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Earth Day 2012: The Best and Worst Pronouncements

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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earth_day_globeApril 22 marks the 42nd annual Earth Day observance. In recent years, the week running up to Earth Day has become increasingly filled with a riotous mix of news that ranges from inspired initiatives to thinly veiled partisanship and shameless exploitation. As a journalist who covers energy, environment and sustainability issues, I get many of these pronouncements sent directly to me, and others just scream out as I look for interesting stories. Here, for your reading pleasure and horror, are some of the most notable and notorious events and declarations linked to Earth Day. I’m sure you’ll see more—and if you want people to know about them, add a link in the Comments section below.

MOST USEFUL:  E-Waste that Works

This new program is truly useful to anyone who owns anything electronic. We are often told we should recycle computers and such because they contain valuable, and toxic, materials. But few places will take your old Mac or PC, or printer, and you usually have to pay to get rid of the e-waste. No more. In recognition of Earth Day, computer maker Hewlett-Packard and office-supply chain Staples have announced that anyone can bring electronics into any Staples store and leave them there for recycling—for free. The stores will take any brand, regardless of where the device was purchased. The program will continue for two years and includes desktops, laptops, faxes, printers, desktop copiers, computer monitors, keyboard, phones, mobile phones, digital cameras and more. Not included are televisions, appliances or batteries.


The company simpleFLOORS makes bamboo flooring. The product might be environmentally smart, but the company clearly put “Earth Day 2012” in its online marketing page purely for “search engine optimization”—trying to get its name to come up at the top of online search results. The company’s Web site has nothing to do with Earth Day. SimpleFLOORS doesn’t even offer a coupon or discount for buying some bamboo on that day. Shameless, and ironically so, considering the product could do the earth some good—if it’s harvested and processed in clean ways, which is not the case with all bamboo operations.


“Earth Day 2012 Comes to Capitol Hill; Capitals Have Toughness to Beat the Bruins.” What does a hockey game have to do with Earth Day? Nothing. But the Washington Post’s online hype page, “The Buzz,” managed to link them—despite the different (but correct) spellings of “capital.”


On October 10, 2010—that’s right, 10-10-10—videographers in every country of the world filmed human triumphs and tragedies that were occurring in their regions on that day. They formed a global group called One Day on Earth and weaved 3,000 hours of footage into a movie that will debut worldwide on April 22. The screening will take place in hundreds of theaters in dozens of nations and should get distributed more widely from there. The organizers say the film creates “a picture of interconnected humanity never before possible.” Filmmakers also took to the streets on 11-11-11 and will release a second movie sometime in the future; ideally, we’ll all be able to see that one online.


For the month leading up to Earth Day, students at 284 universities in 48 countries have been competing to engage the most fellow students in as many “acts of green” as possible—everything from writing down personal act-of-green pledges to leading community clean-ups, expanding environmental initiatives already underway at their schools and yes, organizing major Earth Day events. The competition tracks the numbers of students involved. The early leaderboard is quite intriguing: 1. Russia State University of the Ministry of Finance 2. Oregon State University 3. University of the Free State {South Africa) 4. SV National Institute of Technology, Surat 5. University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

MOST POMP FOR THE CIRCUMSTANCES:  Michigan Technological University

Michigan Technological University holds its spring graduation very early: April 28 this year. Because the date is so close to Earth Day, the school’s grads will don caps and gowns made from recycled plastic water bottles. Evidently, 27 bottles make one gown.

MOST HIP:  Earth Day Rally, Washington, D.C.

I know these events can be dubious (and they create a lot of garbage), but they can also mobilize many people to do good. The April 22 concert, from noon to 7:00 p.m. on the National Mall, will include Cheap Trick, Dave Mason, Kicking Daisies and The Explorers Club. In between, leaders such as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and  Massachusetts representative Edward Markey, a long-time environmental champion, will speak. If you can’t make it to D.C., then catch the live stream of the entire event at

MOST MUIR:  The Wisdom of John Muir

Okay, this category could only have one entrant, but it might offer a nice idea for kicking back on Earth Day. Wilderness Press has released The Wisdom of John Muir, a book by Anne Rowthorn that gathers some of Muir’s famous writings as well as lesser-known letters and journal entries. Muir founded the Sierra Club and is considered America’s most ardent defender of wild areas. In 1903 the naturalist took President Theodore Roosevelt on a three-day camping trip in Yosemite, after which Roosevelt proceeded to establish 148 million acres of national forest, five national parks and 23 national monuments.


On April 18, The Olympian newspaper in Washington State published a piece titled “Earth Day’s Environmental ‘Religion’” by Robert H. Nelson. A few passages say it all:

“With Earth Day fast approaching (April 22), Americans might want to consider how environmentalism is becoming a new form of religion. They also might want to ask: Why is it OK to teach environmental religion in public schools, while the teaching of Judaism, Christianity and other traditional religions is not constitutionally permitted?… Environmentalism has, indeed, become an article of religious faith. As Joel Garreau, a former Washington Post editor, wrote in 2010, ‘faith-based environmentalism increasingly sports saints, sins, prophets, predictions, heretics, sacraments and rituals.’…”

Nelson continued on. I won’t. The article was syndicated by McClatchy-Tribune News Service, so I assume it was picked up by other news outlets, although I hope not.


The headline of an April 17 editorial in California’s Sacramento Bee says “Earth Day 2012: The Overriding Issue of Overpopulation!” Okay, that sounds sensible. The editorial begins with a quote from Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson, who created the first Earth Day in 1970 and stated on its inauguration that “”every environmental problem is a population problem.”

Alright, they’ve still got me. But reading further, I suddenly find the following passage: “Since the first Earth Day, the U.S. population has grown from 203 million to 312 million, and is projected to soar to over half a billion by the century’s end. However, unlike the situation in 1970, two-thirds of today’s U.S. population growth is from immigration, according to the Census Bureau.”

Wait, what?! The piece continues: “While many current environmental leaders shy away from the issue, conservation icons such as David Brower, a Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) Advisory Board member, and Nelson were clear that reduced immigration was an essential component of creating a sustainable environment.” The article then quotes the CAPS chairperson, Marilyn DeYoung, saying: “The message this Earth Day should be about getting back to the basic environmental issues. We need less consumption, lower fertility rates, and reduced immigration.”

Um, sustainability is a global challenge. If “those immigrants” don’t make it into the U.S. they’ll be living somewhere else. I guess that is CAPS’s way of exporting environmental problems, along with those pesky people.

[For more Earth Day 2012 coverage, see our In-Depth Report.]

Photo courtesy of Ladansusan on Flickr

Mark Fischetti About the Author: Mark Fischetti is a senior editor at Scientific American who covers energy, environment and sustainability issues. Follow on Twitter @markfischetti.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. hanmeng 4:21 pm 04/19/2012

    You assume Nelson’s article “was picked up by other news outlets, although I hope not.” Don’t you mean you pray not? May he burn in hell. Amen. etc.

    Link to this
  2. 2. thefabulous0ne 3:18 pm 04/20/2012

    “Most Wacky Editorial” hahahahaha fantastic!

    Link to this
  3. 3. NJefferies 3:43 pm 04/20/2012

    Sustainability issues are global — and local! If you’re trying to build a sustainable country, you’ve got to look at where the growth is coming from. Sorry if that offends you to address the source of the problem, but I’d say that’s not very “scientific” of you!

    Link to this
  4. 4. geojellyroll 2:39 pm 04/21/2012

    Hint to the author:

    It’s ‘Earth Day…not ‘USA Day’

    Sigh! It’s 2012 and we have the Internet, internatinal travel, etc. One would hope that this myopic view of ‘the Earth’ would be long gone.

    Link to this
  5. 5. mattglickstein 5:54 pm 04/21/2012

    Earth Day is every day, or according to Hawai’i 4th graders–”Every Day is Earth Day.” They’ve written a song/music video which just won a national contest put on by Project Earth, and are sharing it at a Hawai’i earth day event tomorrow. Please check out and share to celebrate Earth Day!

    Link to this
  6. 6. geojellyroll 6:13 pm 04/21/2012

    thanks Mattgl…

    Quite uplifting. Made me ‘happy’.

    Link to this
  7. 7. chrissponias 5:19 pm 04/22/2012

    Thank you for this article. It politely proves that human beings are ridiculous creatures.

    We are destroying our planet with our bombs and pollutions. We should ‘celebrate’ the Earth Day by seriously thinking about what we can do to save our planet.

    Here is an ‘interesting’ web page about this matter:

    Link to this
  8. 8. musicmaxbezanson 10:43 pm 04/22/2012

    I am quite the fan of rundowns, so I will organize what thoughts I had on a few of these pronouncements in likewise manner.

    I think it’s great that an American corporation with the clout of Hewlett-Packard is taking initiative to reduce waste in a rapidly expanding section of industry. I recently read an article in USA Today (linked at the end of my comment) citing a prediction that by the middle of this decade, developing nations will discard more “e-waste” than the developed world as a whole; I wonder who, if anyone, will champion the fight to reduce waste in those countries, as that could quickly exacerbate environmental problems.

    And of course, Nelson’s article was good for a chuckle, followed quickly by a shudder at the thought of how many people may buy into such a crackpot theory.

    As always, praise be to Muir.


    Scientifically Semi-literate

    Link to this
  9. 9. musicmaxbezanson 10:45 pm 04/22/2012

    Apologies, I forgot to include the link mentioned in my last comment:

    Link to this
  10. 10. trafficproducts 11:20 pm 04/23/2012

    Protecting the Earth is everyone’s responsibility

    Link to this

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