The headline in today’s article on the first page of the business section of The New York Times says it all, “On 40th Anniversary, Earth Day Is Big Business.”
The article, by Leslie Kaufman, does a good job of showing how Earth Day has become a platform for businesses to sell “a variety of goods and services, like office products, Greek yogurt and eco-dentistry.” The article goes on to give more examples of Earth Day products, including a tour of green spots by the Gray Line bus tour company and a plush toy made of soy fibers at F.A.O. Schwartz. Meanwhile other companies are wrapping themselves in the Earth Day banner, such as Pepsi which is using the day to introduce kiosks for returning beverage containers. To her credit, Kaufman points out that “a fair portion of the more than 200 billion beverage containers produced in the United States each year are filled with Pepsi products.”
I wonder if Hallmark has come out with Earth Day cards.
All sarcasm aside, it does seem as if to a great degree Earth Day has become like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, Administrative Assistant’s Day and most other U.S. holidays—an excuse to buy things. In the days when I was a student radical, we called it co-optation by the establishment.
This emerging approach to Earth Day reflects the principle that is probably the most important core belief of our ideology: that the way to express any emotion or belief is to buy something:
- We buy something to show our mothers we love them.
- We buy something to celebrate what are supposed to be religious holidays.
- We buy something to remind us we have been someplace on vacation (as if our memories, a note in a journal or a used ticket were not enough).
- We buy something to inform those close to us of the vacation we just took.
- We buy something, like a tee-shirt or a mug, to tell the world what we believe.
- We even buy something when making many contributions, for example when we contribute to a public radio station during a pledge drive or attend a charity ball.
Now it takes materials and energy to make these things, and even more energy to deliver them. The result, besides that nice warm feeling that dedicated consumers get when engaged in the commercial transaction, is a whole lot more carbon spewed into the environment, a whole lot more use of nonrenewable resources and eventually a whole lot of junk in landfills.
This commercialization of all sentiment and expression is the major cause of the waste that is choking the planet and engendering rapid change in weather patterns. Some would say that this potlatch of consumption is what drives our economy but I would answer that with an adequate social services net to catch the victims of economic transformation (much like we had in the 50s, 60s and 70s), we could readily make the transition to a less wasteful society.
I want to close by offering some advice to my readers who want to do something to celebrate Earth Day:
- Don’t buy anything you don’t need just to have a commemorative of the celebration.
- Instead of buying something for which the proceeds or part of the proceeds go to an environmental or any other cause, just give the money to the organization and don’t take the gift.
- In the future, before buying something that has green aspects, e.g., made of recyclable materials, ask yourself if you really need it.
- Look for one or two things you can do to help the environment such as taking public transportation, bringing reusable cloth bags to carry home purchases, never using the air conditioner or shutting off lights when you leave the room.