Here’s to the Other 364 Earth Days


I’m guessing some of you might share my distaste for the once-a-year gaga over the Earth, especially when it takes the form of NBC changing its logo color or Chevron touting its environmental record. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be thinking about cutting greenhouse gases or leaving the car at home to walk, bike, or take transit to work today, but I am cynical about the political and media frenzy that kicks in around Earth Day, and then conveniently disappears for all the un-Earth Days (can you hear the Mad Hatter singing it now from the front seat of his H2?).

I wish I could show you how many emails and press releases have come over the virtual Streetsblog transom, many discussing the environmental benefits of buying more crap, albeit "green" crap. I find it in poor taste to start California’s "cash for appliances" rebates on one of the last days we should get up early and drive to the mall to consume. And I can’t begin to tell you how tired I am of hearing the word "sustainable" bandied about to greenwash the patently unsustainable lives some of us would like to continue living.

I don’t know if there is a name for people like me (don’t you dare say curmudgeon!), but I feel the same thing on Valentines Day and Halloween. You shouldn’t need an excuse to share love, bedeck yourself in costume or minimize your carbon footprint one day out of the year. If these values are important to you, they should be reflected in your quotidian routine.

Nonetheless, the day is awash in festivities: Some are token gestures and some are more meaningful.

In case you were wondering, Governor Schwarzenegger will celebrate Earth Day with a press
conference in Milpitas, where he’ll announce a new solar manufacturing
facility. Mayor Newsom plans to announce as-yet-undefined environmental
legislation at an early-afternoon press conference, and the region’s
planners have gathered in Oakland for "One Bay Area," a
conference focusing on SB 375 and the need to develop the Bay Area
sustainably (there’s that word again). BART Police are getting out of their cars and patrolling their facilities by bicycle.

Hayes Valley Farm is holding a work day this afternoon if you want to get your urban farming fix. If you can’t get away from the computer to dirty your hands in the soil, Clarence Eckerson at
Streetfilms has compiled a Streetfilms playlist
with 15 vignettes to enjoy.

In the good-news department, TransForm was named the highest impact non-profit in the Bay Area for combating climate change today by Philanthropedia, a foundation that researches and recommends non-profits for philanthropic donations.

"We’re interested in helping donors give better and
directing more money to the nonprofits that are having the most impact
in their sector," said Erinn Andrews, Philanthropedia’s Chief Operating Officer. Andrews said they had surveyed 97 climate change experts in the Bay Area who lauded TransForm’s staff and Executive Director, Stuart Cohen, for their thorough research and dynamic advocacy. "They deserve our
support so they can do even more," said Andrews

"Transportation makes up 40 percent of greenhouse gases here in the Bay Area," said TransForm’s Cohen. "That means to fight climate change we need to grow in a way that supports convenient communities where it is easier to walk, bike, carpool or take public transportation for more trips. Otherwise, we will not only fail to reduce emissions, but our cost of living will skyrocket."

Congratulations to TransForm and the others who rounded out Philanthropedia’s top ten:

  1. TransForm
  2. ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA
  3. Union of Concerned Scientists
  4. Natural Resources Defense Council
  5. Climate Protection Campaign
  6. The Energy Foundation
  7. Sierra Club
  8. Communities for a Better Environment
  9. Greenbelt Alliance
  10. ClimateWorks Foundation

On a personally gratifying note, last Friday, Streetsblog participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) meeting in Miaimi, where nearly 1,300 college students from every state and 83 countries convened with President Clinton to share the commitments they’ve made to improve environmental, social, public health and human rights problems around the world. President Clinton led the opening and closing plenary sessions, which focused on how small ideas can become significant forces for change.


I spoke on a panel about Sustainable Transportation with John Renne, Professor of Planning and Urban Studies at the University of New Orleans
 and policy adviser to New Orleans Mayor-Elect Mitch Landrieu, Ragini Kapadia of the AFL-CIO’s Center for Green Jobs, and Dr. Lee D. Lambert, President of Shoreline Community College. The panel was moderated by Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-Chief of Metropolis Magazine. While the discussion centered on topics near and dear to the hearts of Streetsblog readers, it was the interaction with all the bright-eyed students that made the event so inspiring.

Among the more than 200 students present at the panel, many had made commitments to improve bicycle infrastructure on their campuses and encourage more students to ride in less-than-hospitable cities like Orlando, Florida. Mary Jean O’Malley and Zoee Turrill of Denver University have taken their 2009 commitment even further. After achieving their goal of starting a bike share program with 20 bicycles on campus at Denver University, O’Malley and Turrill worked with Regional Transportation District the non-profit Denver Bike Sharing to launch the largest public bike share program in the U.S. with up to 1,000 bikes by 2011. Denver Mayor John Hickenloper will christen Denver B-Cycle today with the opening of 50 bike share stations and 500 bicycles. Congratulations to O’Malley and Turrill for their hard work–all 365 days of the year.

So dear readers, what do you think about Earth Day? Have any fun events or good news to share? Tells us about it in the comments.

  • Here! Here! I’ll raise a glass to the other 364.

    I have to say, I feel very blessed to live in a city and neighborhood that makes living car free fairly painless. I may bitch a lot, but we are holding on and will continue to do so. Take that Newsom!

  • For me,Earth Day is like a birthday or anniversary ,giving us an opportunity to formally celebrate that which we love 365 days a year.

  • Sorry, Matt, I won’t use the ‘curm….’ word, but whatever it is, in my opinion, you’re off-base. Cash for appliances gets rid of old, energy-guzzling appliances and replaces them with ‘energy-star’ rated ones….what’s not to like? I read somewhere that the #1 energy guzzler in a home is the refrigerator. And like it or not, buying ‘things’ is what our capitalistic economy runs on….heck, I’m writing this from a cafe – buying pastry and java – while replacing an old appliance is actually a much better application of my scarce funds.
    So Matt, get with the program :-), or ‘lighten-up’….

  • Irvin, is the difference in energy used over the lifetime of an appliance worth replacing an old working one with a new one? The new needs to be manufactured, shipped, stored, etc. All that takes a VAST amount of energy and creates a VAST amount of waste.

    Cash for clunkers for example. Many times I read how if everyone switched to a prius we’d save X amount of gas. But what is the environmental cost of building all those new cars? What is the environmental (and social) cost of disabling perfectly fine running automobiles?

    Finally, I think Earth Day should be a time to start thinking of a world after a growth based economy, not a day in which to embrace it and push the buck further down the line.

  • Mike,
    With $ for clunkers, it was even more important, enviro-speaking, than with appliances. Ever biked behind an old clunker and enjoyed the pungent aroma? At least with old, KW-consuming refrigerators, there are no emissions.

    But lets stick with the old appliances – the energy used to build, ship, etc….are these really important parameters? I mean, by that same token, one would never buy anything new! Now I’m all for Good Will, but it’s Walmart, not Good Will, where America shops. Truth is, replacing an old guzzler – gas or electric, with a modern appliance or vehicle is more green than recycling ones cans – because by reducing energy consumption (per KW or per gallon), resource consumption is reduced.

    Maybe it also means overcoming an anethema to consumption – as I said before, we consume all the time – it can be good for the economy and environment – replacing older, inefficient items with modern, efficient and cleaners ones is a two-fer.

  • Irvin, the embodied energy in producing a car is estimated by some to be up to 40 percent of all the energy use associated with a car. I would imagine the numbers are fairly similar with appliances.

  • Irvin, I don’t think we’ll see eye-to-eye on this one. We need to learn to fix up old appliances and cars instead of just replacing. Our culture is a throw-away culture and if the green movement starts buying to that, then they aren’t really changing anything.

    And cash for clunkers was a good idea in theory, but a lot of the cars that qualified weren’t the cars you are describing. The program was designed to get people to buy new cars, not to save the environment. The dollar won once again.

  • Matthew, thank you. I knew I wasn’t just making things up. Car manufacturing is HIGHLY energy intensive, not to mention mining the nickle and producing the batteries for, say, the prius.

  • Christina

    Gas-powered alarm clock anyone?

  • You’re right, Mike – I think we can respectfully see each other’s differing points, and disagree:-).
    After writing about the benefits of replacing old with new, I realized I omitted a vital part of why rebate programs, whereby the rebate only comes with a ‘qualified trade-in’, are so beneficial.
    First, the product isn’t ‘tossed’ – in $for Clunkers, the program acted as a stimulus for the scavenger industry! When Clunkers Become Junkers
    Second, this prevents the build-up of ‘stuff’, i.e. clutter. For someone living in an SRO like myself, I know how important that is.

    Mike – I have heard that in Japan car engines must be changed every 3 years or so – I have to research that – but the point is that they don’t want older, inefficient vehicles consuming extra fuel and belching toxins….which is what happens as vehicles age that burn fossil fuels.

    But I understand your principle – I’m still riding my 1991 bike….God, is it heavy though!


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