The Death of Earth Day

Let us now mourn the passing of Earth Day, on this its 40th birthday. The dear old girl had been sick for many years. I remember mocking the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990. I was living in Washington, DC at the time and a big rally / sales event was held on the national mall, hosted by Tom Cruise, star of the just-released “Days of Thunder,” a movie about stock car racing.

A few weeks earlier, the national mall was the setting for EarthTech, a trade fair of environmentally friendly technologies. There were booths for solar and wind power, but most of the promoters hawked nuclear power or plastic or incinerators. Like any trade fair, the only thing that mattered was how much vendors paid for their display areas. Whether or not the display was an unmitigated pack of lies didn’t even enter the conversation. Senator Al Gore was the congressional sponsor.

A bunch of us attended in white lab coats and stood in front of the worst liars in the fair to explain exactly how they were lying. You know, First Amendment stuff. But this is America, the real America, and the people paying the freight control the cops, so we were hauled away in handcuffs, but the tee vee cameras caught it all and we were on the six o’clock news. Like I said, real America.

That was years ago, Earth Day wasn’t even old enough to buy beer. Al Gore’s arc has since risen and fallen. He always talked a good game, but in those eight years when he was close to the seat of power, he never managed to put any of his ideas into practice.

(I type this to the accompaniment of the first roar of the power mowers of summer, wisps of blue smoke from oil burning, two-stroke engines wafting over the neighbors’ fences.)

The other guys, however, the lying polluters of EarthTech, no longer need to hang out on the national mall, where an environmental truth squad from Greenpeace can get their mitts on them. No, the pollution lobby has now set up shop in the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House.

Barack Obama calls for taxpayers to guarantee loans for a new generation of nuclear power plants, despite the fact that we have not – in 60 years – figured out what to do about the waste that will be toxic for the next 2,500 centuries and in denial of the fact that one quarter of our existing nuke plants are leaking radioactive tritium into the environment around them.

Mr. Obama also calls for opening millions of acres of the continental shelf to oil drilling, supposedly to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but I’ve yet to see a substantive proposal from his administration on conservation and efficiency, which could reduce that dependence more quickly, more cheaply and forever.

Oh, right, “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.” Remember that quote? It too has a birthday coming up. Nine years ago next week, then-Vice President Dick Cheney said it in a speech, in which he called for a new generation of nukes and opening the continental shelf to drilling. If Mr. Obama, running for the presidency said, “My vision for America’s energy future is essentially the same one Dick Cheney articulated in 2001,” would you have voted for him? Because that’s where we are today.

It occurs to me that, as an environmentalist, I’ve come to feel the same way about Earth Day as devout Christians feel about Christmas. Should I start a “Keep the Earth in Earth Day” campaign? Maybe.

Maybe not. Earth Day, like Christmas or any other commemorative day supposed to impart some sort of value, is meaningless in and of itself if we fail to adopt the designated value in our lives – and policies – throughout the year. And we haven’t.

© Mark Floegel, 2010

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