Earth Day is this April 22nd and, fittingly, Earth Day turns 41 this year. Middle-aged. Oh groan, I really hate Earth Day. Sure, it’s a decent reminder about the importance of taking care of our planet, but it’s also beyond do-goodery and preachy. It’s like a day where everyone gets to be those angelic kids of Ned Flanders (the Simpsons) on behalf of the planet. It makes me want to be Bart Simpson and drive my monster truck over some endangered baby tigers while eating McDonald’s and drinking Duff beer (of course).
I’m more concerned about why Earth Day and the environmental movement is the way it is – limited, overly complex, lifeless and really no fun. Let’s discuss. Or I’ll discuss and you read.
The founding fathers of American environmentalism John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Henry David Thoreau, and Aldo Leopold were all white guys. The present day environmental movement expanded on their influence with scientists, activists and politicians and even corporations making unlikely bedfellows in the late 60s. As we know, the 60s wasn’t exactly a time for inclusion of women in most movements (except the feminist movement which was born largely in the 70s), or minorities (who were largely involved in their own movements) but that was about the time the present day environmental movement grew its most productive roots. And the face of the movement hasn’t changed much since. Why?
Why is the environmental movement so white? And so male? And so heterosexual? And so middle aged? And so upper middle class? In searching for something else, I came upon some top celebrities involved in the environmental movement and every single one of them is a vaguely middle aged white dude and I’m pretty sure none are gay:
- Al Gore – white middle aged dude
- Robert Redford – white dude trying to look middle aged
- Leonardo DiCaprio – white middle aged great actor dude
- George Clooney – another middle aged white great actor dude
- Pearl Jam – a whole bunch of white middle aged super musical dudes
- Ed Begley Jr. – w.m.a.d. (I’m now abbreviating)
- Edward Norton – w.m.a.g.a.d (he gets the great actor accolade)
And those are just some of the celebrities. If you look at other aspects of the movement whether it’s heads of nonprofit organizations, prominent scientists, heads of governmental groups, activists, even bloggers and columnists the majority are white middle aged heterosexual dudes (WMAHD’s). Need more examples? I’ve got hundreds, but here are a few:
- Senator Gaylord Nelson (Founder, Earth Day)
- Ira Einhorn (Founder, Earth Day who killed and composted his girlfriend)
- Michael Brune (President, Sierra Club)
- Patrick Moore (President, Greenpeace)
- Mark Tercek (President, The Nature Conservancy)
- Fred Krupp (President, Environmental Defense Fund)
- Steven Sanderson (President, Wildlife Conservation Society)
- James Galloway (Nobel Prize winner for environmental science),
- E.O. Wilson
- Paul Ehrlich
Sure there are some token women (NRDC and WWF both have women presidents), minorities (WWF is excellent with their global multi-racial approach), younger people, and elderly, but by and large this is still a straight middle aged white guy movement. And this, my friends, is why Earth Day is lame.
I have nothing against white middle aged dude environmentalists. It’s great that they’re all pro-planet and it’s not their fault that they weren’t born in some other camp. They tend to have greater access to resources, capital and connections (including being able to get dollars from bad boy corporations looking to buff up their corporate green image) but that’s not the only thing necessary for a global movement.
A movement requires millions of people working together in a common direction. Having a movement be so dominated by one type of person alienates others and creates a “that’s not my problem” mentality. Environmentalism is perceived as dull, science-wonky, mainstream, and preachy, but it doesn’t have to be. If other groups were meaningful participants, it could be fun, vibrant, inclusive, energizing and life changing.
We’re all citizens of the Earth, dependent on it for resources, sustenance and joy. It’s time that Earth Day become every day for everyone.