Friday is the 46th Earth Day and hundreds of thousands of people young and old will be doing something good for the Earth. That’s a good thing because every act of recycling, reusing and restoring helps. But honestly, it’ll take a lot more to make our Earth a healthy place.
Hurrah for Earth Day volunteers and weekend warriors but the big, big threats to our planet aren’t addressed by the kinds of incremental actions that supposedly lead to full scale activism. That’s a hard pill to swallow for us educators and activists but, honestly, aren’t 46 years time enough to show some major progress in creating an environmental constituency among the majority of our nation’s people?-- especially given the urgency of the problems?
I sat this week with a group of lively black kids about the age of my grandson who had just got out of the Baltimore’s National Aquarium and they shared with me all the things they saw and did with the kind of detail and enthusiasm that made me want to enlist them in my marine crusade. But what will happen next? They will move into adolescence and young adulthood where the future of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean will join other interests and concerns in a grand hierarchy of being alive. How do we keep the flame burning once it is lit in the young?
I sat with scientists and environmental colleagues last week at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, B.C., heartened that there was a strong mix of men and women participating but disheartened by the vast preponderance of Caucasian faces. Despite periodic hand wringing, the environmental movement continues to be white. How does environmentalism progress when the white population of this country becomes a minority in the next couple of decades?
I’m not sure how the information that comes out of the Ecosystem Conference will inform public policy and translate into the kinds of concerns that most people have when they think about their environment. In our everyday lives, the environment comes down to public health, safety and access— our food, our water, streets, our parks and our beaches. In other words, environment and community need to go hand in hand to be relevant and meaningful.
The environmental movement need to become racially diverse if we are to progress beyond annual Earth Day events. The movement needs to speak directly to class differences and address issues meaningful to more than just educated, economically comfortable people. The movement needs to speak with many voices for each of us in the individuality of our ethnicity and our social standing. In doing so, it can speak to our individual responsibility for our environment. It can speak to the opportunities our environment provides us. It can speak to our legacy we leave for our children and their children.
Now let’s go pick up some trash, dig some weeds and plant a tree.