Lets Dump “Earth Day”

earth-day.jpgAffection for our planet is misdirected and unrequited. We need to focus on saving ourselves.

Last year, I wrote a piece for Salon, “Let’s dump ‘Earth’ Day.” It was supposed to be mostly humorous. Or mostly serious. Anyway, the subject of renaming Earth Day has been on my mind for a year now — and all the more so today because the NYT magazine just published an interview with our Nobel-prize winning Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, in which he says:

I would say that from here on in, every day has to be Earth Day.

Well, duh!  Heck, we have a whole day just for the trees — and we haven’t finished them offyet.  So if every day is Earth Day, than April 22 definitely needs a new name.  So I’m updating the column, with yet another idea at the end, at least for climate science advocates:

I don’t worry about the earth. I’m pretty certain the earth will survive the worst we can do to it. I’m very certain the earth doesn’t worry about us. I’m not alone. People got more riled up when scientists removed Pluto from the list of planets than they do when scientists warn that our greenhouse gas emissions are poised to turn the earth into a barely habitable planet.

Arguably, concern over the earth is elitist, something people can afford to spend their time on when every other need is met. But elitism is out these days. Only bitter environmentalists cling to Earth Day. We need a new way to make people care about the nasty things we’re doing with our cars and power plants. At the very least, we need a new name.

How about Nature Day or Environment Day? Personally, I am not an environmentalist. I don’t think I’m ever going to see the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I wouldn’t drill for oil there. But that’s not out of concern for the caribou but for my daughter and the planet’s next several billion people, who will need to see oil use cut sharply to avoid the worst of climate change.

I used to worry about the polar bear. But then some naturalists told me that once human-caused global warming has completely eliminated their feeding habitat “” the polar ice, probably by 2020, possibly sooner “” polar bears will just go about the business of coming inland and attacking humans and eating our food and maybe even us. That seems only fair, no?

I am a cat lover, but you can’t really worry about them. Cats are survivors. Remember the movie “Alien”? For better or worse, cats have hitched their future to humans, and while we seem poised to wipe out half the species on the planet, cats will do just fine.

Apparently there are some plankton that thrive on an acidic environment, so it doesn’t look like we’re going to wipe out all life in the ocean, just most of it. Sure, losing Pacific salmon is going to be a bummer, but I eat Pacific salmon several times a week, so I don’t see how I’m in a position to march on the nation’s capital to protest their extinction. I won’t eat farm-raised salmon, though, since my doctor says I get enough antibiotics from the tap water.

If thousands of inedible species can’t adapt to our monomaniacal quest to return every last bit of fossil carbon back into the atmosphere, why should we care? Other species will do just fine, like kudzu, cactus, cockroaches, rats, scorpions, the bark beetle, Anopheles mosquitoes and the malaria parasites they harbor. Who are we to pick favorites?

I didn’t hear any complaining after the dinosaurs and many other species were wiped out when an asteroid hit the earth and made room for mammals and, eventually, us. If God hadn’t wanted us to dominate all living creatures on the earth, he wouldn’t have sent that asteroid in the first place, and he wouldn’t have turned the dead plants and animals into fossil carbon that could power our Industrial Revolution, destroy the climate, and ultimately kill more plants and animals.

And speaking of God, Creation Care is also woefully misnamed. If humans are special, invested with a soul by our Creator, along with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then why should we sacrifice even a minute of that pursuit worrying about the inferior species? Sounds to me more like paganism than monotheism.

All of these phrases create the misleading perception that the cause so many of us are fighting for “” sharp cuts in greenhouse gases “” is based on the desire to preserve something inhuman or abstract or far away. But I have to say that all the environmentalists I know “” and I tend to hang out with the climate crowd “” care about stopping global warming because of its impact on humans, even if they aren’t so good at articulating that perspective. I’m with them.

The reason that many environmentalists fight to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the polar bears is not because they are sure that losing those things would cause the universe to become unhinged, but because they realize that humanity isn’t smart enough to know which things are linchpins for the entire ecosystem and which are not. What is the straw that breaks the camel’s back? The 100th species we wipe out? The 1,000th? For many, the safest and wisest thing to do is to try to avoid the risks entirely.

This is where I part company with many environmentalists. With 6.5 billion people going to 9 billion, much of the environment is unsavable. But if we warm significantly more than 2°C from pre-industrial levels “” and especially if we warm more than 4°C, as would be all but inevitable if we keep on our current emissions path for much longer “” then the environment and climate that made modern human civilization possible will be ruined, probably for hundreds of years (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe).  And that means misery for many if not most of the next 10 to 20 billion people to walk the planet.

So I think the world should be more into conserving the stuff that we can’t live without. In that regard I am a conservative person. Unfortunately, Conservative Day would, I think, draw the wrong crowds.

The problem with Earth Day is it asks us to save too much ground. We need to focus. The two parts of the planet worth fighting to preserve are the soils and the glaciers.

Two years ago, Science magazine published research that “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest” “” levels of soil aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas and Oklahoma to California. The Hadley Center, the U.K.’s official center for climate change research, found that “areas affected by severe drought could see a five-fold increase from 8% to 40%.”  On our current emissions path, most of the South and Southwest ultimately experience twice as much loss of soil moisture as was seen during the Dust Bowl.

Also, locked away in the frozen soil of the tundra or permafrost is more carbon than the atmosphere contains today (see Tundra, Part 1).  On our current path, most of the top 10 feet of the permafrost will be lost this century “” so much for being “perma” “” and that amplifying carbon-cycle feedback will all but ensure that today’s worst-case scenarios for global warming become the best-case scenarios (see Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return). We must save the tundra. Perhaps it should be small “e” earth Day, which is to say, Soil Day. On the other hand, most of the public enthusiasm in the 1980s for saving the rain forests fizzled, and they are almost as important as the soil, so maybe not Soil Day.

As for glaciers, when they disappear, sea levels rise, perhaps as much as two inches a year by century’s end (see Nature sea level rise shocker: Coral fossils suggest “catastrophic increase of more than 5 centimetres per year over a 50-year stretch is possible.” Lead author warns, “This could happen again.”). If we warm even 3°C from pre-industrial levels, we will return the planet to a time when sea levels were ultimately 80 feet higher. The first five feet of sea level rise, which seems increasingly likely to occur this century on our current emissions path, would displace more than 100 million people. That would be the equivalent of 200 Katrinas. Since my brother lost his home in Katrina, I don’t consider this to be an abstract issue.

Equally important, the inland glaciers provide fresh water sources for more than a billion people. But on our current path, they will be gone by century’s end.

So where is everyone going to live? Hundreds of millions will flee the new deserts, but they can’t go to the coasts; indeed, hundreds of millions of other people will be moving inland. But many of the world’s great rivers will be drying up at the same time, forcing massive conflict among yet another group of hundreds of millions of people. The word rival, after all, comes from “people who share the same river.” Sure, desalination is possible, but that’s expensive and uses a lot of energy, which means we’ll need even more carbon-free power.

Perhaps Earth Day should be Water Day, since the worst global warming impacts are going to be about water “” too much in some places, too little in other places, too acidified in the oceans for most life. But even soil and water are themselves only important because they sustain life. We could do Pro-Life Day, but that term is already taken, and again it would probably draw the wrong crowd.

We could call it Homo sapiens Day. Technically, we are the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. Isn’t it great being the only species that gets to name all the species, so we can call ourselves “wise” twice! But given how we have been destroying the planet’s livability, I think at the very least we should drop one of the sapiens. And, perhaps provisionally, we should put the other one in quotes, so we are Homo “sapiens,” at least until we see whether we are smart enough to save ourselves from self-destruction.

What the day “” indeed, the whole year “” should be about is not creating misery upon misery for our children and their children and their children, and on and on for generations (see “Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?“).  Ultimately, stopping climate change is not about preserving the earth or creation but about preserving ourselves. Yes, we can’t preserve ourselves if we don’t preserve a livable climate, and we can’t preserve a livable climate if we don’t preserve the earth. But the focus needs to stay on the health and well-being of billions of humans because, ultimately, humans are the ones who will experience the most prolonged suffering. And if enough people come to see it that way, we have a chance of avoiding the worst.

We have fiddled like Nero for far too long to save the whole earth or all of its species. Now we need a World War II scale effort just to cut our losses and save what matters most. So let’s call it Triage Day. And if worse comes to worst — yes, if worse comes to worst — at least future generations won’t have to change the name again.

As a final thought, I suspect that many environmentalists and climate science advocates will have their own, private name:  “I told you so” Day.  Not as a universal as “Triage Day,” I admit, but it has a Cassandra-like catchiness, no?

37 Responses to Lets Dump “Earth Day”

  1. paulm says:

    Perhaps it should be called Gaia Day or on the other hand Ground Zero Day.

    I didn’t hear any complaining after the dinosaurs and many other species were wiped out when an asteroid hit the earth

    The dinosaurs were in an extinction event well before the asteroid. The hit just accelerated the inevitable.

    Could dinosaurs have been the cause of that extinction event due to resource depletion?

  2. Tim R. says:

    Nope. Wrong , wrong, wrong. We still need Earth day, because even Joe Romm doesn’t understand it yet.

    As long as you you remain part of the “Humans First!” movement, global warming is not a moral issue, but a technological problem. The scary secret about climate change is that no matter what we do now, life over the next three decades is not going to change much. As long as middle-class Americans think only in terms of themselves, business-as usual makes a reasonably good argument. If you explain to people that they need only care about humans, that quickly collapses into only caring about the humans they know, family, friends and themselves. Climate momentum is just too great to turn this ship around in a couple decades. The IPCC agrees. For most Americans, especially those 40 and over, there is almost nothing to gain from taking action on climate now, so why suffer the slightest inconvenience from a carbon tax or cap and trade program. As long as fear is the only motivator, the right can create just as much fear of rising unemployment as Joe Romm can create fear of rising seas.

    In fact, I will argue that despite the worst ravages of climate change humans will be fine. Granted countless individual humans will suffer horribly in untold numbers. But humans as a species will outlive the vast majority of other species. We are the ultimate omnivore and would be among the last critter standing is a greatly diminished world. On the other hand, species are going extinct from climate change today.

    The long term reality is that Earth will some day again be in balance and humans will be here. The question is, what other species will be here too. The answer determines the quality of human existence for all time, because extinction is forever.

    The sea change in thinking that will drive political movement to a sustainable planet will happen when enough people realize the inherent right and dignity of all the living beings on planet Earth. The reason we need Earth Day is because too few understand that reality.

    From Che to Gandhi, and including every successful revolutionary in between, there has been an understanding that fear and shame will not motivate true change. Only love will. We need a day to show our love for the Earth. Let’s not dump it but, rather, reawaken it so that all the lovely beings we share this beautiful planet with stand a chance.

    Happy Earth Day.

    [JR: Hmm. Interesting examples, Che and Gandhi. Don’t think they would agree with each other’s methods one bit. I do suspect neither would think much of “Earth” day. They were both revolutionaries who believed change came about because of strong action.

    Just sat through one major presentation on polling and focus groups. Seems like fear-based messaging (or as I describe it, climate-science-based messaging) is a key component of successful change efforts. But it can’t be the only message. I try for 50-50, the other half being the green jobs, clean energy future.

    Since this is a blog, where I can link back to other posts, I don’t make every post a standalone. So, yes, some posts seem overly fear/climate-science-based, but I think the overall message is balanced.]

  3. Rick says:

    You could call it “Bridge Day” as in crossing over to a new way of sustainable living.

    But in my corner of the world, the big news is 2 huge 6 lane bridges opening this year. Clearly there is no anticipation of anything slowing down in terms of fossil fuel use or emissions. I’m looking for any sign of new thinking about how we do things but no – not here – not now.

  4. Dean says:

    “If thousands of inedible species can’t adapt to our monomaniacal quest to return every last bit of fossil carbon back into the atmosphere, why should we care?”

    If this were to become the main attitude, then our efforts would really be doomed. The issue is not really thousands of species, but an extinction event which human were causing outside of climate change, and which climate change will greatly exacerbate. Ecologists have long argued that while a certainl number of species could disappear, our underlying ecological system is dependent on a reasonable degree of diversity.

    So while I agree that a heavy focus on saving polar bears (who may or may not be able to shift to eating on land – we won’t know until that is their only choice) is not the most productive way to convince the general public to respond to the demands of climate change, we also can’t make this too human-centered, or it will end up just being about how we can adapt – because despite whatever impacts, we will be able to addapt better than most of the species we care about.

    The problem with Earth Day is that it’s been coopted and environmentalism is now generally accepted, such that most who are “anti-environment”, whatever that is, won’t admit to it (like most racists not publicly admitting to it).

    But I think the underlying thing is that if we make climate a single issue by separating it from environmentalism, we lose the lessons of ecology, which is where the real solutions to climate and all environmental issues are.

  5. hapa says:

    just saw a chart in mother jones that said the american solid waste stream is FORTY TIMES LARGER than ordinary everyday “municipal solid waste” of our trashcans.

    joe you are making a horrible mistake by advocating ignoring other stresses on ecosystems as climate pressure increases. we need those services. we can’t bring them back and you are not in a position to replace them. we need to baby them from both directions, to give them their shot at riding this out.

    a horrible mistake.

  6. Bud Man says:

    Hi Joe,

    I’m sure the demands on your time are only escalating – and the visibility of the blog is increasing. So I think you can help yourself – and, frankly, those of us among your devoted readers who are busy as well – by limiting comments like this to a paragraph-long aside in some other, more substantive piece.



  7. Joe says:

    Bud Man:

    You may be right. I often waste time engaging the unengageable — you should see my email inbox!

  8. Joe, I like your comment, it serves as a great launching point for serious discussions of social changes ahead.

    Beyond Earth Day.. you are right, Water Day, Use- No-Carbon-Fuels Day, No Air Conditioning Day, No heating day.

    We cannot begin to envision all the healthy human congregations that will be required for survival… Pot-Luck-Soup day, Neighborhood-bike-repair day, Convert-lawn-to-edible-garden day, Bulk-purchase-shopping day, Potlatch Day.

    The only rule is that it will spontaneously develop. Twitter-your-neighborhood day. Mass media will try to steer it, but will get it wrong. Tomorrow is 4-20 which has a great, er, grass-roots meaning before it was re-assigned something new and violent by news media. Same with MayDay – a day suffused with great history and meaning – that has been intentionally redefined by mass media out of fear of change.

    Earth Day may have been co-opted, and may be superfluous, and other days need to come to life. New Day Day. CO2-report Day

    People will define their own days. No TV Day. No Internet Day(gulp) I can shrug over EarthDay now. But Greenhouse Day, Ocean Day. Fasting Day. Future Day.

    Five and 10 years ahead – Peaceful Assembly Day.

  9. Greg N says:

    Make it a non-Earth Day.

    Everyone encouraged to spend 24 hours on traditional 20th Century-style trashing of the planet.

    And for the other 364 days of the year everyone devotes themselves to continual action on climate change.

    It’s like Valentine’s Day – far better to spend 364 days being kind and loving, and one day being a selfish git, rather than the reverse.

  10. charlie says:

    Joe, great rhetorical point about earth day. Earth will survive after all, it is human civilization at risk. But as commentators point out, most of the environmental movement is still anti-human in their cold little hearts. Also, does earth day provide a link to conservative-minded groups who hate to see pollution and waste? My sense is it once did, although their republican children don’t see it that way anymore.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    Earth Day

    Air Day

    Water Day

    Fire Day

    One for each season.

  12. Dennis says:

    If I may sound like a crotchety old-timer — how dare you suggest we rename Earth Day! Earth Day was the brain-child of Gaylord Nelson, a very progressive Wisconsin Democratic Senator who took the idea of teaching people to care about the environment away from the “hippies” and made it mainstream.

    Nelson knew that the fledgling environmental movement of the late 60’s needed to be embraced by the masses if there was to be any progress on education and political action. Before Nelson and Earth Day, people didn’t care about things we all take for granted now, like recycling. We’ve gained stronger environmental laws because of the Earth Day movement. Teaching people to understand the reality of climate change is a natual fit to Earth Day.

  13. Jim Beacon says:

    Not sure if we need a special day anymore, but if we’re going to keep Earth Day, how about renaming it Conservation Day? Not conservative… conservation. That’s really the key to achieving immediate CO2 reduction. While all the other actions proposed must also be implemented, simple conservation of energy and other resources by every individual is still the most important thing that every person in the world can actually *do* something about right now, today. So, if you want to have a special day to hammer the media with, I can’t think of a better, more easily-understood concept than Conservation to focus on.

    Earth Day served its initial purpose over 30 years ago as a rallying point for large-scale national and even global protest gatherings against the visible pollution of our air and water and the dangers of badly-built and poorly-run nuclear power plants. It was also instrumental in putting a stop to some of the truly insane things people did back then — such as dumping barges loaded with steel drums full of nuclear waste in the offshore waters of California and spraying DDT on everything in sight. As a public display of voter support for doing something about those issues it was valid and valuable. But over the decades it has evolved into just another festival/excuse to get together and party and maybe sell some products from a booth.

    Joe is quite correct that Earth Day did virtually nothing to stop runaway population growth, which was and remains the big driving force behind all the environmental damage being done — from global warming to the extinction of a tiny insect species no one has ever heard of. And controlling population growth is being pretty much ignored as an vital part of the solution to climate change. By the way, according to last month’s data release from the UN, that 6.5 billion people is now officially 9.85 billion people and rising rapidly every day.

  14. Jim Beacon says:

    Correction to my comment above: The March data from the UN puts the currently global population at 6.85 billion, not 9.85 as typoed.

  15. ecostew says:

    Dennis – yes!

    The Earth Dayy is a very significant statement in our time. One, not part of the moment, might take the time to read some of the following:

    A Sand County Almanac
    Silent Spring
    Life and Death of the Salt Marsh
    The Red Gods Call
    the writings of John Muir

    and there are many more.

  16. Brooks says:

    Excellent, thought provoking piece that I will return to.

    Thank you.

  17. Steve H says:

    But I really like going to our local earth day festival so I can hang out with the pachouli-smelling hippies! What tie-dye, belly-dancing, and swords have to do with saving humanity I’ll never know. This will piss off the population-growth opponents, but let’s call it Flourish Forever Day! Or better yet, Zero Power Day. Leave your fridge plugged in, but no other power is to be used for 24 hours. No driving. Only bikes, and walking, enforced by police on horseback!

  18. PeterW says:

    Joe, I too have problems with Earth Day and its cousin Earth Hour. It’s a little like going to church, lot’s of symbolism but not a lot of action.

    But if you’re going to have a day, maybe it should be Biodiversity Day. If nothing else it would educate people to why biodiversity is so important. A bio-diverse planet is a more stable planet for human existence. We haven’t got a clue what happens when major food chains collapse. For example, what happens when the rain forests and coral reefs disappear. The chain reactions are going to be truly stunning.

    Unfortunately when it’s just us with the rats and the jellyfish, it will be too late to fix. Pass the soylent green please.

  19. Carlin says:

    As much as I like Earth Day (it’s also my birthday) I agree that it could be appropriately repackaged and sold to a wider audience. How about we call it Carbon Count Day, and designate it the day when everyone tallies their personal carbon emissions from the past year? April 22nd is such a perfect day for an environmental gut-check, one month after the Vernal Equinox, one week after tax day.

    And I think you could call yourself an environmentalist. You care about preserving a livable environment and, as you know, atmospheric carbon levels play a major role in Earth’s livability.


  20. How Global Warming could lead to the EXTINCTION of Homo Sapiens by the year 2030:

    Reference: “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan
    “Collapse” by Jared Diamond
    “Six Degrees” by Mark Lynas

    In previous civilization collapses, there were always people living beyond the
    range of the civilization that collapsed. That is why no previous collapse of
    civilization has ever been an extinction event for humans. When a civilization
    collapsed in the past, the people there wandered off looking for food.
    On the average, something like one person out of 10,000 found food elsewhere.
    The remaining 99.99% died of starvation or violence. There were always people
    living far away to start a new civilization

    Now our civilization is global and we have the means of transportation to wander
    absolutely everywhere on the planet. That means that the people who wander
    off looking for food (everybody, all 6.7 Billion of us) will find and eat all
    of the food available to even the remotest, most isolated and most primitive
    people on the planet. Given the example of Haiti and other places where food
    is scarce, everything that is even close to edible will be hunted or gathered
    to extinction. With the total extinction of the food, the humans will also
    go extinct. You don’t want to live through the end. It will be gruesome.

    Conclusion: Homo Sapiens could go extinct by the year 2030 if extreme action on
    global warming is not taken immediately. A population crash caused by a human
    population of 9 Billion could also lead to extinction in the same way UNLESS we
    have self-sustaining colonies on other planets, out of reach of those left on

    I recommend and demand that ALL coal fired power plants WORLDWIDE be shut down
    by the end of 2015. If there is a coal fired power plant still operating on
    1 January 2016, bomb it. The situation is a lot worse than a world war.
    We have FACTORY MADE nuclear power plants to replace coal fired power plants
    with. See:
    A Government Owned Government Operated [GOGO] nuclear fuel recycling plant is
    required and indicated because nuclear fuel is recyclable and no longer
    wasteable. Yucca Mountain has been shut down.

    PS: The hard returns are required because your page is too wide for my monitor

  21. DavidCOG says:

    Really strongly disagree with much of this. Was this Devil’s Advocacy? Or a bottle of Chardonnay at work?

    The lack of environmentalism is exactly why we’ve reached this point. The lack of concern for polar bears, owls, little green frogs in the Amazon and every other living organism is exactly why there is no flicker of responsibility or remorse when firing up the SUV to drive half a mile to buy a Big Mac. People have no care what happens to the environment as long as their Qwik-e-mart is fully stocked with burgers and Twinkies. And by extension, why should Bob Smith in Ohio worry about some ‘slacker’ in Africa because his water supply dried up due to this “alarmist global warming BS”?

    Part of the education process should be to help people understand without biodiversity their children will be impoverished in innumerable ways. If we shared this rock with just rats, ‘roaches and insects we’d not have morphine or penicillin or thousands of other medicines and components that better our lives and advance our technology.

    Then there’s the aesthetic. Do you want to consign future generations to staring at archival footage of a verdant paradise when all they have out the window is dust bowl?

    Humanity will survive whatever apocalyptic disaster we unleash on the planet – but it will be an impoverished existence without the biodiversity that every human has taken for granted since we walked out of Africa.

    I’ll struggle to shed any tears for Watts, Lindzen and Singer being consumed by global warming-induced disaster, but I’ll be angry and upset if we’re told the last wild Bonobo has been taken. In fact, I’d be very happy to have Watts & Co. consigned to Tuvalu where they can test the courage of their convictions as the sea laps around their ankles.

    Look after the planet – which is just euphemism for the environment – and it will look after us.

    As for ‘Earth Day’ and ‘Earth Hour’ – it’s about consciousness raising, not solving all the world’s woes in one, fell swoop.

    Unless I’ve just missed some humour in this article, it’s very disappointing – and wrong.

    P.S. If there were a god, it’s an absent and neglectful caretaker, more in need of reprimand than rejoicing.

  22. Maggie Zhou says:


    Great dark humor! I like “Triage Day”.

    But I disagree fundamentally with your assertion that we could somehow focus on saving the soon-to-be 9 billion human population. The fact is that the larger the human population, the more important the integrity of the rest of the ecosystems is in sustaining our very survival. To put it in other words, for a small human population, we may be able to scrape a living on a devastated planet with small niches of ecosystems left, but with 9 bln to sustain, we need mostly intact, functioning ecosystems. The scary thing is that, it is well known that ecosystem diversity (i.e., the complexity of the eco-web) is directly associated with its robustness, and determines the residence time of both energy and biomass (including carbon) passing through the biosphere. AND, loss of ecosystem diversity is, just like climate responses, a non-linear process, and entire ecosystem collapses can happen abruptly when stressed to a breaking point. A great book with discussion on this is “The Rainbow and the Worm – the physics of organisms”, by biophysicist Mae-wan Ho. See chapter 4 p.58, chapter 6 p. 80.

    Tim R. commented above that, in the long run “Earth will some day again be in balance and humans will be here”. Not necessarily. James Hansen and co-authors pointed out that, unlike runaway snowball Earth condition, for which there is a natural mechanism with with Earth will eventually escape out of (which it did in the past), a runaway global warming, once beyond a certain point, will be forever, and there is no planetary mechanism that we know of that will naturally bring an end to it. Venus is apparently in that state.

  23. Jim Eaton says:


    I think Tim R., Dennis, and David COG really get it. Earth Day brought awareness to a nation unaware of environmental issues in 1970. Some of us had read “Make Room, Make Room,” but Soylent Green (which blamed global warming as causing the problems faced), based on that novel, did not come out until 1973. We knew it was critical to save wilderness areas, but we had little knowledge of conservation biology until decades later.

    And the comment that environmentalists are “anti-human” is, of course, bullshit. But dealing with this crisis requires that we be respectful of the natural environment. Build wind farms that are not on migratory bird routes. Don’t place solar plants on pristine desert locals where threatened plants and animals live.

    Yes, because of human actions in the past, we need to take drastic actions to reduce and reverse our adverse affects on the planet. Be we needn’t do this at the expense of our fellow travelers on this planet.

    And polar bears are not likely to reverse their evolutionary history to become land mammals preying on humans. And non-avian dinosaurs were indeed wiped out by a major extinction event, an astroid crashing into the Gulf of Mexico perhaps followed by a major volcanic event.

    Our incredible biological diversity on Earth is in peril, not only due to global warming, but also due to many other atrocities our species commits on this planet. Global warming threatens most of the species on our Earth, but we should not ignore the endangered flora and fauna when looking for solutions to the problem.

  24. Robert says:

    If your goal is to save mankind then we need to make ourselves more attractive to Gaia. Gaia observes how species interact with each other and the planet and any that exhibit strongly anti-regulatory behaviour are discarded, through the simple mechanism of extinction. Life resets and Gaia tries again until new species emerge that do maintain an environmental balance. Right now we are the ultimate “Anti-Gaia”:

    “Earth day” captures this. If we can learn to live in balance with the earth we will survive. If not we will join the annals of extinct species.

  25. I agree with Tim R and others, who are pointing out that environmentalism is the key to motivating change.

    I am troubled by your increasing reliance on fearmongering as a tactic. Sowing fear is a horrible way to get people to make the kinds of progressive, positive changes that we need to make. Relying on fear makes people who are working for good climate change policy look like misanthropes and fascists. That’s the worst marketing strategy ever.

    I think that you know more than just about anyone, and read this blog religiously. But increasingly, I believe you are doing more harm than good.

  26. Charlie says:

    Seems as if a few of the commentators above are slightly missing the point – Joe isn’t saying we shouldn’t save as much of the Gaia as possible, he’s saying that what we do won’t make a blind bit of difference in the long run – sure the bonobos are worth saving, every living thing on the planet is worth saving. The point is that on the non-human timescales that the universe operates on, the bonobos, bees and trees are extint already, but somewhere out there their replacements (as weird and wonderful as anything alive today, and beyond the imagination of mere humanity), or at least the ancestors of their replacements, already exist. In a few million years the debate over Climate Change, AGW und so wieter will be pretty irrelevant, and invisible to whatever’s around on this planet at the time, unless, UNLESS, there are by some miracle still people around to talk about it.

    That’s why Earth Day needs renaming – because though we may (have) wrecked the planet for all the other species, we are the only things that give a damn (not enough of one, but still…) about that. We are worth saving, humanity deserves to survive, and to thrive (and to do that we need to save the other species, so, y’know, win-win and all that…), but if we don’t, Gaia will do just fine…and won’t notice that we’re gone…and that would be a shame indeed.

  27. Anders says:

    Outstanding discussion! Survival Day?

  28. Steve H puts his finger on the earth day problem. Given the choice between the way of life many environmentalists recommend and using every last once of CO2 emitting fossil fuel too many people are going to choose fossil fuel. Earth day’s association with people recommending undesirable lifestyle change damages our ability to actually do something about climate change. This is a problem that needs a solution.

  29. Robert says:


    “Joe isn’t saying we shouldn’t save as much of the Gaia as possible, ”

    That statement indicates a lack of understanding of the Gaia hypothesis. Lovelock postulated that self-regulation is an emergent property of life interacting with earth.

    By corollary, species which evolve into a form where they fail to contribute to planetary self-regulation are likely to temporarily destroy the balance and cause their own extinction.

    “Keeping as much of Gaia as possible” doesn’t mean anything. Gaia will always exist – it may just decide to shrug us off, roll back a few 100 million years and start again.

  30. I don’t think Steve H. Gets It at all–he’s conflating greater efficiency standards and Lent.

    The Hair Shirt school of environmentalism is a dead end because it ignores the real problem: climate change is a major existential dilemma that ensnares environmentalists and hummer drivers equally. We live in a culture that privileges the Powerful Individual, and climate change is a problem that individuals have no power to fix.

    I can deny myself showers and electricity and driving all day long, and for that matter every single person reading this blog could do exactly the same kind of penance, and it would do more harm than good for two reasons. One, it wouldn’t be enough to make a difference. And two, that gesture proves to the unconverted that extreme, denying behavioral changes are necessary to prevent climate change. Who wants to sign on to that party?

    People who really want to save the human race

    (it’s true that it’s not about saving the planet)

    need to stop relying on the truth of what they are saying and start thinking in terms of persuading people. Earth Day is technically meaningless, but it’s a powerful persuasion tool. It’s got the potential to become a gateway drug if it is managed as such. What if leaders like Joe Romm stopped using Earth Day as an opportunity to scare people and instead followed up on people’s commitment to the environment *after* earth day? Used the fun of Earth Day to get people to sign up for emails about legislation, complete with an Email Your Congressperson button? Or got people to pledge a month of meatless Fridays? Bike to work or carpool one day a week? Or a million other fun, innocuous baby steps that are grounded in substantive, concrete changes to their lives today (that happened to also be good ways to reduce CO2 emissions)?

    Hammering and frightening people doesn’t work very well. It hasn’t worked very well so far. Why not stop, and try to actively engage people instead?

    Time is a-wasting, and we simply cannot do this by ourselves!

  31. Paige Green says:

    Agree with Tim R…”we still need Earth day, because even Joe Romm doesn’t understand it yet.”

    You would think that with all the things about going green and climate change, melting glaciers etc, you would think that Joe Blogs would be jumping on board, bringing re-usable bags to the shops etc, but the fact of the matter is, we still have a long way to go.

    Most people feel like they are doing their bit by recycling bottles and switching off some lights, and maybe picking up some litter? There’s so much more education that has to happen and even though the term “Earth Day” might seem trite, it’s still the most surefire way to bring attention to the cause.

    Ask anyone what “World Water” day is or what’s “Earth Hour” or even “Arbor Day” and you’ll get a blank look. Earth Day they still understand.

  32. Tim says:

    We already have World Water Day (in Feb.) and World Environment Day (June 5). Perhaps we might re-name it “We are One” Day. That’s the essential message behind Earth Day: our interconnectedness with each other and every living thing. It’s in our self-interest to preserve our only home.

    But I do like Chu’s formulation: every day should be Earth Day. Not just one out of 365.

  33. Charlie says:

    Robert – that was pretty much the point I was trying to make, Gaia doesn’t care about us…but then, technically Gaia doesn’t exist outside our heads anyway…without us it’s all just…stuff and things ;)

  34. paulm says:

    Harmony Day….

    “I believe that true ‘sustainability’ depends fundamentally upon us shifting our perception and widening our focus, so that we understand, again, that we have a sacred duty of stewardship of the natural order of things,” said the prince in a statement yesterday. “In some of our actions we now behave as if we were ‘masters of nature’ and, in others, as mere bystanders. If we could rediscover that sense of harmony; that sense of being a part of, rather than apart from nature, we would perhaps be less likely to see the world as some sort of gigantic production system, capable of ever-increasing outputs for our benefit – at no cost.”

    The prince is working on the book with co-authors Ian Skelly and ex-Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper. Juniper said he was delighted to be helping the prince on such an important project: “I hope his ideas will take the debate – about balancing the needs of the economy with those of ecology – on to a new stage. The prince believes the real crisis is one of perception, of how important ecology is.”

  35. Ronald says:

    How about ‘environmental speech and trivial and nonconsequence action day.’

    Survival day. that’s the name that will get noticed.

    What does being an environmentalist mean? Define that before you say whether you are one or not. Is it like pornography, (instead of erotica) you know it when you see it?

    If a bear tries to eat me and I want my friend to shoot it before it does before nature continues in that path, does that mean I am not an environmentalist?

    Frankly, I could care less about ANWR in Alaska. If the whole thing just fell into the sea, as long as no people went with it, fine.

    But for a world where large forests are changed to desserts, where farmland is now sand, that’s bad for Humans and the environment. that shouldn’t happen.