Today, April 22, marks 51 years since the world first celebrated Earth Day. Since April 22, 1970. Fifty-one years ago we could still convince ourselves that we could get things under control. We could lessen our use of fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions, we could plant more trees, we could protect the endangered plants and animals. We can no longer convince ourselves of that. We have been appallingly bad stewards of our planet and its natural world; we’ve created a climate crisis of historical proportions in a wink of the eye as far as the history of the planet is concerned. We have a record number of plants and animals on the endangered and critically endangered lists as we alter their climate and destroy their habitats to establish irreversible monoculture agriculture (usually in the developing world to feed the desires of the wealthy countries).
We need to start thinking of Earth Day as a marker for turning things around, within countries, within communities, within corporations, and by individual actions. We need to use Earth Day to redeem ourselves with Mother Earth. Celebrating Earth Day by everyone turning out their lights for a designated hour just doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s just patting ourselves on the back that we remembered that it’s Earth Day.
Some reminders of how critical the issues facing our planet are:
- The wealthy nations are driving the ecological disaster that we’ve unleashed through our disposable society and continuing dependence on fossil fuels. However, it’s the poorest people in the poorest nations who will suffer the most; as dry places become drier and wet places become wetter, and all of those places become hotter, many parts of developing countries will become uninhabitable and a new class of refugees – climate change refugees – will result. Climate justice is required.
- Thanks to climate change and destruction of wildlife habitat, the endangered animals list is a long one, and growing. This list includes many, many of our most iconic large animals, such as: several species of whales, several species of bears, gorillas, chimps, orangutans, other primates, elephants, rhinos, large turtles, some species of penguins, beautiful birds of the rainforests, tigers, and the Amur leopard. And this is just the starting point.
- Thanks to climate change, ice losses from arctic sea ice and the massive polar ice sheets have increased by more than 60% in the past 20 years. This impacts the people and animals that live in these areas, but also causes rises in sea levels that will have devastating effects on parts of the world far from the poles. These rising and warming seas and the resulting changes in sea currents also contribute to the increasingly volatile weather systems we now experience.
- Overfishing from industrial strength fishing techniques has resulted in too many fish being caught at once so that the breeding population has become too depleted to replenish itself. Overfishing also often goes together with wasteful types of commercial fishing that haul in massive amounts of unwanted fish or other animals, which are then discarded.
- The waters off the coast of Maine are getting too warm for their lobster. They’re migrating up the coast to Canada! However, the time might not be so far off when we refer to Newfoundland lobster instead of Maine lobster or Maritime lobster.
- The world’s wealthiest 1% produce double the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50%, according to the UN.
- The wealthiest 5% alone – the so-called “polluter elite” – contributed 37% of emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.
On Earth Day this year, let’s all commit to making one significant change in our daily lives that will have a positive impact on our planet. Eat less meat. Stop buying bottled water, or any drink in a plastic bottle. Trade in your SUV for a more fuel efficient car, or even better, an EV. Commit to fewer flights, a huge polluter (much easier during a pandemic). Plant a tree. Donate to a reputable climate charity. Or follow Fredericton’s Earth Day challenge and grab a garbage bag, put on gloves, and go pick up trash around your neighborhood or along your trails. Whatever works best for you. But I encourage you to choose something. We all have a role to play in trying to curb climate change. Face it, we’ve screwed up!