Earth Day 2013 – Not Saving the Earth, Saving Ourselves

Today is Earth Day. You didn’t forget, did you? Unfortunately, as Husna Haq writes in the Christian Science Monitor, Earth Day may need saving, not the Earth. Haq cites polls showing that on the inaugural Earth Day in 1971, 63 percent of Americans saw restoring the natural environment as “very important.” According to a HuffPost/YouGov poll this year, only 39 percent think restoring the environment is essential. Why could this be?

First, it is a very different world now than in 1971. It could be much to the current GOP’s chagrin that the most effective and far-reaching environmental laws in the United States were enacted and endorsed under a Republican administration. Back then, pollution choked cities with smoke, and rivers burned. In a sense,  the rampant pollution of our air and water was more local, more “real” in people’s lives. There was no question that rivers should not catch on fire or that the skies should not darken with smog.

What has become polluted today is the public discourse over issues of environmental stewardship. Climate change is a prime example of this. An active, well-funded campaign to confuse the public and implicate scientists as conspirators has clouded the average citizen’s ability to make sense of it all. All this in the face of economic turmoil, threats of terrorism, and a general culture of fear and alarmism. Not the fear and alarmism climate “skeptics” accuse climate scientists of employing, but the fear and alarmism of conspiracies, black helicopters, and the “other” coming for what you’ve got. In the face of all this, people tune out.

Learning to Live Within Limits

But we all sense deep down that business as usual is not sustainable. We may push our conscious concern for environmental issues out of our minds as we navigate complicated times. Still, ultimately, all economics, all society, and all human endeavor are rooted in the natural world.

So even if “saving the planet” isn’t on people’s to-do lists, Earth Day should remind us that caring for a healthy planet is not about saving the Earth but ourselves. If we can do that, the planet will take care of herself.

Image credit: morganj, courtesy Flickr

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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