Passport

Do we care about Earth Day anymore?

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?  

Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images

Passport

Thein Sein faces ethnic cleansing charge, accepts peace prize on same day

Tonight, at a black-tie gala in New York, the International Crisis Group is scheduled to honor Thein Sein, Burma's president, with its top peace award. Since he initiated the country's political and economic liberalization two years ago, Thein Sein has been remarkably successful at winning over the international community. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, for example, has praised the former general's "vision, leadership, and courage to put Myanmar on the path to change." President Barack Obama, meanwhile, told reporters during a historic visit to Burma last year: "I shared with President Thein Sein our belief that the process of reform that he is taking is one that will move this country forward." (Here at Foreign Policy, we even made him our top Global Thinker of 2012 along with Aung San Suu Kyi)

But like Saif al-Islam Qaddafi and Gamal Mubarak before him, Thein Sein may not live up to the reformist ambitions attributed to him by his Western admirers. The first inklings that something might be amiss came in June 2011, when the former general launched an offensive against the Kachin rebels in northern Burma, forcing as many as 100,000 people to flee their homes. Then came his regrettable proposal for resolving ethnic tensions between Rohingya Muslims, many of whom settled in Burma in the 15th century, and other ethnic groups in the country: resettlement to a third country or, as the Diplomat put it, the "mass deportation of an unwanted ethnic minority."

Now, a new report by Human Rights Watch accuses Burma's government of complicity in the ethnic cleansing of 125,000 Rohingya Muslims in the country's southwest. From the report:

Human Rights Watch research found that during the period following the violence and abuses in June [2012], some security forces in Arakan State -- rather than responding to the growing campaign to force Rohingya out -- were destroying mosques, effectively blocking humanitarian aid to Rohingya populations, conducting violent mass arrests, and at times acting alongside Arakanese to forcibly displace Muslims.

In response, according to Human Rights Watch, Thein Sein issued a critical report on Arakan State forces to parliament, established a commission to "reveal the truth behind the unrest" and "find solutions for communities with different religious beliefs to live together in harmony," and organized a follow-up workshop a few months later -- efforts that Human Rights Watch calls "patently insufficient to stop the visible and mounting pressure in Arakan State to drive Rohingya and other Muslims out of the country."

Something tells me tonight's gala is going to be a little awkward.

Getty Images