Issues & Insights

Earth Day Should Return to Its Roots

By Henry I. Miller

Last Monday, April 22, was Earth Day, a celebration conceived by then-U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson and first held in 1970 as a “symbol of environmental responsibility and stewardship.” In the spirit of the time, it was a touchy-feely, consciousness-raising, New Age experience. Most activities were organized at the grassroots level.

In recent years, however, Earth Day has devolved into an occasion for professional environmental activists to warn of apocalypse, dish anti-technology dirt, proselytize, and raise money to sustain the movement. In the cacophony of false narratives and “alternative facts,” provability often takes a back seat to plausibility.

And then there’s the mindless publicity-seeking. Consider this headline from the local CBS affiliate in Los Angeles: “Protesters Climb, Glue Themselves To Globe Outside Universal Studios To Mark Earth Day.” And just plain old mindlessness: In San Francisco, the sub-theme for the day was, “Celebrate the Green New Deal,” one of the most poorly conceived, destructive political proposals in recent memory.

The Earth Day Network, which organizes Earth Day events and advocacy, regularly distorts or ignores science and exaggerates fears in order to advance its anti-technology, anti-corporate, Big Government agenda. With a 2019 theme of “Protect Our Species,” this year’s event was no exception. Ironically, “our species” seems not to refer to us humans, homo sapiens, but only to the other species on the planet, which we are destroying.

Coincidentally, two days after the official Earth Day, a few blocks from my home in the suburbs of San Francisco I discovered an activity that’s a worthy alternative. While walking my dogs in our lovely in-city park, I stumbled upon two young women emerging from the woods. They had been reconnoitering in preparation for an activity that will take place on Friday morning — “City Nature Challenge,” which is literally a grassroots environmental project, “an international competition to see which city can make the most observations of nature, find the most species, and engage the most people.”  They’re volunteers, part of a group called Grassroots Ecology, whose mission is “to engage and educate the public to restore local ecosystems.”  (On Friday afternoon in the same park, they’ll conduct a wildflower hike — open to the public, and free).  

This is the real Earth Day spirit, free from polemics, politics, and vitriol. By contrast, the various marches and demonstrations on the “real” Earth Day featured opposition to environment-friendly advances in science and technology, such as fracking; nuclear power; and genetic engineering to produce drought- and flood-resistant new crop plants and microorganisms that can clean up toxic wastes.

One of the United Kingdom’s great contemporary thinkers, Dick Taverne – also known as Lord Taverne of Pimlico – discusses in his book, “The March of Unreason,” the New Age philosophy that motivates the organizers of Earth Day. He deplores the “new kind of fundamentalism” that has infiltrated many environmentalist campaigns – an undiscriminating back-to-nature movement that views science and technology as the enemy and as a manifestation of an exploitative, rapacious and reductionist attitude toward nature.

I have no illusions that professional environmentalists will begin to collaborate in good faith and support advances in environment-friendly, modern technologies, but is it too much to ask that they return to the zeitgeist of a kinder, gentler time?

Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He was the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology. Follow him on Twitter: @henryimiller

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1 comment

  • I reached out to the Earth Day Network to try to engage them on the need for minerals to support all the “green tech”, but was rather abruptly informed that “we are spending all our time and resources fundraising for our 50th anniversary in 2020.” In other words, as a huge NGO, donors and supporting the messages that have resonated with them throughout the years is more important than dealing with the present–or following their stated mission. We have at least another year or more of this, and then, perhaps, they will go the way of the dinosaurs.

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