Make Earth Day Great Again

Padma Lakshmi at Earth Day event

Television host Padma Lakshmi poses for a selfie with a fan on April 19, 2015 at an Earth Day event sponsored by MorningStar Farms, a division of the Kellogg Company.
Photo: Image of John Minchillo/AP for MorningStar Farms (AP)

I know that Earth Day is April 22 because the company won’t stop emailing me about it. What started as a call to action for environmental protection is now just a marketing opportunity.

My inbox has been slammed with brands and PR agencies sending messages like “COMPANY X THAT’S LOOKING FOR EVERY OTHER DAY OF THE YEAR DOING A WASTE CLEAN UP ON EARTH DAY.” Companies that have contributed to the climate crisis post cliche social media posts about loving nature. Consumers get an eco-friendly message about what products they can buy to be “waste-free”.

Perhaps, to some degree, it was driven by good intentions. But this marketing provides little value, and can even make things worse. Framing the climate crisis around big companies and products for people with lots of disposable income leaves little room to talk about the communities that have contributed at least for trouble, but suffer most because of that.

It’s not always like this. The first Earth Day was held in 1970, when Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson coordinated the national day for educate the public on pressing environmental issues. That April, more than 20 million people participate in demonstrations, rallies, and teaching across the US, Americans are horrified by the great California previous year’s oil spill, and people are starting to question how human activities affect the planet. That era gave us the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and important laws like Clean Water Law and the Clean Air Act.

But over time, the holiday shifted away from protest and regulatory action, and began to serve whites, middle class sensibility. Now most major environmental justice organizations are by well-fed bureaucrats, not community organizers. It’s perfectly acceptable for large companies to “join the conversation”, despite the fact that they keep pumping greenhouse astronomy level gas emissions. Meanwhile, communities of color, such as the Parish in “Cancer Gang “Louisiana”, had to face cancer rates 50 times higher than the national average, thanks to fossil fuel companies and chemical plants near their homes. Nature-loving tweets and ads reminding viewers to bike instead of driving won’t fix it.

Isaias Hernandez is a environmental justice content creator who grew up in Los Angeles. His Earth Day education often comes from school presentations. But one year, an environmental organization went to his school and asked students to enter their zip code into an online calculator outlining environmental justice issues in their community. Hernandez began to understand that climate and environment played a bigger role in his life and well-being than he thought.

“[My neighborhood] got bad water and bad air… [and there were] toxic industry near my house,” he told Earther. “I started making those interconnects. It’s not that my parents didn’t work hard to make a living, it’s the fact that the system was designed to historically not invest in people of color.”

Hernandez grew up in one of the many communities around the US that often lag behind in delivering the Earth Day message. They understand how years of greenwashed messages left areas like the one he grew up burdened with the task of advocating for themselves, without the support that went into the whitewashed environmental movement and corporate marketing. So Hernandez wants the future of Earth Day to steer clear of big corporations and focus on grassroots efforts and policies that tackle intertwined issues like poverty and pollution.

Catherine Coleman Flowers, an environmental justice activist whose work focuses on the deprivation of adequate sewage system in rural areas, want the people who struggle the most to be at the forefront of holiday messaging. “We need to tell the stories of people living with the removal of mountain peaks and their remains; Gang Cancer and polluting plants; water scarcity in western society; wildfires in Texas, Arizona and California; sea ​​level rise in Florida; melting ice sheet in Alaska,” he said in an email to Earther. “Earth Day should be a religious holiday exemplified by conscious efforts to eliminate carbon. It has to be at the forefront of every celebration.”

Here at Gizmodo, we have recommends that “Time to Kill Earth Day.” The vacations can and should be more than a quick social media nod to care for nature, offered just because of it trendy to care for the environment. If future celebrations can’t put that those who struggle the most in the center of actionwe don’t want it.


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