By Lauren, 23, Seal Beach, California
Every year on Earth Day, I open up Instagram and see the same thing -- photos of all the picturesque locations documenting the travels of people I follow, with captions like “Save the planet” and “Love your mother.” And then every year on April 23, all of those people who had advocated for environmentalism only hours before suddenly neglect their newfound advocacy, and slip right back into their regularly scheduled programming of forgetting about saving the planet until next April. This phenomenon has a name -- “performative activism.” Performative activism is activism that is done to increase social capital instead of actual devotion to a cause, and posting on Instagram instead of changing your daily habits is a prime example. In a lot of ways, environmentalism and sustainability are becoming more trendy, so posting a photo of your beach vacation accompanied by a catchy earth-loving caption is an easy way to show your involvement in the trend.
This isn’t to say that I’m perfect. Although I consider myself an environmentalist, I know that I could do more every day to make that claim more valid. I use plastic water bottles when there is no refill station for my reusable bottle. I online shop...alot. I sometimes buy the more convenient option at the store instead of doing my research about the most ethical choice. I drive my car when I could walk or bike instead. And yes, last year, I posted a video from a scuba diving trip on my Instagram on Earth Day. Just like everyone else, I am a work in progress, and so is my environmentalism. However, I believe that when people commit to making small changes every day, it becomes easier to make large changes and truly have a positive impact on the world. So, instead of just posting a photo, post your photo then go to a beach cleanup. Then the next day, forgo a plastic straw. Then the day after, compost your food scraps. Really, just make sure that you take action, however big or small, that accompanies your Earth Day post. And if it motivates you to post a picture when you do it, then post a picture! Just make sure to actually take steps to help the earth instead of just sharing a nice photo.
The narrative of only considering “Earth Day” once a year diminishes and disregards the extreme circumstances that are facing our planet. To truly tackle the problems that are plaguing our world - climate change, food insecurity and pollution, to name a few - we need to think of every single day as Earth Day. Waiting 365 days between each bout of activism is not nearly enough to address the major issues that become worse with each passing day. Sustainable practices need to be deeply ingrained in our day-to-day lives in order to truly make a difference.
The creation of Earth Day was a direct response to the Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969 that dumped 4,000,000 gallons of oil into the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of California and killed thousands of birds, dolphins, whales and sea lions. The spill was a huge contributor to the ratification of new environmental policies like the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as the establishment of the EPA. At the time of the spill, it was the largest in history, and created a visible platform that brought environmental issues to the forefront of government policy. However, forty years later, the Deepwater Horizon spill leaked 210,000,000 gallons into the Gulf of Mexico and became the largest oil spill in US history, despite the regulations and policies inputted after the Santa Barbara Oil Spill. As disasters progressively become worse, it is more critical than ever to take action now to prevent massive catastrophes in the future.
Volvo just released an ad promoting their new line of electric vehicles with the slogan “Climate change is the ultimate safety test.” This catchphrase perfectly encapsulates the concept that environmental awareness is not an optional add-on to our daily lives, but rather is deeply rooted in the choices that we make every single day. Climate change will soon have dramatically visible consequences on our world, and the “ultimate safety test” will gauge our preparedness to deal with those ramifications. With that concept in mind, humans need to reflect upon our readiness to deal with the problems facing Earth, and take action to ensure that mankind is able to pass the safety test.
If we don’t take action now, we are going to degrade the environment beyond repair in the coming years. So a few Earth Days from now, there might not be an earth to post photos of. I’m no expert, but I do think that everyone can take small actions every day to decrease their carbon footprint, reduce the amount of pollution they generate, and protect the earth as a whole. Making the shift from performative activism to true activism can be a difficult road, but it’s critical to ensuring the earth is habitable and healthy. Every day, I am striving to do better than the day before, and I hope that you all will join me on the journey to making Earth Day every day.