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Is Earth Day a Nice Thing?

Today’s guest post is by the Chair of the Global Climate Change Task Force, Shirley Fiske.

A nice thing. Except for the reality.

Earth Day is a nice thing, today celebrated in the District at Union Station with a farmers market, giveaways, exhibits fromNASA, and a recycling drive, all nice things.  Seems like a pale comparison of the Earth Days of earlier years, when the entire Mall was dedicated to booths, displays and lots of gatherings.  I supposed it’s not unexpected given the maturation of the event and the politicization of the environment and polarization politically that has developed in the intervening years. 

Earth Days are a secular celebration, birthed at a time when people felt more spiritually about oneness with Mother Earth. As a public celebration, it seems to have lost steam…perhaps the complexity of American celebrating, and lack of support of the private sector in making our American personal and family celebrations viable as Big Bang events.  Or perhaps it’s because the American public has learned through formal and informal education how to relate to the earth better, moving the threshold for Earth Day to a higher level of event-making. 

Earth Day has adopted climate change as their focus, and that’s also a nice thing. There’s a “spot on” quote from a spokesman that “climate change has real consequences for real people as well as places that we love and animals.” This is something that the Task Force has written about and that most anthropologists studying climate change know already, and now it seems to be appropriated by Earth Day.

However, the part of the message that gets left out is one that anthropologists are all too familiar with.  Yes, climate change is happening now to real people, but it is hitting the poorest with the least resources the hardest, forcing long-time residents on the coasts in the Pacific NW and Alaska to relocate or lose their resources.  Compare the two coastal scenarios:  (1) Alaskan Natives are fighting tooth and nail to find any scrap of federal resources (or any resources) to help them relocate from Shismareff (as Elizabeth Marino reminds us); and farther south, the Quinault are losing glacial melt from glaciers that feed their rivers and stream, and host the return of the salmon each year. They will lose those salmon as the runs continue to dwindle under climate change projections.  Compare this to (2) the unnerving persistence of politically-entrenched legislation that buffers well-heeled residents and homeowners of beachfront property in the Outer Banks, the mid-Atlantic’s storm-prone and beautiful barrier islands.  They enjoy the unique historical and political artifact of legislation that provides publicly supported coastal flood insurance, a dinosaur from the pre-climate change era, perhaps the only public insurance targeted to such a vulnerable geographic area.   Under conditions of climate change, where are coastlines will be increasingly battered by storms and rising tides, how come entire regions get support while others don’t?  where’s the environmental and social justice?  Too cynical or an uncomfortable reality?

2 Responses

  1. celebration of earth day is as same as birthday of an individual . this act shows itself that man is not aware for his environment when he could sustain and one can interpret it as busy schedule of an individual in the era of globalization where he has no time time other than his regular survival . he never correlates his survival with survival of earth which is creating problem of hard survival of the earth . so celebration of earth day is good but the best task is to think about your earth every day

  2. BUT, there are a lot of people who work within environmental sustainability who are aware of the “real people” being directly effected. That’s part of the reason there are campaigns to think locally and become global advocates. As an anthropologist who has worked at multiple sustainability offices I can say that it isn’t just the anthros who are trying to change the concept of Earth Day from one day a year into everyday habits.

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