If you really want to help the Earth on Earth Day, you won’t buy any Earth Day memorabilia.

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.
14 comments on “If you really want to help the Earth on Earth Day, you won’t buy any Earth Day memorabilia.
  1. Maryanne Zlotnick says:

    Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world. Great Post!

  2. Kasyna Gry says:

    Outstanding piece, thanks for sharing!

  3. Adam Gatti says:

    If you can’t be good, be careful

  4. Victor Heidrick says:

    It sounds like you’re creating problems yourself by trying to solve this issue instead of looking at why their is a problem in the first place

  5. Goodson says:

    A thoughtful insight and ideas I will use on my website. You’ve obviously spent some time on this. Congratulations!

  6. Lera says:

    You made some fantastic points there. I researched this topic and found out that a good number of people will agree with your site. My best regards, Lera.

  7. Kasyno Gry says:

    You certainly deserve a round of applause for your post and more specifically, your blog in general. Very high quality material!

  8. sia says:

    Unique, relevant content is few and far between on the internet but luckily I dont feel that way about this blog. I am usually the lurking non posting type but you provide great content and thats all i desire from my internet experience. This may sound over the top but it was a great post. Thanks.

  9. Kasyna Gry says:

    I suppose it depends on how you look at it. There’s usually another way.

  10. Player says:

    I agree, thanks for posting this..

  11. Gry says:

    Thank you for another fantastic posting. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of writing? I have a speech next week, and I was looking for more info 😉

  12. bluzki says:

    I suppose it depends on how you look at it. There’s usually another way.

  13. Awesome stuff. Nice to read some well written articles. A long way between them.

  14. paul sheldon says:

    I totally agree with the message here, so I hope you won’t consider it nit picking if I mention some purchases I have found useful re your listing. Considering my limited memory and knowledge, I find it helpful to buy guidebooks when I travel. That probably a no brainer, but what about another item, “…a tee-shirt or a mug, to tell the world what we believe.” As one who considers principles and beliefs to be a serious topic for discussion, I have sparked some great discussions with these items. Of course, I’m not speaking of “I love NY” mugs, but tee-shirts that say “Don’t pay war taxes” “LOVE your enemies, no exceptions” “Mid-Atlantic Anarchy Gathering” and so on. I’d make these exceptions for education, which has its costs and does consume some resources (although a modern college education is incredibly wasteful of resources).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


3 × 4 =