Happy Earth Day!

Mother Nature sucks.

Today is Earth Day. In order to celebrate, we’re asked to reduce our use of fossil fuels, cut down on pollution-generating activities, and generally be good to the planet.

So what does she do in response?

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, we’re expecting record high temperatures – crank up those air conditioners. Yes, I’m fully aware that a mid-80s heat wave in the Bay Area is pleasantly cool weather for those in, say, Central Texas. It’s all what you’re used to, y’know. I suppose we can figure that our wimpyness is made up for by those in Mexico, Central America, and points further south who are (a) experiencing temperatures in the upper 80s and 90s and (b) who don’t even have air conditioning.

I’m sure those in western Montana and Wyoming currently experiencing below-freezing temperatures will be happy to avoid using their heaters in support of Mama Terra. Likewise those in Alaska and across Canada, where the temperature ranges from 28 in Galena, AK to a positively tropical 50 in Deka Lake, BC.

(For those of you outside the United States, all temperatures are in Farenheit. Feel free to subtract 30 and divide by 2 to get approximate Celcius values.)

Looking a little wider, I see temperatures in the 30s and 40s across most of Europe and Asia, 80s and 90s throughout Africa, Southeast Asia, and Northern Australia.

Basically, if you’re going to tread lightly on the earth today, as far as temperature goes I hope you’re in India, Hawaii, or South Africa, where temperatures are in the mid-70s. (Yes, I’m aware that it’s the middle of the night in India, mid-morning in Hawaii, and early evening in South Africa. Kinda makes my point, doesn’t it?)

There’s also “Severe Weather” in Norway, Denmark, Germany, and much of the Mediterranean. High winds in the central US, flooding along the Mississippi River, and fires throughout East Texas, Mexico, and Central America.

And this is a good day! As far as I can tell, there have been no major earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, or typhoons anywhere in the world. (Of course, it is still only a little after noon here on the US West Coast – plenty of time left for Momma Earth to throw in a couple of natural disasters.)

So why are we being nice?
Yeah, OK, so I’m being deliberately obtuse. Not the first time.

It does kind of point out a problem with this kind of one-day event to promote a cause: no matter what day you pick, it’s going to impossible for much of your target audience to participate (and I’m not just talking about environmental causes here – the same thing will be true in any area). And the majority aren’t going to observe the day later when conditions improve: how many of you currently shoveling snow, hauling sand bags, or sitting in front of an air conditioner will have a belated Earth Day next week/month when you think you can do it without risk to life and limb?

What Earth Day risks is that people will focus on the one day a year to go easy on the planet, and forget about the other 364 days. A one-day event is a great way to raise the profile of your cause and bring it to people’s attention, but by making it an annual event you risk losing ongoing support. The same effect can be seen elsewhere. Consider radio and TV. (Non-US readers: “publicly-supported” radio and TV stations in the US are not fully funded by the government; a large portion of their funding comes directly from listeners and viewers.) Commercial stations run commercials throughout the day every day. Publicly-supported stations run pledge drives a couple of times a year. One guess which model produces a more reliable and consistent income. Hint: it’s not the one that concentrates the effort in a few days scattered across the calendar.

Before you object that commercials and pledge drives have different audiences and can’t be directly compared like this, consider the model of satellite radio: commercial-free with an annual subscription fee. The model supports one broadcaster. Or consider Pandora. Advertising revenue accounts for more than 80% of their income; more than eight times as much as subscriptions.

Consider exercise. Ignoring the health benefits of regular exercise, just ask yourself which is easier to do consistently: a brief session several times a week, a long session once a week, or a really long “make up” session when you get a chance?

People just seem to handle unpleasant things (whether spending money, cutting down on fossil fuel usage, or working up a sweat) better when they make it a habit than when they try to do it on an occasional basis. Thinking in terms of the long run and making your cause a habit will do better over time than a splashy event once a year.

2 thoughts on “Happy Earth Day!

  1. Tom Lehrer put it nicely: “On Christmas Day you can’t get sore. Your fellow man you must adore. There’s time to rob him all the more, the other three-hundred and sixty-four…”


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