Earth Day at 43 — What Have We Learned?

Is it far easier for us to ‘tune out’ on the environment today?

Today is Earth Day (April 22) and recent studies have reflected that Americans’ focus on the environment has declined. A recent study regarding so-called “millennials” (those born after 1982) reports that these young people considered goals relating to money, image, and fame are more important than those related to self-acceptance, community, empathy, charity, and — most surprising to me — taking action to help the environment and save energy. Perhaps this is not unexpected given the attention to the economic crisis we are still working out of, coupled with the technological, quick gratification world we find ourselves living in. However, given the emphasis that schools and the media place on educating and promoting the importance of saving the environment, this lack of concern is still surprising.

Normally, Earth Day brings a plethora of lists or “do this and not that” (saving “green” as in money and the environment); to use programmable thermostats; don’t run the water while brushing your teeth (or before taking a shower); take showers not baths; don’t water your lawn mid-day; put a brick in the toilet tank; use a low-flow showerhead;  switch to CFL or LED bulbs; use reuable grocery bags; keep your tires inflated at the correct pressure, etc. So, are we doing these things? And after we have done them, what’s next?  But even more importantly, is Earth Day relevant to the next generation of leaders, consumers, and manufacturers who are now attending college — or do they just not care?

The environmental issues that spawned the first Earth Day in 1970 have been replaced by far less visible concerns. No one argued about whether or why the Rouge and  Cuyahoga rivers caught fire or whether  that was a bad thing. No one ever thought smog was a great addition to our daily lives. Now, there is far more debate about whether fracking is good or bad (maybe both; whether global climate change is occurring and even moreso, why it is happening. So, is it far easier for us to “tune out” on the environment today?

Given the economy, the scarcity of resources and the economic times in which we live, it is a bit disappointing that we haven’t learned to look to how our grandparents lived when they were young — how they “made do” and repaired and sewed, turned lights off (or used natural light) and gardened; not because it was the “green”  thing to do, but because that was how they could afford to live and that’s how every generation until then had lived.

It’s only been in the last 65 years that disposability has been the norm. Do we need to dial down the consumptive aspects of our lives and try to show our teens and college students that we need to live a bit more like the greatest generation did before World War II and a little less like they did after that time? What do you think?