth Day. Each day, wake up with the same earth-saving, climate-protecting, carbon-reducing goals in mind, and find a way to do better, do more, do different.
Earth Day’s little cousin, Earth Hour, was started in Sydney, Australia, in 2007 and now includes more than 7,000 cities and towns participating each year across the world. Sydney celebrated this year as they always do, by turning off or dimming lights for one hour on the evening of March 19. From the 27th of May to the 18th of June, however, Sydney will host Vivid, a festival of lights where the entire city is lit up with large-scale illuminations, laser light shows and 3D-mapped projections.
Anyone else see a problem here?
Earth Day can’t be just one day. It’s not just that it’s not enough — which it isn’t — it’s that marking this solitary day allows us to become complacent and self-congratulatory. It allows us to check off the box marked “care about the earth” and move on to the next one on the list, feeling proud of ourselves.
We live on this earth 365 days a year. It’s the only home we’ve got, and we need to spend a heck of a lot more time appreciating it.
Feature image credit: kabby / Shutterstock