Life

When should it be Green Sunday?

Recently the charming rogue Cliff Arnall made the news again. This time it was a rehash of his ‘happiest day of the year’ formula which he produced for an ice cream company. The usual reaction, including mine, to his formulae is to mock them. To be fair Cliff Arnall helps massively by producing vacuous pseudoscientific pieces that are eminently mockable. But is there something positive we can draw from this? A person who gets a bit of pseudoscience plastered over the media could simply be lucky, or even unlucky if they made a genuine mistake and overlooked a detail. Someone who can pull the same trick for years on end must be on to something. What does the success of Blue Monday and the obvious market for Ice Cream Friday and other vacuous days tell us about promoting a plant science day?

Poppies through a crystal ball
Taking a different view of Plant Science communication. Photo: Jacinta Lluch Valero.

First of all do we really need a Green Sunday, or something like that? We already have Fascination of Plants Day by the European Plant Science Organisation. I think it would help, because at the moment I don’t know when FoPD 2014 is, or if there will be one. Compare this to Blue Monday.

Blue Monday, purportedly the most depressing day of the year was created for a holiday company but its been used by other places too. It’s a very good marketing tool. You’re depressed and gullible, so why not fix that by buying something to cheer you up? You don’t need a big organisation coordinating Blue Monday, because lots of small companies have an interest in promoting it themselves to sell things. It’s always the third Monday of January or the Monday in the last full week of January. When these dates aren’t the same there’s a bit of confusion, but usually it’s something you can plan for without having to coördinate with anyone.

Whenever our day is, it’s going to have to be a day when people can sell things. I’ve plumped for Sunday, which has fewer syllables than Saturday but is still a weekend day. This is handy for shopping and visits to things like Botanic Gardens.

This sounds fine but isn’t the solution simple to declare Fascination of Plants Day as the third Saturday in May? That’s good, but not quite enough. For example, what does Ice Cream Friday have that FoPD doesn’t? The appearance of science. This is not the same as science, as Cliff Arnall will now demonstrate.

Ice Cream Friday is said to be set by a formula.

Dr Arnall’s happiness formula is: O + (N × S) + Cpm/T + He. Put more simply, a numerical value for being outdoors (O) was added to nature (N) multiplied by social interaction (S), added to childhood summer memories and positive thoughts (Cpm) divided by temperature (T), and added to holiday excitement (He).

‘Smile: today is the happiest day of the year, apparently’: Daily Telegraph

Skipping over questions like “What is the SI unit for positive thoughts? there’s plenty more to baffle there. Why (N × S) and not simply N × S? The rules of mathematical operation mean they’re identical, as is NS. The brackets only serve an aesthetic purpose. The brackets and unnecessary signs are all about looking like complicated science. This tells us that Green Sunday can’t simply fall on a scientifically sound day, it has to look like a good day too. A formula is probably a bit tired now. A graph would look scientific, so a day when something typically peaks would be good, For the sanity of scientists this might have to be a week because the idea that something always peaks on a Sunday is hard to hold unless there’s a strong anthropogenic effect. Looking for a genuine event also has the desirable effect of not treating the public with contempt.

Other possibilities would be a map charting the spread of something. The delayed March of the Bluebells, which usually first bloom in the southwest and spread north was popular this year in the UK. It combined popular British themes of the countryside, the weather and xenophobia, as there was the opportunity to talk about invasive Spanish bluebells. This would be a local event though, not global. On a global scale defining a key botanical event is difficult.

I did wonder about the annual peak of the Keeling Curve. Annual CO2 concentrations peak in May before (mainly northern hemisphere) plants start pulling it back in with a trough in October. Green Sunday would catch the spring flowers and could partner with Red Sunday for the autumn trough (or spring in the Southern Hemisphere).

The Keeling Curve showing annual variation in CO2.
The Keeling Curve: Source Wikipedia.

The difficulty is that, as the Keeling Curve shows, CO2 concentrations are going up year-on-year. An event each May about the drop in CO2 is a confusing message. The message you’d want to send is about plant growth, but because Green Sunday would be hijackable, it’d be used as an event by various climate nuts. It’s tempting to look at something else, like global pollen concentration, but the release of pollen is so variable between species a global peak or trough would be likely to be meaningless on a local level.

There might be a clue as to what we should look for in Blue Monday, the most popular of the pseudo-days. Blue Monday is the supposedly the most depressing day of the year. This has two appeals. First it’s about you in a way that the Keeling Curve isn’t. Second, if you are having a bad day it says it’s not your fault. That would seem to play to pollen’s strengths. Having a bad day? That’d be Agony Day when the annual bout of misery starts for Hayfever sufferers. It’s not your fault.

It’s be hard to sell this to gardens though. “Come to our botanic gardens – it’s going to be hell” is a difficult sales pitch.

Another possibility would be something to do with gardening. I’m out of my depth here because the only plants I can grow with much success are nettles. A day tied to gardening in some way could pull in plenty of people with things to sell. Again, this could be very localised. In a time of global connections through the internet a global day would have great potential in highlighting the idea.

FoPD has shown there’s a demand for a Plant day around the world. Cliff Arnall has shown there’s a demand for days that people can hook on to, and these can become self-promoting. News media have shown that they’re happy with news events that are planned well in advance so they can run them. If someone could devise a scientifically plausible reason to celebrate a day or a week, they could leave a lasting imprint on the annual news cycle.

So is there a global or hemispherical event that could be used to create and easy to use Plant Day or Plant Week? Or is this something that works best as a local or national event?


Images:
Amapolas magicas * “Entre amapolas” by Jacinta Lluch Valero/Flickr.This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-sa licence.
Keeling Curve by Narayanese, Sémhur, and the NOAA/Wikpedia.This image licensed under a Creative Commons by-sa licence.

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