Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

I hate Earth Day

I'm not allowed to, of course; I cover energy and the environment for a public radio station. It violates the code. (Yes, conspiracy trolls, we've got a code, it's in our underground lair.) Nonetheless.


…with a white hot passion that burns like a thousand suns (though none of those suns have solar thermal or PV panels to soak up their energy, which seems unfortunate).

I didn't use to. I'm a good several years younger than Earth Day, but I grew up in Northern California's Bay Area, one of your early adopters. To talk about what I remember about it then is to fully embody every cliché you can think of for people in such places, so here goes, get your bingo cards out. We had petition gatherers outside the Co-op, the market my mom preferred over the big Safeway. (And we were mainstream – hell, my parents had a Suburban.) My brother and I fondly remember him getting indoctrinated in Montessori school. There's a hazy memory of Mr. Zucca the science teacher blowing up an earth-shaped balloon and releasing it, which we know makes no sense now.

My sister's a poet; it's National Poetry month. "I hate National Poetry Month because any holiday about something is confused about whether to celebrate it or create an obligation and because of that it doesn't seem like very much fun," she said to me on the phone a little while ago. "And it's an opportunity for junky publicity."

The first wave was the celebrities. I told my editor I categorically refuse to cover a James Cameron event today. ("Avatar" is coming out on DVD, right?) At least he can string a thought and a sentence together. He jumps over that bar; some can't. And I do understand some people actually know what they're talking about. But we don't receive the information, either because it's not delivered, or because we journalists fall down on the job. The public tends to get the thousand-watt smile, and little else. Or SeriousFace, which is a little like SexyFace but is equally all-purpose: it works for Haiti, Katrina, climate. It's perhaps a fair trade in its way: they get to burnish their image, we get the page views for mentioning…whoever.

The politicians, of course. We're no stranger to promises about the environment in California. Post-financial apocalypse, the environment is part of a kind of reverse-trickle down equation. Environment + economy = recovery! Jobs! And the streets were paved with gold.

And of course there are the product releases. In earlier years, I recall them coming from die-hards, smaller independents, true believers. Some of them have seemed like a good idea if perhaps not necessary to talk about on April 22 – garment bags, to use instead of plastic every time, over your dry cleaning. Others are just green in color or possibly that oatmealy color that now broadly signifies "natural." Natural, in these press releases, being synonymous with organic, interchangeable with environmental, the same as green, and sustainable, and my leastest favorite, eco. I will not be surprised when I see an eco-friendly car cover. Or an eco-handgun cozy. This is perhaps already happening in the petroleum industry somewhere.

Now it's the conglomerates. I was going to report today on Major League Baseball's sustainability efforts: on top of all this what-Frank-Stoltze-calls orneriness, I'm a Giants fan (back before the Jeffrey Leonard, Will Clark years, when it was really ugly: I'm talking Atlee Hammaker) and a perennial middle-of-the-pack participant in a daily-change fantasy baseball league with keepers. If you want to know how baseball cares about the earth, you'll have to stay tuned; I want to know what all 30 teams are doing, not just the ones offsetting their carbon that star in the MLB press release. (I'm looking at you, Phillies, and I'm impressed.)

NBC is going green – I don't know exactly what that means, but I see more of the color green on the teevee. Of course, in a similar strategy, NBC shows place products inside them with little explanation. At least 30 Rock has the good sense to make fun of it. Really, now, the earth is fully commodified. Earth Day turns it into a signifier, full of sound and fury, yielding to whim in the hands of its marketing god.

I've got a story on later today about environmental studies picking up at UCLA. Sarah Deringer is a clear-eyed young woman who has dedicated her college career and, she intends, her life to thinking about sustainability. I told her I hated Earth Day, and I asked what she thought. "My mom used to tell me that every day was Mother's Day," she said. "I don't understand why we have mother's day and I feel the same way about earth day."

I know it's an abstract thing to be a fan of, but I'm a fan of mindfulness, in the Socratic-Platonic-Aristotelian sense. Which is a close cousin to sustainability. Forty years ago, that word didn't exist in our polis, not in the way it does now; you can major in sustainability at Arizona State, and hundreds do, each year. Last week I went to Disney Studios to see Oceans, a visually stunning beautifully photographed film (narrated by Pierce Brosnan, natch) from Disneynature, part of the Disney conglomerate. One of the last things Pierce said to me in that darkened theater was: What exactly are the oceans? What exactly are we? Yeah, I thought. Okay. I'd like it if a lot of people thought like that. I'd like it if people thought ABOUT that. But does it have to be on Earth Day? If paying attention is a value, it's a constant one, not annual, for whatever it is you're paying attention to.

I don't know if I want to tell you that kids coloring pictures of climate change today is a bad idea, not yet. If you want to plant a garden, go for it. Hold a concert in Rio for all I care. You're cleaning up a beach? Sure, I'll do it with you. All I want to tell you is: I hate covering it.

And I hate Earth Day.