Earth Day is about more than being nice to the environment

Today is Earth Day, and as I walked out of my work cafeteria this afternoon, I realized why so many “environmentalists” annoy me. It’s not because they’re bad people or because they I disagree with their ideas, but it’s because I really think that they go about promoting their cause in the wrong way. Many of them attempt to get people to change their ways out of some sort of guilty moral obligation. Straight up, this approach will not work in the medium or long term.

Change we can believe in

Seeing a nice lady telling you that the Earth is our most important resource and that we must preserve it no matter what is heart-warming. It even got the people I ate lunch with to recycle their pop cans today. However, living in a more environmentally responsible manner takes more than a mere one-day change in habits. It takes a fundamental change in how we think about how the world operates. This means rethinking our very well-entrenched notions on:

  • Man’s relationship with plants, animals, and the environment as a whole
  • What businesses need to do to succeed and make money
  • The where/how/why of economics, job creation, and “growth”
  • What we as people really, really need to be live fulfilled lives

Just because you’ve thought one way for a long time doesn’t mean you’ve thought the right thing for a long time.

Over the next few weeks, The SuperSpade will dive into these and other pressing questions concerning the environment, taking these issues beyond morality and into practicality. Some example: Is it true that man should have absolute freedom to do absolutely anything to the environment? Is it true that businesses must compromise social/ethical/environmental values for the sake of profitability? Is it ture that “green” jobs in industries producing sustainable energy cannot be created?

Think about it

This Earth Day, take some time to think about why you do the things you do, why you consume the way you consume, why you think the way you think about your relationship with our environment. If you need help, consider some of these questions:

  • Ask yourself why you hesitate to purchase from local businesses, and clamor to buy from large companies.
  • Ask yourself why you don’t spend $0.05/lb for locally-grown, organically-grown fruits and vegetables.
  • Ask yourself why a family of three thinks that they “need” a Suburban to accomodate the transportation needs of their entire family.

I’m looking forward to tackling these and more.

One Love. One II.



About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

4 responses to “Earth Day is about more than being nice to the environment”

  1. Aly Wane says :

    I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot recently. I do think that the moral argument is important insofar as Man has arrogantly proclaimed Himself the pinnacle of Creation, rather than a part of a larger system. I think it IS very important to challenge the assumption that we have the right to do anything to the earth. In fact, to think of ourselves as separate from the Earth has caused the ecological crisis we are in right now. Our arrogance will lead to self-destruction if we do not realize we are connected to the whole system.

    I do agree, however, that it is important to think about the issue of practicality. We are so divorced from the earth (we don’t know where our food comes from, we blithely consume products that toxify ( I apologize if that’s not a word :))the bloodstream of the globe, etc…) that basic arguments of morality don’t seem to be effective.

    I’m looking forward to this discussion. Peace

  2. Ellen says :

    I don’t necessarily think that environmentalists pushing people to change their way out of some guilty moral obligation. Rather, I think the fundamental problem is a.) the stigma attached to environmentalists (fanatics, nerds, obsessive, etc) which directly connects to b.) a disconnect between our actions and the consequences they have on the earth and subsequently on us.

    Our trash is carted away so that most of us never have to see it. It is tucked away in the backyards of only a few poor, unfortunate people. Most of the world doesn’t live in the bitter cold arctic. Therefore, we don’t see it warming up. How many of us have seen hundreds of thousands of acres of rainforest destroyed? We haven’t. And because we haven’t, we don’t fully understand the consequences of our action. If we did, I think people would change their state of mind.

  3. Ellen says :

    One more thing…

    I do agree that the framework in which environmental issues is presented to us does need to be changed.

    Bottom line–we live in a capitalist society. We speak a language of dollars and cents. If environmental issues were presented to people in a capitalist framework and as an opportunity to make money, while morally slightly indecent, it would bring about the desired results.

    Point and case: The hybrid. Its been around for a long time, but it is only now becoming a trend. Why? The price of gas. People don’t care as much about the environmental benefits of their hybrids as they do the fuel efficiency.

    Maybe if we were to spin taking care of the earth into this framework, we would receive better results.

  4. Garlin II says :

    Hopefully, this discussion will help re-frame environmental responsibility in a more practical way without sacrificing an appreciation for the inherent complexity of this topic.

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