Earth Day

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)

solar power schools

Solar power at Pennsylvania schools doubled during the pandemic

“If this growth continues, schools could set Pennsylvania up as a clean energy leader and not just the fossil fuels we’re known for.”

NORTH BRADDOCK, Penn.—On Wednesday evening, 10th grader Abby Wypych stood in front of Woodland Hills School District’s board and urged them to approve a feasibility study on installing solar panels.

Keep reading...Show less
Sunrise in the woods

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.

The problem with Elon Musk’s vision of Tesla’s autopilot future
www.nytimes.com

The problem with Elon Musk’s vision of Tesla’s autopilot future

Our documentary explores Tesla’s difficulty in making automated driving a reality.

As biomass burning surges in Japan and South Korea, where will Asia get its wood?

The UK and EU were the primary users of woody biomass for energy. But Japan and South Korea have drastically stepped up their burning of wood pellets — potentially threatening forests, biodiversity, and the climate.

The price of oil spills in Peru and Colombia? Millions of dollars in fines

Who’s behind the hundreds of oil spills in the Amazon and the Orinoquía in Colombia? What’s their background?

This is where dirty old cars go to die

The electric vehicle revolution is gathering speed—but what happens to all those polluting cars already on the road?
Nuclear fusion is already facing a fuel crisis
Sandia Labs/Flickr

Nuclear fusion is already facing a fuel crisis

It doesn’t even work yet, but nuclear fusion has encountered a shortage of tritium, the key fuel source for the most prominent experimental reactors.

Scotland's billionaires are turning climate change into a trophy game

A net-zero land rush is sweeping the country, and both locals and wealthy “green lairds” are trying to buy in.
From our Newsroom
environmental justice

Op-Ed: Black gold and the color line

How historical racist redlining practices are linked to higher exposures to oil and gas wells.

Our mothers' gifts: Readers respond

Our mothers' gifts: Readers respond

We asked you to share one "big lesson" your mother gave. And you responded

Lake Mead

Dykstra: A corpse in a barrel in a drying reservoir

And other climate change tales for our age

A mother's gift

Gifts from our mothers

What one "big gift" did your mother give you? We want your story.

Bird photography

Earth Day 2022: Amidst the crises, don’t forget the beauty

Words and images from our founder, Pete Myers, on how bird photography keeps him connected to and curious about a planet in peril.

fracking pennsylvania

Public health in Pennsylvania ignored during fracking rush: Report

A new report outlines the alleged missteps in protecting Pennsylvanians from the health impacts of fracking.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.