Originally published in Gothamist, April 22, 2014 by Christopher Robbins
NYC Earth Day, Brought To You By Toyota, United, & Con Ed
How do you like your conscience—coddled or questioned? Two very different Earth Day events are taking place simultaneously today, one in Union Square, and the other in Zuccotti Park.
The very first Earth Day in 1970 began [PDF] near the New York Stock Exchange, where a Republican Senator told demonstrators that the festivities were important but shouldn’t divert attention from issues like poverty. All city-owned vehicles, with the exception of emergency personnel, were grounded. Fifth avenue was closed from 59th Street to 14th Street for two hours. Governor Rockefeller rode a bike in Prospect Park. Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman, and Pete Seeger greeted hundreds of thousands of people in Union Square, where the “secular revival meeting,” as the Times described it [PDF], didn’t disperse until 10:40 p.m. “Beyond words like ecology, environment, and pollution, there is a simple question,” Mayor Lindsay told the crowd. “Do we want to live or die?”
Today in Union Square from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the official Earth Day New York will have “Green travel exhibits sponsored by United Airlines.” Free sandwiches. Green product samples and a “Green vehicle runway show and exhibition” sponsored by Toyota. Con Ed is a sponsor, as it was in 1970, but back then there was concern that protesters might “get fired up emotionally and do something besides listen to speeches” [PDF]. In 2014, that concern has been muted by environmental concessions, sound PR, and the NYPD. The planet continues to hurtle towards catastrophic climate change.
Top billing for today’s Earth Day festivities: “Kids’ activities and entertainment.” Live music lasts from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. You can recycle electronics and clothes, which is nice, but you can’t walk down an empty Fifth Avenue to do so. Mayor de Blasio gave a short speech at 10:30 a.m., then sped away in his motorcade of bulletproof gas guzzlers. [UPDATE: Mayoral Press Secretary Wiley Norvell emails us to say that de Blasio took the subway in both directions, and announced improvements to the city’s air quality control code.]
The second set of Earth Day celebrations begins in Zuccotti Park at 5 p.m. The Global Climate Convergence, a group of environmental, social, and economic justice groups who are “directing our ire at Wall Street—the ultimate source of the social, economic, and environmental crisis we’re in.”
“It is scandalous that corporations, not just in NYC, but all over the state, have become the face of Earth Day,” Gloria Mattera, co-chair of the Green Party of New York says. “Corporate green washing is not just bad propaganda but continues to wreck havoc on our health and the climate….The threat to the well-being of the planet and our people is so great that we need fundamental changes to our political and economic system.”
There will be plants, puppets, a maypole, and marching til 8 p.m.