Today, April 22, marks the annual commemoration of Earth Day. A day to inspire awareness of and appreciation for the environment. One day out of the year to focus on the environment isn’t too much to ask, and it’s a small step in the right direction toward preserving the environment around us every day.
But almost 40 years after this bright idea was launched, it can seem almost beside the point, and some observers have even called for an end to Earth Day:
The biggest problem with Earth Day is that it has become a ritual of sympathy for the idea of environmental sanity. Small steps, we’re told, ignoring the fact that most of the steps most frequently promoted (returning your bottles, bringing your own bag, turning off the water while you brush your teeth) are of such minor impact (compared to our ecological footprints) that they are essentially meaningless without larger, systemic action as well.
I fall somewhere in between these two ideas. I do think there is value in setting aside specific days to raise awareness of important issues, like the environment. I also think when it comes to tackling the world’s problems, something is better than nothing, and every little effort helps. You have to start somewhere.
But, I also recognize that the best, and sometimes only, solutions to man-made environmental problems are more systemic in nature than anything any one of us can do at home. That’s why it’s so good to read about New Jersey towns “going green” – from our first green community, pioneering Highland Park, to the most recent entry, Cherry Hill – and why I find the sustainability movement so compelling.
Sustainability is about altering a community’s way of thinking about the world around it, and making choices that are both environmentally and economically for the community for the long term. In New Jersey, sustainability groups have popped up from Lawrence Township to West Milford to Kinnelon, to join the growing list of green communities.
Maybe this Earth Day will inspire more systemic changes like these groups are advocating, and more and more town to “go green.” That would add up to much more than just a small step.