Apr 22, 2022

Earth Day: Frisbees, Birkenstocks and Zero Action On Climate Change

A very down-to-earth rant about this hypocritical holiday

By Ed Goldman

Etiquette suggestion: If you’re planning to attend any festivities today or tonight in commemoration of Earth Day, try to refrain from spraying your hair or underarms in advance. This is the one 24-hour period for which you’ve been saving that tube of VO5 and travel-kit roll-on deodorant since Earth Day began in 1970. 

Let me be clear that I’m not encouraging you to get through this day then go right back tomorrow to using hairspray or deodorant whose scent and toxicity are indistinguishable from insect repellant. 

Edgy Cartoon

Global Mourning

Think I’m kidding? Years ago, I zapped a cockroach to a better place by deploying two quick blasts of Gatsby Ultra Hard Hair Spray when I couldn’t lay my hands on a can of Raid or Windex. My kitchen smelled fabulous for the rest of the evening. So did the cockroach, incidentally.

Every Earth Day, according to such reliable sources as the Earth Day website—and possibly the manufacturers of Birkenstock sandals, the ugliest by-product of planet saving (though earth shoes come a close second with their backwards-downward slope that have wearers wondering if they’re coming or going)—more than a billion people and more than 190 countries  celebrate Earth Day. That’s an unfathomable number of frisbees and dogs, the principal focal points of the event.

If I sound cynical about this noble/global/largely immobile/anti-Chernobyl ritual, there’s a reason for it: I am.

With all those people, nations, house pets and toys pulling for Mama Nature for the past 52 years, why do we still have trouble making a serious commitment to reversing climate change—and with it, rising oceans, dying forests and the baffling popularity of Tucker Carlson? (Say, what you will, but  all of these examples are about the growing toxicity of our environment.)

Earth Day was birthed by Wisconsin U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005), the kind of rational political leader who just doesn’t exist anymore. Also a two-term governor of that cheese-loving state, Nelson was compassionate, fought for humanity and prioritized planet over profits. 

He envisioned Earth Day as a giant teach-in, not an all-day university quad frolic. He’d seen, along with the rest of the world, the awful effects of a tremendous oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, the same year the country saw a man walk on the moon, which was hailed as “one giant leap for humanity.” 

But word of our humanity must never made it back from space. We’ve continued to deplete the resources of our one and only world. 

According to NASA (“Ask about our moon-walks!”), Earth’s average surface temp “has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and other human activities…Most of the warming occurred in the past 40 years, with the seven most recent years being the warmest. The years 2016 and 2020 are tied for the warmest year on record.” 2021 also made it to the top seven, by the way.

We still have climate-change deniers, of course, but I’m sure some of them (in both houses of Congress) will be issuing news releases and making speeches today commemorating Earth Day. And why not? It’s like waving madly at a train that’s already left the station except, for some reason, that’s considered embarrassing in our culture—whereas, standing by and watching our planet implode is considered acceptable. Even cockroaches deserve better.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).