Often I feel a little ambivalent about Earth Day. I appreciate the efforts of millions of regular folks- adults as well as children- who mark the day by taking action on local environmental issues. And I am grateful to the environmental warriors who have leveraged this date to teach and educate and advocate over the last fifty years. At the same time, I am frustrated that we pay attention to these issues for a day (or even a week) and then go back to business as usual—activities that are, according to the world’s top climate scientists, jeopardizing our own survival.
For years I have said “Every day is Earth Day,” as a way to nudge more ongoing action. At the same time, I participate in Earth Day activities. I pick up trash, I attend events and I encourage others to participate too. I do all of that in part because of something an old friend Jane told me years ago. Jane participated in the first Earth Day and, as she tells it, the event transformed her life, putting her on a lifelong course to have a positive impact on the environment. Today Jane is a successful energy efficiency consultant; every day she has a positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Her first Earth Day essentially became her every day. I attend events, then, because I know there’s a potential that this particular event will inspire another Jane. (And at this point we need all the Janes we can get.)
This year, with the stark warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change we can feel tempted to brush away Earth Day activities. Does picking up trash really make a difference given that we are in a Climate Emergency?
But I would argue Earth Day activities are especially important during difficult times like these. This is exactly when we all need to do our part, to be the change, because our actions do matter. Because as Margaret Mead said:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has."
So join me, on Earth Day and every day thereafter. Let’s each do our part to reduce emissions, to advance environmental justice, and to increase climate resilience.
Kathy is the Director of the Dane County’s Office of Energy and Climate Change. In that role she's leading efforts to implement the Climate Action Plan. Prior to coming to Dane County, Kathy led Cool Choices and, prior to that, she led Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program.
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