Earth Day isn't about politics
Last updated 5/19/2023 at 9:21am
On Earth Day this year, I will be planting two trees in a local park.
This is not a political act.
And yet, there are many who will see it that way because it occurs on a day politicians and environmental activists – especially on the left – have appropriated for political purposes.
By filtering environmental stewardship though the distorting lens of politics, we are losing the ability to enjoy the beautiful creation around us, making it more difficult to take actions that should otherwise be uncontroversial.
For example, during a recent lecture I gave, one member of the audience demanded that I make it clear that conservatives had been the key roadblock to climate policies. Such arguments are not about convincing those on the right to join efforts to address environmental risks, but to tear down others to make yourself appear more righteous by comparison.
Putting political point-scoring ahead of effectiveness also makes environmental issues more partisan and undermines opportunities for cooperation.
For example, after it took the unusual step of endorsing Joe Biden for President, Nature found "little evidence that the endorsement changed views about Biden and Trump." On the contrary, Nature's own study found that "political endorsement by scientific journals can undermine and polarize public confidence in the endorsing journals and scientific community."
Conflating science and politics didn't change the politics but did undermine the science.
Ironically, even after acknowledging these results, Nature said it would consider making endorsements in the future, throwing their own study aside in favor of virtue signaling.
That problem becomes more acute when environmental issues are used to "own" the other side.
A Tesla catches fire? Clearly EVs are dangerous.
A forest fire puts smoke into a community? It is obviously a "climate fire."
Of course, there are legitimate critiques of policies that spend taxpayer dollars to promote EVs and of the impact of dry summers have on already unhealthy and fire-prone forests. I spend a great deal of time showing that Washington's environmental policies aren't achieving the goals they purport to address.
But injecting more politics into environmental issues makes it difficult to discern between accountability and political attacks.
As a result, the reaction to many environmental discussions is to entrench. For the right, the risks from climate change aren't merely exaggerated – it is a hoax. For the left, the risks from climate change aren't merely serious – they are a threat.
Both forms of entrenchment encourage absurd claims and undermine the claimants. For example, the claim the governor and staff at the Department of Ecology have staked themselves to, claiming that a big increase in taxes on CO2 emissions won't increase gas prices even as they admit that is the purpose and every climate expert says it does.
We are certain to see people again using Earth Day as a political weapon to critique political opponents and demand
policies that suit the ideological agenda of politicians.
Instead, I would encourage people to spend Earth Day appreciating the wonder of nature and the creation that surrounds us. Simple acts of good stewardship, like planting a tree that is needed or picking up litter, makes a difference and does more than many of the symbolic efforts that will be on display.
- Todd Myers in the Center for the Environment director at the Washington Policy Center. Email him at [email protected].