Like so many once radical notions, Earth Day has lost its rough edges.
Indeed, on the 30th anniversary of the annual celebration of the environment,
the real meaning of the day is pretty much obscured by corporate sponsorships
and the debate over Leonardo DiCaprio's attempts to "interview'' President
Earth Day's fate can be compared with that of Martin Luther King Day.
King was a radical, a man who in his last years embraced democratic socialist
ideas and was killed as he prepared to launch a "Poor People's Campaign''
designed to force America to address the issue of income inequality. Yet, his "day''
has become an excuse for politicians and corporate executives to burnish their
political correctness credentials -- while, at the same time, maintaining the
economic wrongs King sought to eliminate.
So it goes with Earth Day. Created as an outgrowth of the anti-Vietnam War
teach-ins of the late 1960s, Earth Day was designed to build a movement.
Instead, it tapped a nerve so powerful that it leapt right over the movement
moment to the legislative stage. Suddenly Congress was passing a Clean Air Act,
a Clean Water Act and funding an environmental protection fund.
Environmentalism went from the fringe to the mainstream so rapidly that even
the man who came up with the idea for Earth Day, former Wisconsin U.S. Sen.
Gaylord Nelson, had a hard time keeping up with his creation. All too quickly,
Earth Day became, like King Day, an excuse for politicians and corporate
executives to strut their stuff -- and for real politics to be pushed aside.
Earth Day is no longer threatening -- unless you count the prospect of having
to listen to a movie star attempt to explain his environment ethic to the
president. And that's too bad.
Earth Day should be a day that polluters and pols fear like no other, a day
when they are called to account for their failure to preserve and protect the
air, the water, the land.
Earth Day should be the day when citizens -- not corporate executives --
reassert the demand that Nelson made at the start:
Our goal is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all
other human creatures and for all other living creatures. An environment without
ugliness, without ghettos, without discrimination, without hunger, without
poverty, without war.''
© 2000 The Capital Times