I Hate Earth Day

Earth Day was two days ago, and I didn't say a single thing about it. I circled April 22 in my planner at the beginning of the month, thinking I would publish a blog post or at least craft a handful of tweets to acknowledge the day. But Sunday came and went, and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. My Instagram feed displayed photo after photo of people out in nature, with captions like "Respect your mother" and "Happy #EarthDay!" And I'm not going to lie to you - I hated it.

I didn't hate the focus on the environment. I didn't hate that people were taking photos of their cute poses with trees or rocks or a flower or something. I didn't hate what people said in their IG captions. Rather, I hated what they didn't say.

Before you anticipate a holier-than-thou vegan speech, let me reassure you: that's not why I'm here. I ate animals for the vast majority of my life, having only been vegetarian for four years and vegan for two. To be frank, I didn't really give any serious thought to the environment until well after I went vegan. I recycled and turned off the tap when I brushed my teeth and vaguely gave a shit about the planet, but no more than the average person. It wasn't until a year or so after I went vegan - a decision I made based on animal rights rather than the environment - that I actually started thinking about how to make meaningful changes towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

And I still mess up all the time. I don't have a coffee press here and I'm living in a hostel where my only caffeine source is a Keurig, so I use the little plastic disposable cups every day. I kinda hate myself for it. Sometimes I forget to ask for no straw, and the literal devil arrives in my drink. I took a water-guzzling bath today just because I wanted to and ate a salad made from carrots and lettuce wrapped in plastic and wore my fast-fashion rubber sandals that I bought from Primark because I lost my other ones and do eco-friendly shower shoes even exist? I'm not a zero-waste warrior (though I'd like to be). I'm not the best at living sustainably. I'm not even good at it. My main motivation for staying vegan remains the animals themselves, not the water or land they call home. But what I do know is that by failing to address the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, we are doing the planet, and by extension ourselves, a huge disservice.

Here's the thing: my generation (hey, Millennials!) grew up with Earth Day. The occasion originated with an awful oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, right next to my hometown, but it went global in 1990. I was born two years later, and so I have many early memories of Earth Day classroom activities. When I was back home this past autumn, I found a booklet I made in elementary school about ways to help protect the environment. Topping the list: "Don't hurt the trees!" paired with an illustration of me semi-hugging, maybe partially chained to a tree trunk, depending on how you look at it. The point is, all my life I've heard people tell me to ride my bike, turn off the lights when I leave the room, and take short showers. And I'm fucking sick of it.

It's not that these activities, and many other small changes I saw people offer on Earth Day, aren't good things, because they totally are. We should all be driving less and turning off the lights and taking shorter showers, among other things. What I find deeply, profoundly frustrating about these suggestions, however, is the glaring absence of the environmental impact of what we eat on a daily basis. Without addressing what we put on our plates three times a day (those of us who are food-secure, that is) the rest of these ideas come across as superficial to me. 

The livestock industry is the greatest anthropogenic (read: originating in human activity) user of land. 70% of deforested land in the Amazon is now filled with pastures. It is estimated that 14.5-18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, a figure comparable to or greater than transport. Animal agriculture is the greatest emitter of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere and contributing to climate change. In 2017, scientists measured the largest dead zone ever in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by - you guessed it - toxic runoff from livestock producers. Fishing practices that unintentionally scoop up small cetaceans and turtles, deaths euphemistically labeled as "bycatch," are rapidly destroying marine ecosystems. The input-output ratio of resources for animal products is wildly inefficient. I could go on, but you understand what I'm getting at. Basically, eating animals is terrible for the planet.

I'm not suggesting that everyone has to go vegan or vegetarian right this minute. I'm not saying that you can't be an environmentalist if you eat meat, though some people do make that claim. I'm just asking you - all of us - to at least bring food into the rotation when we talk about daily tweaks and changes we can make in our lives to be kinder to Earth and, in doing so, save our own asses.

So yes, I hate Earth Day. But not because of what we do or write or talk about on that day. I hate Earth Day because of what's missing from the conversation, and because we should be having that conversation every single day of the year. Let's not wait. Let's start talking about it now. And then maybe, by Earth Day next year, we'll have made some progress.