Earth Day was introduced in 1970 by peace activist John McConnell, the year after I was born. It was celebrated at universities and communities across the United States and now this day of support and advocacy for the environment is observed in nearly 200 countries.
Today I’m reminded of an article by Ginger Strand I read years ago in Orion Magazine. I reread it every year on Earth Day. The Crying Indian is a brilliant and thought-provoking account of the fraudulency of big business and industry in the name of environmentalism. The article examines the history of the beverage industry and how disposables and the rhetoric of planned obsolescence have become the norm.
And we are seeing the devastation today. Our world oceans and waterways are polluted with plastic bottles, bags, and other types of plastic waste. But it’s not just oceans that are suffering; marine wildlife is too and as fish ingest plastic debris made from toxic chemicals they are passing it along to our food chain. The politics of hydration have made refillables nearly a thing of the past.
Today and over the weekend many of us will be heading outdoors to lend a hand for Mother Earth—and rightfully so, it’s needed. My ask of you before you step outside is to take 20 minutes and read Strand’s article. It will be well worth your time. And then share it with friends and family.
While we all certainly need to take responsibility for our environmental woes, Strand makes a solid case the burden is not all ours. The purveyors of product and industry trained us to be wasteful. Her article takes me back to my days as an undergrad when I was introduced to the book, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture, by my scholarly hero, Stuart Ewen. It was Ewen who set me off on an a life-long quest to fight corporate greed.
So, where am I going with all of this? Good question. As Strand suggests industry has done a remarkable job of steering the conversation to the “consequences of our actions” rather than on the system. I’m not suggesting we pass the blame to industry but rather we reject our own complacency and take on issues we’re passionate about and educate others—I believe small acts can make a difference—we see evidence of this every day. The system is broken but not insurmountable.
I will continue to be resolute in my actions to create a more just and sustainable world. If you see me running, there’s a good chance I’ll be picking up trash on our trails and wildplaces. I will continue to ween myself off plastics and be vigilant about recycling. Most of all, I will strive to make the world better than when I entered it the year after Earth Day was introduced.
I encourage you to read Strand’s article and then spend a few minutes reflecting on how you want to leave your mark—this is the best thing you can do for the Earth today.