It’s still Earth Day

The China Post news staff

Just over a week ago, the world observed Earth Day, an annual event meant to inspire awareness and appreciation for our planet’s environment. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, Earth Day is actually one of two different observances. The United Nations celebrates an Earth Day each year on the March equinox, a tradition founded by peace activist John McConnell in 1969. A second Earth Day was founded by U.S. politician Gaylord Nelson in the late 1960s as a day for environmental education. This Earth Day has become the more popular one and is celebrated in many countries each year on April 22.

But this yearly reminder to humans that we need to treat our planet with care has come under fire from some environmentalists. Those dishing out the flak say the excessive promotion of a “one-day revolution” amounts to nothing but empty symbolism. Critics have gone so far as to create a new word that describes taking painless “feel-good” measures in support of an issue or social cause that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel a certain degree of satisfaction.

These critics call such actions “slacktivism,” a mix of the words “slacker” and “activism.” Examples of what some might consider “slacktivist” activities include signing Internet petitions, the wearing of wristband “awareness bracelets,” putting a ribbon on a vehicle, and or taking part in short-term boycotts such as Buy Nothing Day or Earth Hour.

The Taipei 101 building was singled out for criticism this year as it choose to display a massive lit-up sign enjoining all to cool the planet. Local newspaper reports claimed the amount of electricity used to light the sign could have powered a small home for a month. But others — including many in the environmental activist community — argue in favor of awareness-raising programs, including the sign on the 101. To supporters, anything that helps the general public think about their role in this planet’s ecology is a winner.

To be fair, Earth Day and many other awareness campaigns have undoubtedly been a positive force in the struggle to enlighten and educate. But we must take care not to fall into a “slacktivist” mindset. Turning off the lights for half an hour once a year is a nice gesture, but what is truly needed is a new paradigm of thinking that views saving electricity with an almost religious fervor.

Too often an environmental issue gets obfuscated amid the latest Eco-fad. A good example is American anti-SUV crusaders. Sure, most people probably don’t need a large-sized vehicle with a 5000cc engine that seats just five and yes, they burn gas like crazy. But according to a new documentary from National Geographic, “Six Degrees Could Change the World,” all the SUV emissions in the United States are dwarfed by the amount of Greenhouse gases caused by methane emissions from cattle. Few activists, however, are demanding Americans dramatically cut beef intake.