Earth Day: Amidst the greenwashing, it's still a good thing

When corporations tout their greenness and journalists get beaten senseless by lame ideas.

I hope like me you're counting the hours till this Thursday, April 22, the 52nd observance of Earth Day.


An American invention largely credited to U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson and student activist Denis Hayes, Earth Day's 1970 debut drew millions of people to rallies and events in big cities and small towns; grade schools, and college campuses.

This is not to be confused with Earth Hour, which was observed this year at 8:30 pm EDT on March 27, leaving the annual final score for the year: Earth = one hour; everything else = 8,759 hours.

Earth Day is also not to be confused with the United Nations' World Environment Day coming up on June 5, or its World Oceans Day, three days after that.

After its grand 1970 debut, Earth Day became a decidedly more mundane event until 1990. Several years of telegenic eco-disasters—the horrific chemical release in Bhopal, India; the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown; the Exxon Valdez oil spill; and more – re-ignited public passions.

As a major event, Earth Day 1990 stands alone as a high-profile environmental newsmaker (except, of course, for the disasters). A two-hour primetime ABC special drew A-list talent: Bette Midler, Danny DeVito, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Bill Cosby, Kevin Costner, Rodney Dangerfield, Jane Fonda, Morgan Freeman, Dustin Hoffman, Magic Johnson, Jack Lemmon, Meryl Streep, Betty White, Robin Williams, and Barbra Streisand.

On the corporate side, greenwashing— green public relations efforts meant to mask polluting reality—started to increase in the 1980s and 1990s. Petrochemical giant Chevron notably put the con in consummate, dropping millions in greenwash print and video ads in its "People Do" campaign. In this TV classic, the kindly folk of Chevron keep desert critters from dying of thirst.

In a 1988 print ad, Chevron dropped an estimated six figures bragging about its efforts to save the endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly. Unmentioned in the ad: Chevron was initially mandated to save the butterfly because its habitat was plowed under in part to build Chevron's massive El Segundo refinery complex.

Here in 2021, Greenwashing lives, and it's slicker than ever. America's biggest soda makers trotted out their biggest brands—Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper—to pledge their fealty to plastics recycling, despite decades' worth of opposition to bottle return legislation. Their ad ran during the Super Bowl of American advertising, which is, of course the Super Bowl.

Heartless journalists like me aren't blameless, either, as we annually turn our cyber-backs on literally hundreds of press releases, story pitches, and videos about how Snoopy (or was it Snoop Dogg?) is spending Earth Day.

Of course, not all of the news is cause to be cynical. President Biden has scheduled a virtual summit of world leaders (on Earth Day, of course!) to harden and accelerate commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions and affirm the reversal of the past four years of White House science denial.

Make no mistake: Earth Day, even with its shallowness and condescension, is a good thing—as are Earth Hour, World Environment Day, World Oceans Day, and more.

Hopefulness? By this time, I had hoped over 52 Earth Days that we had accomplished a little bit more.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo credit: Earth Day Gathering on April 24, 2017, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Credit: Governor Tom Wolf/flickr)

Climate activists pan carbon capture plans

'There are still no projects operating anywhere in the world that have delivered on time, on budget, or in the quantities promised.'

More than 500 environmental and community groups – from the Nassau Hiking & Outdoor Club to Greenpeace USA – have called on United States and Canadian leaders to abandon efforts to capture carbon emissions from fossil fuels and work harder to curb fossil fuel use in the first place.

Keep reading... Show less

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

Coral reefs face disaster from climate change if we don’t curb greenhouse gas emissions, report says

To save this underwater ecosystem, researchers argue, we’ll need to reduce global warming, improve local conditions and invest in restoration.
www.nytimes.com

A lawyer known for fighting Chevron was found guilty of contempt of court by a federal judge

The ruling is the latest episode in a long legal battle over the alleged dumping of oil in the Amazon region of Ecuador from the 1960s to the 1990s by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001.
www.nytimes.com

Wildfires ravage Italy's Sardinia region in 'a disaster without precedent'

A 25-mile swath of vegetation, farms and villages is hit by one of the largest wildfires in decades, devastating the Italian tourist destination.
www.nytimes.com

Floods, heat, then floods again: England is battered by wild weather

Thunderstorms in London flooded hospitals’ emergency rooms and submerged streets for the second time this month.
www.nytimes.com