To mark Earth Day this April, we’re sharing personal essays from individuals who are doing their part to protect our planet. Katie Boué is a Cuban-American outdoor advocate and author of the upcoming book, On Digital Advocacy: Protecting the Planet While Preserving Our Humanity, available July 2023. Here, Boué peels back the layers of commercialization and greenwashing to explore one question: Is Earth Day net good, or is it just a sham?
Christians have Christmas, shoppers have Black Friday, and patrons of Nature’s dirt church have Earth Day. This secular environmental holy day falls on April 22 each year. There are estimates that up to one billion people across the planet now celebrate the holiday annually.
For the initiated, Earth Day garners an instant reaction, with a spectrum ranging from saccharine positivity for the planet to anti-capitalist fist-shaking. But to fully understand where we’ve ended up, we must first revisit where it all began.
The first Earth Day was born in the United States out of protest and advocacy. Let’s take a trip back in time. It’s 1970. There is no Environmental Protection Agency. There is no Clean Air Act. But there is the Santa Barbara oil spill and Cuyahoga River fire. These two events sparked an environmental uprising in the US. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, inspired by anti-war educational movements, decides to galvanize the country to host rallies, clean-ups, teach-ins and demonstrations. It’s estimated that over 20 million people participated in events from local elementary schools to major universities.
I’ve decided to choose to celebrate Earth Day not in surrender to the greenwashers, but in defiance. To model what this day is really about. Stewardship, community, care, ecosystems, our relationship to nature.
While I’ll forever enjoy a grumpy chuckle at the greenwashing of it all, Earth Day nets out undeniably positively. It’s an invite, to all, to pause and ponder this planet. For us salty environmentalists, it’s a moment to dig deeper in our critical reflections on our community. For the uninitiated, Earth Day can be the first step towards recycling, going vegetarian and eventually developing their own gripes about how corporations need to start stepping up to address our dying planet before it’s too late. And to that, I say: Welcome.
The theme for Earth Day 2023 is ‘Invest in Our planet’. Find out more about how you can take action for Earth on the official Earth Day website.