When is it time to rebrand? Fortune magazine just ran an Earth Day story “Earth Day 2016 Freebies and Deals.”
The business magazine wants us to know that “Earth Day, historically, hasn’t been thought of as a retail holiday. But as more and more people become environmentally aware, many major stores are jumping on the bandwagon.” Now while we are nowhere near the over-commercialization that, say, Christmas has achieved, I’m still thinking that Earth Day is probably a good day not to buy anything and instead step back from hypermaterialism.
Earth Day is a day to focus not on matters of money, but of morality — not so much “a day to appreciate and protect this precious planet we call home” (the phrase Obama began his 2015 Earth Day message with) but rather a day to focus on how we can save ourselves and our children and the next 50 generations.
We know the moral argument is better to lead with than the economic one. How? Well, team Obama finally figured it out three years ago and leaked it to the world around the time of his big June 2013 climate speech.
Indeed, Politico published team Obama’s talking points at the time:
Having found the winning message, they offer this “Short interview-ready formulation” which says “We have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that’s not polluted and damaged by carbon pollution….”
The talking points explain that this messaging is backed by extensive polling, noting, for instance, that when Americans were polled (by the Benenson Strategy Group) earlier in 2013, 93 percent said they agreed with the statement, “We have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that’s not polluted and damaged” — and 67 percent strongly agree.
Considerable social science research and public opinion research backs this up, as I discussed earlier this month. In particular, the Pope himself has had success making the “moral” argument the centerpiece of his effort to use the popularity and credibility of his papacy (aka leverage his brand). This effort has had an impact, according to the report, “The Francis Effect: How Pope Francis Changed the Conversation About Global Warming,” which found that “17 percent of Americans and 35 percent of Catholics say his position on global warming influenced their own views of the issue.” In particular, the Pope has measurably helped Americans see global warming as an issue of morality and social fairness.
Rebranding Starts With Renaming
Back in 2008, I wrote a piece for Salon about renaming ‘Earth’ Day. It was supposed to be mostly humorous. Or mostly serious.
Anyway, the subject of renaming Earth Day — or rebranding it, to use one popular buzzword — remains more relevant than ever, as we just saw.
So I’m updating the column once more.
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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, at least for everyone but the 0.01 percent and the Supreme Court. 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 mostly eliminated their feeding habitat — the polar ice, probably by the 2020s and maybe 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 jellyfish thrive in 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 ASAP, why should we care? Other species will do just fine, like bark beetles, kudzu, cactus, cockroaches, rats and ratsnakes, scorpions, Anopheles mosquitoes and the malaria parasites they harbor — oh and let’s not forget the Dengue virus and brain-eating amoebas. Who are we to pick favorites — especially since those same species must also have all been on Noah’s ark!
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.
Here’s What Science Has To Say About Convincing People To Do Something About Climate ChangeClimate CREDIT: Shutterstock The best way to motivate people to support action to limit climate change is to ..…thinkprogress.orgAll of these phrases create the misleading perception that the cause so many of us are fighting for — sharp cuts in carbon pollution — 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, because of their own deeply-felt morality, 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 7 billion people going to 9 billion, much of the environment is unsavable. But if we warm significantly more than 3.5°F from pre-industrial levels — and especially if we warm more than 7°F, as would be all but inevitable if we keep on our current emissions path for much longer — then the relatively stable environment and climate that made modern human civilization possible will be ruined, probably for hundreds of years (see NOAA: 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.
Numerous studies show that nearly a third of the world’s land faces drying from rising greenhouse gases — including two of the world’s greatest agricultural centers, the U.S. Great Plains and a big chunk of southeastern China. On our current emissions path, most of the Southwest ultimately experience twice as much loss of soil moisture as was seen during the Dust Bowl (see “Dust-Bowlification”).
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 “Will Likely Add Up To 1.5°F To Total Global Warming By 2100,” all but ensuring that today’s worst-case scenarios for global warming become the best-case scenarios. 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 in excess of an inch a year by century’s end. If we warm even 3°C from pre-industrial levels, we will return the planet to a time when sea levels were ultimately 100 feet higher. The first five feet of sea level rise, which seems increasingly likely to over the next hundred years 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, virtually all of them 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. I’d suggest “Brainless Frog Day” but I just don’t think that would catch on.
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 “The global economy is 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.