Here on the evening of July 2, approaching the midpoint between the July 1 fireworksfest in Canada and the July 4 fireworksfest in the United States, this TreeHugger post has me thinking. Lloyd Alter writes briefly that fireworks are wasteful and polluting, burning heavy metals to make pretty colours and dumping burned gunpowder in the waterways over which they’re usually set off. “[P]erhaps its time to put this tradition to bed,” he writes.
Perhaps, but I wouldn’t invest much time in trying to tuck it in.
I’m reminded of this little tempest from the spring, over whether Prince Charles is a hypocrite for flying places to make personal appearances rather than giving speeches and accepting awards by videoconference. If Charles didn’t physically go places, he wouldn’t be fulfilling one of the functions of his office (the same would be true of a president or prime minister who didn’t tour his or her country and go on regular visits abroad). If environmental consciousness is all that matters, we’ll abolish the office of Prince of Wales, not ask the fellow who holds it to not fulfill its functions.
One of the ways we humans celebrate, whether it’s the harvest or the birth of Jesus or the anniversaries of the foundings of our countries, is by revelling in our prosperity — by conspicuously enjoying our good fortune and the fruits of our various labours — and by doing it together.
You can nickel-and-dime the heck out of Canada Day or Independence Day or Guy Fawkes Day (just think of the carbon dioxide emitted by all those barbecues!), but the unavoidable truth is that the greenest way to celebrate any of those occasions, or a dozen others, is to not. Stay home. Don’t invite friends and family over, or go see them (call, if you must). Don’t make a lot of food. Don’t set off fireworks or pop crackers or distribute candy that had to be trucked to your city specially. That’s what you do when environmental consciousness is at the very top of your priority list. None of these traditions is necessary, strictly speaking. No tradition is. They’re all skippable.
But if we abandon them all as superfluous, what do we have left?
A car is a car without a hydrocarbon-burning engine. A home is a home without an artificially preserved, water-sucking lawn around it — and in many places, a home is a home without being a detached single-family dwelling at all. A meal is a meal without out-of-season veggies imported from across the globe. A fluorescent lightbulb is a lightbulb, and a run-of-the-river hydro power plant delivers the same kind of electricity to run it as a coal plant does.
For most people it is not, however, the Fourth of July without rockets glaring red and bombs bursting in air. We’d surrender something fundamental to the celebration if we gave up the fireworks entirely, and for marginal gain. Take transit instead of driving, keep the fireworks from landing on endangered species in sensitive wetlands, yes — but a once-a-year tradition of fireworks is worth the consequences.