Several high profile environmental disasters (the Cuyahoga River fire, an oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif.) and a passionate level of engagement around the civil rights, feminist and anti-war movements served as the foundation for the first Earth Day in 1970.
As executive director of the Earth Day Initiative, John Oppermann sees a similarly heightened level of consciousness today. Social media engages likeminded individuals and influencers alike, while climate change-induced extreme weather drives non-environmentalists from their homes, turning them into activists. Here, he shares how being an environmentalist is much easier than you think.
This year’s Earth Day… Is the launch of a three-year countdown to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, called the Count to 50. The purpose of the campaign is to channel the enthusiasm we see from citizens every year towards doing one positive, simple thing to green their lifestyle: making the switch to clean energy. By 2020, we’ll be able to quantify the impact by calculating how many tons of carbon emissions were avoided and how much money has been directed towards green energy and the number of houses running on it.
Committing to just one thing… Ups the chance that someone actually takes action. If you give people a list of 10 things to do, they get bogged down in making a choice and end up not doing anything at all. Some participants in the Count to 50 campaign will install solar or wind energy at their homes. But for most, the best way they can divest from dirty energy is to call their utility provider and request to pay for clean energy. It’s a super simple process that takes less than 60 seconds. People can visit Countto50.org to commit.
The focus on switching to clean energy… Gives people positive action to take. We could’ve focused the Count to 50 campaign on meat consumption, which has a huge impact on the environment and is relatively easy to do. But we didn’t want to tell people not to do something. We also want citizens to do something that can be measured. When people move to clean energy, we have concrete metrics, which are motivating for others. One of the biggest dilemmas about any environmental issue is that each one is so large, no one feels like they can make an impact. If you pool everyone’s individual efforts, however, we can point towards much larger results.
Reporting by Chris Peak