EARTH DAY-FIFTY YEARS LATER
I had the honor to organize the first Earth Day as a student at the College of William and Mary. Twenty years later again I had the honor to organize the 20th anniversary of Earth Day at Golden Gate Law School. Over the past fifty years the enthusiasm, the hope and the belief the environment is worth saving has diminished similarly as the 29% decline of birds in Canada and the United States. The voices of protest are quelled and the forests are quieter.
The April 21, 2020 article in the New York Times asks “why aren’t we more excited about Earth Day .” The article further surmised possibly it is the dominance of the white, middle-class, mostly male leadership. I do not believe that is the real problem. Our obscene political leadership with their huge inflated egos and who are far too self-absorbed, tribalized, privileged and wealthy to act responsibly is one major reason for our failures. The apathy of the young on college campuses is of further concern. Without the vigorous voice of the young people in this country very little change can be accomplished- remember the Vietnam War, the civil rights moment, and Earth Day of 1970. We need more voices from the likes of Greta Thunberg and the stoning of those leaders who demean her via tweeter or other means. Thunberg’s voice should not be relegated to the cutting floor of news rooms while the media hovers over every little tweet of Donald Trump. Yes, the likes CNN, Fox News and MSNBC are leading contributors to the destruction of the environment as evidenced by their coverage priorities.
But why is there such apathy throughout our population? It seems over past fifty years our outrage and our concerns have turned inward as we peer more and more into our phones. Movements such as the “Me Too”, “Black Lives Matter”, and the sexual and transgender movements dominate our discourse about equality and fairness. What all those movements have in common is an over wrought concentration on our personal identity with an inward selfabsorbed focus. Matters which, while important, prevents us from looking outward to touch and feel the natural wonders of the environment and from being enraged by our brutality to the environment. The ability to care for a cause greater than our perceived identities or the self-perceived injustices to our egos is eroded by the constant internet chatter.
I surmise the start of all of this was the onset of the digital age. There are no longer the large format Sierra Books, the photographers like Galen Rowell or Ansel Adams and the crusaders like David Brower whose messages were delivered pre digital age and inspired dreams and hope of preserving our natural world. The digital age has severed the actual connection between us and the environment. The immediate access to the digital world has proven to be effective in delivering radical cultural views and pornography.
We allowed ourselves and any effective concern for the environment to be irrelevant when we accepted our role and identity as consumers. Our role as responsible stewards for the environment, if in fact that role ever existed, was extinguished when we allowed our purpose in life to be that of consumers which only hasted the destruction of the natural world. The fight is difficult during the best of times. The failure of the more affluent to fight is a moral failure which will bring forth a strong retribution.
The enthusiasm and hope for the preservation of the natural world has diminished. There will be some small victories. Some of us will have to hold on to our images of the natural beauty of the world to maintain a smile on our faces. Those who never experienced the past abundance of wildlife and the open spaces now paved over by shopping malls will have no regret, because they unfortunately never experienced the beauty and therefore are not aware of the loss. The laws of Darwin lead to inevitable change, I believe it will lead to a more sterile and diseased ridden world.