Now don't get me wrong. I think it's a great idea because, at least, it celebrates something that's a little bigger than ourselves. All other events – including national days, birthdays, valentines day – have a narrow or a parochial agenda. They're all about celebrating one's little corner but the Earth Day forces one to expand that outlook and see the bigger picture.
But the trouble with Earth Day celebrations is that the hype rarely matches the action, and the ground reality is never the same as one that's screamed from posters, concerts, podiums and pamphlets. There's an odd disconnect between what should be and what really is. And so, I often find myself squirming when I see an Earth Day poster because, I wonder, how serious are these intentions. Are they as urgent as the words imply?
A look at the history of the Earth Day would indicate that, at least, the intentions were sincere. After witnessing the huge numbers galvanised by the anti-Vietnam protests, US Senator Gaylord Nelson felt a similar movement must be created to establish a strong grassroots demonstration on the environment. In many ways, April 22 1970 is widely seen as the birth of the modern environmental movement.
So in other words that's almost 40 years of a sustained campaign on a variety of environmental issues, from global warming, deforestation, ozone hole depletion, CFC emission, population growth, extinction of wild animals, toxic dumps and what have you. 40 years is a long time. 40 years is as old as some of us who have crossed the 4-oh mark. 40 years is as old as a man or a woman approaching middle age. 40 years is not youthful but decidedly mature.
All that's fine but what do we have to show for a movement that's as old as some of us. Have we seen a better world order? Have governments taken initiative to stop population explosion? Have industries taken the lead to protect the environment instead of looking after their own balance sheet? Are we seeing lesser number of animals entering the extinction hall of fame? Or are we still waiting for that magic moment that will change everything?
I know I sound terribly cynical here but governmental and industrial track record has not been very encouraging. It's true that some governments are very proactive in these matters and some industries are spending millions of dollars in turning their processes more environmentally friendly. But that's just a few and it's not a mass movement yet. For some odd reason, people who talk about green issues are still considered a bit odd and hippy-like. And for many people, even a simple thing like using a jute bag instead of a plastic bag in the supermarket is a big thing. Not because they cant afford but they don't feel the urgency or the need. As I said before, these actions are still considered weird and good for 'others' and not for 'us'.
But if the Earth Day has to have any meaning or substance, then, this is the battleground because all the other issues like legislation, picketing outside factories and the like are just minor. The day everyone starts believing that environmental issues are as necessary as brushing our teeth, eating healthy food and wearing sun glasses in summer... that's the day when Earth Day will have acquired its meaning and will fulfil its purpose.
Until then, we need to keep on trying.