I received a couple of emails today from newsletters and blogs I subscribe to wishing me “Happy Earth Day.”
I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t know much about this celebration despite the fact it’s been happening for 48 years and is celebrated every year by more than a billion people in 180 nations around the world!
A Plea for Earth Day 2018
Earth, our planet, may be unique in this vast universe
And yet, we take its bounty for granted
Really, we are running out of time
To heal and save this damaged miracle
How foolish we are to ignore the signs
‘Do nothing’ is not an option… Reduce Reuse Recycle
Act now to save ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef or
Year in year out, climate change will wreak havoc
What Is Earth Day?
In 1969, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, recruited activist Denis Hayes to organize a teach-in on April 22, 1970, a day chosen to raise awareness among the American public of an environment many thought was in ‘visible ruins’ and to put green issues on the political agenda.
It wasn’t uncommon in some cities during rush hour to be standing on a street corner and not be able to see across the street because of pollution.
Nelson and others decided to use the consciousness-raising awareness methods from the anti-Vietnam Movement and organised protests and teach-ins, which today some people credit for launching the modern environmental movement.
“The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air—and they did so with spectacular exuberance.”
The day still provides a benchmark for reflection among people in the environmental community although the movement now involves many other special days focusing on different aspects of “being green” and is not just USA-centric.
By the end of 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had been born, and efforts to improve air and water quality were gaining political traction. And as we all know, the USA is a world leader and many countries followed their lead but not Australia – we are still waiting for a national policy!
What Can We Do For Earth Day?
For me, every day is Earth Day and I really do try and limit my environmental footprint. My garden is a work in progress. I try and choose trees and plants that are indigenous to the area, although I do have ornamental and introduced flowers, but always I consider the birds, bees and butterflies!
We can all plant trees and flowers or encourage our local authorities to do so.
“Planting a tree, morally and poetically, requires taking care of it for a really long time, not just sticking it in the ground.”
Earth Day Facts
Although the idea for Earth Day began in the USA, activists can claim environmental victories that have impacted globally.
National Geographic lists 48 changes in the USA since 1970 and of those the following have made changes internationally:
1975 Global Agreement on Endangered Species
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was drafted for signatures in 1973 and went into effect in 1975. Signatory countries agree to ban or restrict trade in endangered species and their body parts. Although black markets arose for such products as tiger skins and elephant tusks, countries have also worked together to combat such trafficking.
1982 Saving More Whales
In 1982, the International Whaling Commission finally adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling around the world, in response to more than a decade of protests and pressure from scientists. Although pirate and controversial “scientific” whale hunts continue, the end of large-scale whaling marked a big turning point for the animals, and most species began a slow recovery from the brink of extinction.
1986 McPackaging Improves
In 1986, McDonalds started using biodegradable packaging, in response to criticism from environmentalists over mountains of Styrofoam containers littering roadways and choking landfills. Campaigners declared a major win, and the effort helped usher in a new era of companies both working with advocacy groups and acting on their own to reduce their environmental impact. The effort also helped raise consumer awareness about the impact of their own daily choices.
1987 Plugging the Ozone Hole
In 1987, many of the world’s nations came together to agree on the Montreal Protocol, which outlawed a series of chemicals that had been destroying the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Most famous among these were chlorofluorocarbons. Scientists were concerned that the loss of the ozone layer could lead to blistering rates of skin cancer and other problems. The ozone hole is now healing.
Thank goodness for that piece of news because Los Angeles has some of the most contaminated air in the country. … In 2013, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside area ranked the 1st most ozone-polluted city, the 4th most polluted city by annual particle pollution, and the 4th most polluted city by 24-hour particle pollution…the American Lung Association’s recent “State of the Air 2017” report, has labelled the state and region a leader in air pollution, with the highest ozone levels.
Here is a poem I wrote when visiting the USA in 1997 when the emissions from cars and industry were choking the cities and I read in the newspaper that it was “marine layer”:
The Veil Lifted on L.A, USA 1997
It was like peering through a veil
each day –
not a pea-souper London fog,
nor a Melbourne winter smog,
no this was California, USA,
El Nino blamed for the
atmosphere being grey
and so, we peered through this veil
The citizens of Los Angeles
told it was the marine layer…
We breathed much easier knowing
government statistics kept showing
that in 1985 over 200 days
Los Angeles spent in ‘marine layer’ haze,
yet in 1997 there were only
twelve such days!
Some misguided tourists
(me included – and called deluded)
thought that veil each day
may be poisonous air pollution,
authorities struggling for a solution,
but no, ‘they’ said not so
and it’s so good to know
L.A.’s twenty-two lanes of traffic flow
only produces marine layer.
Tourists can breathe much easier knowing
that government statistics are showing…
since then Climate Change revealed
and what big business and governments concealed…
1992 Rio Earth Summit
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was a major event in Rio de Janeiro that helped focus the world’s attention on big environmental problems. It spurred all kinds of solutions, from government to civil society and business. It was there that countries agreed to start working together to address climate change. Countries also committed to increasing their use of renewable energy and to respecting the needs of indigenous people, efforts that were amplified when the UN met again in Rio 20 years later.
1993 Protecting Biodiversity
In 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity went into effect after being ratified by enough countries. Nations pledged to work to protect biodiversity around the world, in a decision that is often seen as the foundation for sustainable development.
1997 Early Climate Agreement
In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was adopted by some countries (although not the U.S). It marked an early serious attempt by world leaders to address global warming in a coordinated way.
2002 Cradle to Cradle Is Published
The book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart helped introduce their concept of biomimetic, clean design to the public. This helped kick off a new movement to rethink all manmade processes to be more in-line with nature, including the idea of ending the concept of waste and replacing it with the idea that everything can have a use as a material for something else.
2003 Electric Cars Get Cool
Tesla Motors was founded by Elon Musk in 2003, helping make electric cars cutting-edge again (after they languished in obscurity for a century). Other manufacturers also pushed forward with a new round of innovation, helping ramp up a technology that many pundits think will be a boon for the environment.
2006 Al Gore’s Movie
Love it or hate it, the documentary An Inconvenient Truth helped raise public awareness around the threat of climate change.
2007 Rise of Walking
Walk Score was founded in 2007, rating cities, neighbourhoods, and more for how pedestrian friendly they are. The company helped raise awareness of the growing walking and biking movements, which aim to get people out of cars and into more liveable communities.
I’m a great believer in walking and using public transport. Walking your neighbourhood helps you value and protect it!
2015 Climate Agreement
In late 2015, nations came together in Paris and agreed to a new plan to limit global warming. The deal opens for formal signatures on Earth Day, and it will require countries to reduce emissions according to their pledges. Environmentalists are cautiously optimistic that the agreement represents a global turning point.
2018 Species Show Recovery
In April, the lesser long-nosed bat became the first bat to be taken off the Endangered Species List. After decades of conservation work, including working with agave growers to harvest tequila in a manner more friendly to the bats, the species has recovered its numbers to an estimated 200,000, up from just a few thousand. In June 2017, Yellowstone’s grizzly bears were removed from the endangered list, while the American wood stork was removed in 2014. These examples show that the Endangered Species Act is working, conservationists say.
The Earth is fragile and many parts need healing but Mother Nature is resilient and with our help we may not need to find planet B!