By: Patrick Butler
Reprinted with permission from The Telegram. Originally published in The Telegram in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on April 19, 2014.
Three years ago, Mary Walsh, one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most prolific comediennes, appeared on CBC’s “George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight” to talk projects and politics with Canada’s slouchiest talk show host.
The interview was taped around the same time as International Women’s Day. Walsh, a long-time women’s advocate, gave her two cents on the commemoration.
“International Women’s Day — even turnips get a whole week,” Walsh scoffed.
“Root vegetables get a week. Nuts get a month. But International Women’s Day. One day, one day,” she said.
One day for the planet’s 3.5 billion women. It sort of trivializes the whole thing, doesn’t it?
Well, today is Earth Day, the planet’s annual environmental protection bonanza.
According to Earth Day Network, over a billion people are expected to participate in today’s celebrations, making it the largest civil observance in the world. With any luck, Earth Day will bring awareness to environmental issues, teach students about climate change and its effects and make people think about their own carbon footprint and personal impact on the environment.
But like International Women’s Day, it’s only one day, which seems to dilute the importance of the civic observance and the planet’s monumental environmental issues. In a climate where it seems like everything — rutabagas included — is being commemorated, profiled or celebrated with a special week or month, why should the Earth only get a day?
With a calendar stuffed with commemorations from education to human rights to science and technology, government awareness weeks constantly do battle with countless non-governmental initiatives to promote certain interests and raise the public profiles of different issues.
To put things in perspective, between Feb. 24 and March 23 alone, Walsh’s home province hosted Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Week, Canadian Agriculture Literacy Week, Health Canada’s Brain Awareness Week, and Newfoundland and Labrador Multiculturalism Week.
That’s four back-to-back awareness weeks. And they’re only four of the initiatives fighting for limited media coverage and public attention.
Granted, Earth Day garners a heck of a lot more media exposure and public support than agriculture literacy and brain medicine ever will. But it goes to show how saturated the advocacy timetable is and how meaningless and backwards it seems to devote a single 24-hour period to recognizing the monumental environmental problems facing the entire planet when other issues get a whole seven days.
Hierarchizing causes worth advocating is a dangerous road to head down if ever there was one. But we can all agree certain collective issues affecting all of humanity belong at the top of the advocacy pile.
As one of the most universal struggles confronting the world today, the environment — the future of the planet — is among the greatest issues of our time. In a society so inundated by demonstrations and commemorations, pegging the planet to one day reduces the profundity of the problem and the dangers of environmental impacts.
Of course, treating environmental issues with the preeminence they deserve goes far beyond expanding a single global civic observance. Furthermore, it’s up for debate whether expanding Earth Day to Earth Week, as certain organizations have done, or even to Earth Month for that matter, would actually make a difference.
But it is a cruel irony when Earth Day, no matter how well attended and internationally publicized, falls among the overwhelming number of days of action, awareness weeks and national (blank) months as just another special 24-hour commemoration.
Walsh was right about the triviality of International Women’s Day, but her argument applies equally to Earth Day.
It may be time to re-evaluate things when agriculture literacy, turnips and pecans get weeks and months of celebration and women and the Earth only get a day.