Today marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. While I was born after the holiday’s first decade, I have very fond memories of the second and third decades. I remember taking the day off to go hiking with my family in the Rocky Mountains or around our local reservoir, creating and revamping our compost pile, and discussing ways to treat Mother Earth better by using less water and behaving as a more responsible family.
In the past decade, however, I’ve noticed they way people “observe” Earth Day has changed. Today one of the most popular calls to action is to buy something green – to save the earth via consumerism. For example, in this morning’s Metro, three full pages of the paper’s 26 (including the sports, letters to the editor and op-eds, general and local news, travel, celebrity gossip and other regular sections, not to mention the pages of ads…) are devoted to “Cute and Useful Green Gadgets,” “Green iPhone Apps,” “Gadgets That Will Make Nice with Mother Earth” and green shopping and dining opportunities.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an extreme conservationist or anyone’s environmentalist preacher. I turn off lights in my home, shut down power strips for our TVs, recycle plastic, glass and paper, and donate clothing and home goods for reuse. I don’t do anything extraordinary, but I do applaud any effort taken to honor the planet. And I am pleased that media outlets are endorsing green products.
My worry is about the changing focus and reputation, and therefore impact, of capitalism on Earth Day. Are we honoring our planet and working to ensure a better future by buying the latest webcam made from cotton, cardboard and sand? Or using paraben-free massage oil? Every little action helps, but the fact is, we cannot simply purchase our way out of climate change. So if you choose to celebrate Earth Day by purchasing the latest solar-powered watch, I applaud you… but I also hope you remember to do all the little things that make a big difference on a daily basis.