It's Time to Dump Earth Day and Join the Extinction Rebellion

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Zero Carbon protest banner

TOLGA AKMEN / AFP / Getty Images

There is a big green wave coming this way that makes Earth Day look like tired baby boomer nostalgia.

The 2019 theme for Earth Day was "Protect Our Species." I didn't know our species needed protection, I thought we were the problem. But reading further, I see they mean "the millions of species that we know and love, and many more that remain to be discovered." They continue:

The unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides to name a few. The impacts are far reaching.

At least they put climate change first on their long list. They wouldn't want to make too big a deal about such a controversial subject. But then the Earth Day Network's lead sponsors are a car manufacturer, a delivery company and an airline, so we can't make too big a deal about CO2 emissions. Their mission statement doesn't even mention it.

Meanwhile in London, as I write this, the Natural History Museum is being occupied by what looks like thousands, protesting that "we don't want to end up like the dinosaurs." They are part of a movement that isn't just about one day, but is continuing to occupy Marble Arch. It's a movement that isn't sponsored by car companies, but that started when a hundred academics signed a call to action last October. They cited precedents like the suffragettes, Gandhi, and the civil rights movement. They wrote in December:

We must collectively do whatever's necessary non-violently, to persuade politicians and business leaders to relinquish their complacency and denial. Their "business as usual" is no longer an option. Global citizens will no longer put up with this failure of our planetary duty.

Every one of us, especially in the materially privileged world, must commit to accepting the need to live more lightly, consume far less, and to not only uphold human rights but also our stewardship responsibilities to the planet.

By comparison, the Earth Day message "protect our species" is rather narrow. It's not very specific. It doesn't mention that the single most important thing that we have to do is stop climate change, and doing that is hard.

A few years ago Treehugger emeritus Brian Merchant wrote a great Earth Day post, complaining:

Today, our Earth Day more resembles a toothless, consumerist Hallmark holiday like Father's Day or Halloween. And I'm not even sure we're better off that it exists at all -- under the current Earth Day paradigm, people can watch a cable TV special or buy an organic t-shirt one day of the year, and feel like they've participated. Sorry, not helping. Not really. The environmental challenges we face are too great to stop there.

He was spot on then and it is even more relevant now. He concluded:

If you really want to make Earth Day count... take to the streets. Call for action. Help build awareness; help build a movement. And don't bother with the organic cotton designer clothes.

Rebellion demands

Extinction Rebellion/CC BY 2.0

That movement exists; it's the Extinction Rebellion. It demands honesty from government, decarbonization by 2025 (think big!), and going beyond politics.

Decarbonization by 2025 is a very tough goal, but as Rosalind notes, we have met tough goals before. We won't get there by looking at bird photos and picking up litter on Earth Day once a year.

Enrique Dans writes in Forbes for an American audience: If You Haven't Heard Of Extinction Rebellion Yet, You Soon Will... noting, "Environmental activism has now moved to its next phase, and will soon be on the political agenda, starving the deniers and the irresponsible of oxygen." It is coming, and it is going to be big. Forget the Earth Day baby boomer nostalgia and hop on board.