April Frauds

Three manufactured holidays make fools of us all.

Expressions of spring silliness aren't limited to April Fool's Day, the traditional prankster's holiday that targets only the willing and the gullible. Three stupid celebrations of more recent vintage make suckers of the whole population.

Earth Day is a designer holiday crafted to dramatize the ascendancy of style over substance, a feel-good feast enabling sentimentalists to live out the ultimate power fantasy: patronizing an entire planet. Nobody has calculated the cost of Earth Day in terms of wasted resources, but during the nearly 30 years since its founding, this foolish fête has surely racked up billions.

Earth Day promises salvation through consumerism: If only we would buy the right stuff--electric cars, herbal remedies, hemp-fiber clothing, biodegradable detergent--the world would be drenched in virtue. It presumes that individual purchasing and packaging decisions trump the effects of volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, tornadoes, ice ages, meteor storms, and solar flares.

Earth Day's hallmark is contempt for the poor, especially the working poor, for whom photo ops are low on the agenda, and for business people and workers in general. Only those who value consumption above production can so disdain the folks who create value.

Two years ago, New York's planet lovers celebrated Earth Day by closing off 10 midtown blocks of Park Avenue, headquarters of some of the country's largest corporations, for the apparent purpose of raising the consciousness of working people by preventing them from getting to work. Bemused office and delivery personnel stood by while green confetti was strewn about and Earth-friendly junk was hawked from kiosks, while politicians with bullhorns proclaimed their love for the Earth and disabled people tried in vain to gain access to their normal transportation. Two million brochures extolling the wonderfulness of Our Planet (printed on recycled paper, which everyone knows costs nothing to produce or clean up) were distributed in the streets and at bridges and tunnels (so that drivers entering the city could pause for a moment after paying their tolls to reflect on the bounty of nature before tossing the brochures out the window).

Soreheads who wondered why the event couldn't be held in a park, where some actual nature was available for contemplation and where Earth Day pollution wouldn't exacerbate the ordinary annoyances of city life, were reviled as planet-hostile. "I think everyone should be willing to give up a day's work to celebrate the Earth," bleated one professional city council member, apparently ignorant of her constituents who live on an hourly wage.

Another year, Earth Day was on a Sunday. My construction company had obtained a special permit for that day to lift a 10-ton steel superstructure onto a building. This work, which requires closing a lane for the operation of the crane, is allowed only on Sundays to minimize traffic disruption.

We'd rented the crane, hired the operating engineers and oilers, and arranged for a triple crew on double time to perform the lift and the welding. Besides these expenses, our contractual penalty for failure to complete on time would be $10,000 a day, or $70,000 a week. No one had told us that the street where we planned to work was among those selected for the privilege of being closed to celebrate the Environment.

At 7 p.m. on the evening before the lift, the traffic coordinator in the mayor's Office of Midtown Enforcement called me at home.

"We're revoking your permit," she said.

"Why?" I asked.

"It was issued in error," she said. "I'm sorry. We thought it had something to do with Earth Day."

I tried to argue. "Are you telling me that if I wanted to lift 10 tons of green balloons saying `Celebrate Earth Day!' which would get into the rivers and choke the fish, I'd be allowed to do it, but employing two dozen people to lift 10 tons of steel is not OK?"

"That's right."

"I'll hoist the balloons after I'm done with the steel," I offered. "I'll attach the balloons to the steel. I'll lift the balloons, and the balloons can lift the steel. This is ecological. It will utilize the Laws of Nature."

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