Every year on April 22, our nation celebrates Earth Day in hopes to raise awareness of preserving and conserving our planet. However, in this day and age, Earth Day has become the excuse for people to jump on social media platforms and post aesthetically pleasing nature pictures in hopes of likes or follows rather than supporting environmental protection.
Former U.S. Democratic senator and governor of Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson became concerned about the deteriorating environment in our nation. During the 1960’s Nelson was witnessing many environmental crises take place and inspiration from the youth’s Vietnam anti-war movements sparked the idea of environmental consciousnesses. Nelson shortly presented the idea of holding informative lectures, recruiting former republican congressman Pete McCloskey and youth activist Denis Hayes, to gain student participation they decided to choose April 22, a day that falls between final exam week and spring break to gain the highest student participation.
Santa Barbara 1969’s massive oil spill, Cuyahoga River 1969’s fires from oil pollution, and by 1970’s the automobiles and big industries polluting New York and Los Angeles city’s air. These catastrophic events helped the public become aware of the environment’s poor treatment. With the help of Nelson and others, Earth Day received a political alignment gaining support from both parties, and was then officially established in 1970.
Because of Earth Day, we now have laws set in stone such as the United States Environmental Education Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act to protect not only the environment and wildlife extinction but also humans from early deaths or diseases.
However, how is Earth Day seen today? Is it still widely recognized as a day to spread awareness of environmentalism? Have we achieved any new accomplishments to help preserve or conserve our earth to better our planet and health? Nowadays social media has been seen to be a powerful tool to spread messages, but why hasn’t it worked very successfully for Earth Day? It’s because environmental issues such as climate change, global warming, deforestation, and water and air pollution seem to be controversial topics. That social media post prioritizes aesthetics, likes, or follows over real-world problems.
Esteban Salas-Sarmiento, a 20-year-old college student environmental activist, expressed how much the environment is intertwined with him by saying, “It is to a point I unfortunately often take it for granted and take its natural gifts as a given as I’m sure many of us do. Nature has become human nature.”
We humans can be greedy, we take advantage of nature’s kindness and destroy it for our gain. Because of our greed and bad habits, we lose respect for nature and wildlife, creating a negative impact on the environment.
“The impact goes far beyond what we do positively individually which is nearly canceled out by what we cannot avoid as a whole collectively,” said Salas-Sarmiento. “For example car-dependent infrastructure, ease of trash and dumping, overpopulation in major cities and countries, natural human conflict, and much more.”
As humans, it is our responsibility to stay up to date with the most important environmental concerns. These concerns seem to be a very controversial topic because many people don’t believe these issues are real and aren’t educated enough on the topic. Accepting that these environmental issues are real and wanting to bring a change in lifestyles isn’t easy since we wouldn’t see results quick enough so those who don’t believe will probably find it easier to deny that it is real and expect future generations to fix the problems.
“Nobody wants to believe they are a cause of global detriment and decay just for living how they have always lived or like to live,” said Salas-Sarmiento. “Strict and massive regulation changes enacted to, for instance, fight climate change, could alter those very lives some like to live which could leave some feeling singled out or accused by their country and neighbors. It’s easier to not only say, but easier on the self to just assign climate change to natural cyclical change.”
As for Earth Day on social media, platforms such as Instagram and TikTok carry less of an activist or informative tone and more of a happy-go-lucky tone creating a trend to post your favorite nature photos and videos that have been sitting in your photos album.
“It has the quick effect of getting others to give for a day and pat them on the back without driving a majority to continual and more sustainable everyday activism since a nature post is no more than fluff,” said Salas-Sarmiento. “Most don’t even know it’s Earth Day until they see a post from their friends, favorite influencer, brand, etc. with a trending hashtag in the caption to get the post viral.”
The way people go about posting on social media for Earth Day is what causes an issue for some people. Posting aesthetically pleasing plants, flowers, beaches, or mountains won’t strike up a conversation for sustainable living practices such as using reusable alternatives, donating unused items, sustainable transportation, or protesting climate change, burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, water sanitation. This discussion isn’t to demand you change your Instagram feed, but to remember the significance of what Earth Day is truly all about.
“People are not often swayed by a string of redundant posts full of pretty pictures of the outdoors. Instead, through continual, sustainable activism and genuine love and care for the world around you, one can pass this energy and transmit their ideas and lifestyles to others,” said Salas-Sarmiento. “We don’t pick up habits from doing anything once, we will not change from being told to once. Consistency is contagious. Share your consistency.”
The environmental crises we once saw or heard of in 1970 are not back, but rather still present just with worsening damages to our planet. We can’t refuse to take action anymore and must utilize our voices to demand a better future for our planet, the wildlife within it, and the safety of our future. We must recall the importance of our nation’s Earth Day celebrations.
“Only through drastic causes can drastic effects take place,” said Salas-Sarmiento.