- By Elizabeth F. RalphElizabeth Ralph is a researcher at Foreign Policy.
Today is Earth Day — the annual holiday, first celebrated in 1970, to recognize and encourage environmental protection efforts, all while binding disparate peoples around the globe together in a common cause. It’s a stirring cause, but one that was greeted this year with many articles lamenting the world’s declining interest in both the holiday and the environmental movement it represents.
In the United States, at least, there seems to be some truth to these grumblings. As the Huffington Post reports, polling data demonstrates that environmental issues have become less important to Americans over the past few decades:
[A] 1971 Nixon poll found that 63 percent of respondents said that it was "very important" to work to restore and enhance the national environment, with 25 percent saying it was "fairly important" and only 8 percent saying it was "not too important." But in the 2013 HuffPost/YouGov poll, only 39 percent of respondents said it was very important, while 41 percent said it was fairly important and 16 percent said it was not too important.
Just looking at Google searches for the term "Earth Day" tells you something. Worldwide, the popularity of the search term is at an-all time low since 2004, which is as far back as Google Trends goes. It’s unclear what caused the search numbers to drop so suddenly in 2005 and again in 2009 (let us know if you have any theories).
According to Google, the United States still leads the world in terms of Earth Day interest. But the search term’s popularity within the country also seems to be on the decline, with variations from year to year:
But for all those who now fear that environmental complacency has put both Earth Day and the Earth in peril, it’s worth noting that things may not be that bad. The same Huffington Post study showed that Americans are using less electricity and recycling more than they were 30 years ago. And hey, for a time "Earth Day" was the "hottest" Google search term today in the United States, Canada, and India. Not even Ryan Lochte’s new reality TV show could top it.
Could it be that we’re showing our Earth Day spirit in ways other than simply Googling the term? Or, in this plugged-in world, does Interet popularity truly correspond to awareness, enthusiasm, and activism?
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.| War of Ideas |
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| Turtle Bay |