My Earth Day inbox

Environmental reporters hate this holiday. Let me show you why.

If you know an environmental reporter, send them some love this week. Earth Day is coming, and our inboxes are filling up with hot, useless garbage.

There’s no way around it. Every April, environmental beat reporters are inundated with e-mails from public relations representatives seeking to capitalize on Earth Day, a holiday originally intended to highlight righteous civil disobedience and social justice activism but which somehow became an annual celebration of reusable diapers and tree-plantings.

The e-mails are not just numerous, but terrible. Every request to highlight a climate activist, scientist, or speaking event seems to be met with seven more to write about a group’s “new carbon footprint calculator” or a brand’s “eco-friendly gift guide for masculine manly men.”

Sorting through Earth Day e-mails is almost always an exercise in self-loathing and time-wasting. So this year, I thought I’d at least try to give some context to the complaints by analyzing the pitches I’ve received so far and sharing the results with you.

What one reporter’s Earth Day inbox looks like

From April 1 to April 18, I received 90 pitch e-mails containing the words “Earth Day.” That’s about 7 e-mails per business day, which is really no big deal. (However, I usually get the majority of Earth Day pitches the week of the actual holiday—aka, this week. So I expect to have received a lot more yesterday and today).

But the actual number of pitches I got was less compelling than the type of pitches I got, and I think those help explain why reporters tend to loathe Earth Day so much. Out of the 90 Earth Day pitches I got from April 1 to April 18:

What Earth Day is supposed to be

The way I see it, only 5 percent of the Earth Day pitches I received had anything to do with the actual spirit of Earth Day. I tried to explain that spirit for The New Republic in 2017:

Earth Day wasn’t supposed to be a corny celebration of green living. Founded in 1970, amid rising awareness of industry’s unchecked pollution of the air and water, its organizers aimed to apply the lessons of civil-right activism to the environmental movement. “The original founders of Earth Day literally borrowed pages from the then-happening civil rights movement to engage in righteous civil disobedience, righteous group mass action, to have humanity look at environmental degradation and the degradation of lives of individuals,” Mair said.

In fact, the organizers even made racial equality central to their message. As Brentin Mock recounted in Grist, Earth Day coordinator Denis Hayes “wanted to marry science with social justice activism.” At the time, Hayes said that organizers’ “goal is not to clean the air while leaving slums and ghettos, nor is it to provide a healthy world for racial oppression and war.” Civil rights activist Channing Phillips, another organizer, recognized that environmental problems would not be distributed equally: “[Racial] injustice, war, urban blight, and environmental rape have a common denominator in our exploitive economic system.”

I think environmental reporters dread our inboxes in the lead-up to Earth Day because they become direct representations of the exploitation Phillips describes. They become places where clout-mongers gather to ask for praise and validation as the planet burns around them.

Every April, in the lead-up to a holiday intended to expose environmental injustice, our inboxes become the destination for people who want to take advantage of it for personal gain. They see the holiday and think, “this would be a good marketing opportunity.” That doesn’t feel like Earth Day; it feels like hell on Earth.

But there are always good pitches in the bunch, and that’s cool. The three Earth Day pitches I got from groups attempting to highlight environmental injustice and climate justice activism are posted after the jump.

Pitch 1: Fossil fuels “among the most disproportionately polluting sectors of the economy.”

  • On April 13, Greenpeace USA, the Movement for Black Lives, and the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy released a report called Fossil Fuel Racism: How Phasing Out Oil, Gas, and Coal Can Protect Communities. It reveals that “oil, gas, and petrochemical refining are among the most disproportionately polluting sectors of the economy, even when compared to other heavily polluting industries.”

    From the pitch: “President Biden has a major chance to address fossil fuel racism in the United States’ updated commitment to the Paris climate agreement, which he’s expected to announce at the April 22 Earth Day Global Climate Summit. The science is clear: we cannot tackle the climate crisis — or systemic racism — and continue to burn fossil fuels.”

    (You can find more coverage of the report in Earther.)

Pitch 2: “Creating systems of ecological sustainability means creating systems of justice and reparation.”

  • Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light is holding an Earth Day event “celebrating stories from MNIPL's work last year and from our climate justice congregations as well as inviting you to deepen your relationship with MNIPL and our shared work of climate justice and racial justice.” More info here.

Pitch 3: “Give marginalized communities an alternative to dirty fossil fuels.”

  • The Solstice Initiative, a non-profit that “works to make community solar more affordable and accessible,” is soliciting donations for Earth Day that they say “will impact the lives of those on the frontlines of climate change.”

    “If we receive 51 unique donations (one for every year we’ve celebrated Earth Day) we will unlock a $5,000 gift from a generous supporter,” the pitch reads. Your contributions will give marginalized communities an alternative to dirty fossil fuels and critical monthly energy savings.”

    I haven’t reported on this directly, so I can’t attest to the legit-ness of the non-profit. But if you’re familiar with their work and supportive of it, thought I’d let ya know. Donation link is here.

Catch of the Day:

Fish loves the Earth… and treats.

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Stay hydrated, eat plants, break a sweat, and have a great day!