by David Kobe
When performative, environmentalism is insurmountably bleak. On the first Earth Day in 1970, bonafide thin-skinned sociopath President Richard Nixon took a brief break from carpet-bombing Cambodia to plant a tree on the White House South Lawn. President Trump also planted a tree in the South Lawn last spring. Unlike Nixon, who (despite his flaws) established the Environmental Protection Agency and vowed to make the ‘70s “the environmental decade,” Trump was completely apathetic about environmentalism.
As the public and private sectors continue to merge economically and spiritually, this kind of performance has, naturally, extended beyond politics. There are plenty of brands signaling their concern for the environment and insisting that their garments are stitched with empathy for Mother Earth. But, as my roommate who works in design likes to tell me, “making anything new is bad for the environment.” The founders of your favorite Instagram brand probably didn’t start a clothing company to save the environment; they did it because they were bored working in private equity, and a clothing company sounded fun.
So back to my favorite topic: me. I find myself in a terrible predicament. Believe it or not, I do not always practice what I preach with absolute adherence to my moralistic views. I truly love buying new clothes, and see each season as an opportunity to reinvent myself with a new wardrobe. It is a tough realization for me that the only way to reinvent the Earth (that beautiful maiden that God made for us for free at zero percent APR financing) is to reinvent myself in a more sustainable way—to consume less. Still, in the last month, like most, I have hit a complete and utter wall. Also, like most, I find the brief fifteen-minute dopamine hit of buying something online a reprieve from total despair. While writing this column, I have gone deep into the Depop universe and have become a true evangelist for the app. I’ve noticed that the excitement of receiving a package from the site scratches the same itch as buying designer pieces off the rack or on SSENSE.
In the spirit of Earth Day, here are my recommendations: simple graphic tees accompanied by simple books that will guide us all along our cosmic journey to find harmony with the Earth.
This shirt is the confluence of the 1990s crunchy environmentalism design aesthetic and the bummer energy of mandatory office volunteerism. I have to credit the Century Cable Company for going above and beyond in designing a beautiful t-shirt for what must have been a 40-person, office-wide park clean-up and barbecue. What was certainly a phoned-in attempt at community engagement by Century Cable produced a shirt beautifully adorned with a bounty of spring flowers emerging from a crisp and clean planet Earth. The illustrations are reminiscent of a springtime garden in a children’s book, and the shirt is an unassuming prompt to “CleanUp & GreenUp” our lives and our offices/co-working spaces.
This shirt is a not-so-gentle cosmic reminder: Time is Running Out. I am deeply touched by the graphic on the back of the tee. The Earth is slipping through an hourglass. It is the only object in this cartoonish universe afflicted by progress. Other planets are motionless and stuck in space’s stillness. We are the only lonely object in the universe affected by time. Perhaps, in the intervening years, time has run out; or perhaps the planet will fall to the bottom of the hourglass, only to be turned over and go through a transformation yet again.
This October, I plan on inviting myself to my aunt and her partner’s trip to Sante Fe, New Mexico. I will be communing with the boundless red-rocked cliffs and hopefully making the pilgrimage to Ghost Ranch, the former home and studio of Georgia O’Keefe. The ranch has an eternal quality. It was not only home to the great painter, but also to a variety of prehistoric fauna that date back 200 million years. This shirt reminds me of the American southwest with its clay tones and hand-printed graphic—an homage to ancient Pueblo cave paintings. Under the graphic, the shirt reads, “Every Day is Earth Day.” We should treat every day going forward with the same sanctity as Earth Day and be aware that every day before this was just as important, even the ones that elapsed before Earth Day was designated a holiday.
Pop artist Steve Harrington thought the planet could use a hug back in 2019, when he designed this limited edition Earth Day tee for Nike. Between a global pandemic, catastrophic wildfires in California, and a once-in-a-generation snowstorm in Texas, the carousel of calamity that is the American horror show can be… a bit much. Harrington’s loving design proposes that we all share this damaged planet that is in need of a serotonin-drenched hug. I like this shirt not just because of its limited edition appeal and its name-brand status, but because a shirt like this is simply asking to be tie-dyed. While it has a fantastic graphic, I am sure Harrington understands the creative pull of a blank canvas. If you, the beautiful reader, cop this shirt, you must swear on the Norse Tree of Life, the Yggdrasil, that you will transform this shirt into the psychedelic love child of Steve Prefontaine and Jerry Garcia.
For my final shirt, I present this perfectly faded Farm Aid ‘98 tee. Farm Aid, a benefit concert with a legends-only lineup, was created in 1985 by Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp. In its first year it raised $9 million for family farms in the U.S. ‘98 had a particularly on-the-nose lineup with 90s icons like Phish, Hootie & the Blowfish, Martina McBride, and special guests Woody Harrelson and Paul Schaeffer on the bill. Past performers include some of the Great American Songbook’s immortal gods—Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Brian Wilson. Like a spring meadow doused in chemical runoff, agriculture is often contaminated by wicked vibes. The shirt is a reminder that the otherwise kind practice of tilling the earth so that we may feed fellow man has been tarnished by cancerous herbicides and bad practices. Beautiful creeks have transformed into cauldrons of chemical soup. Not to mention the butterfly effect of some idiot early human planting seeds, thus creating society and forcing us upon the eternally spinning Catherine wheel of capitalism. But since we are here and my therapist insists that dwelling on the past is futile, supporting small family farms seems like our only option in the fight against Monsanto and Tyson Food’s total domination of our kitchens. You can donate here if you feel so obliged.
Now we are getting into the intellectual section of my recommendations. Consider making a cup of tea, putting on Ahmad Jamal’s Chamber Music of The New Jazz, and reclining in your Eames lounge chair for this portion. Firstly, this excellent copy of Earth Day—The Beginning (1970) is not only a fantastic find for any book collector, but a comprehensive guide to understanding the contemporaneous attitudes and arguments for the establishment of Earth Day to boot. Political heavy hitters like Adlai Stevenson, Walter Mondale (R.I.P.), and longtime-occupant-of-the-right-side-of-history Mike Gravel contributed to the book—as well as Kurt Vonnguet Jr. Freddie Mae Brown, founder of the St. Louis Black Survival Committee, wrote an entire section. There is a lot of literature about the direction the environmental movement should take, but I find returning to the foundations of American environmentalism, like Earth Day—The Beginning, Silent Spring, or even Walden, can be as illuminating as the latest apocalyptic nonfiction investigation prominently displayed on the front table at your local bookstore.
The first step in your urban homesteading project is, like Crop Trust, to cultivate a cornucopia of seeds for your own arctic global seed vault. The Whole Seed Catalog, inspired by The Whole Earth Catalog, is a great text if you are inspired to start your own garden. I have had the incredibly depressing experience of listening to Red Scare while getting my groceries at a Whole Foods. As I succumbed to complete and total existential dread while browsing the shallots, shoulder-to-shoulder with Amazon pickers shopping for wealthy residents of the local brownstones and soaking in the vocal fry of the podcast, the proposition of lugging composite soil blends to my rooftop and never returning to the grocery store sounded pretty good. Any yearly Whole Seed Catalog will do the trick. This one from 2019 is a steal.
I want to sign off by blessing you with a sublimely tender performance of “Farmhouse” by Phish at Farm Aid ‘98, which includes a short and earnest speech by Trey Anastasio about preserving the land and overcoming the oppression of factory farming, and includes shout outs to the incredibly wholistic and kind duo of Vermont Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy. Anastacasio is wearing a shirt with a large illustration of the controversial Pepe Le Pew on it—something that I will certainly try to dig up.
David Kobe co-edits Laid Off NYC's Politics section and writes our new monthly "Depop Happenings" column. Get to know him better: @david_kobe