Earth Day Network spearheaded the grassroots organization of the annual celebrations to raise environmental consciousness worldwide.
Puget Sound is a precious resource on the waterfront of Seattle and Tacoma.
April 23, 2009
The people of the world celebrated the Earth Day on April 22. The news about this special day was buried among reality shows on popular media in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis and an incessant barrage of politics, both on a local and global scale.
I was in Seattle yesterday, reflecting on the threatened Puget Sound mostly due to stormwater runoff. We were collectively responsible for the state of this jewel of the Pacific Northwest, home to interdependent species including orcas, seals and salmon.
The declining salmon populations were threatening the orcas which could leave the area permanently in search of food. The same orcas which were at the top of the food chain showed increased concentrations of endocrine disruptors like PCB’s in their fatty tissues. These chemicals, once in the water, remained there for decades. There were alarming signs of environmental degradation with cross gender mutations and malformed members of the frog populations. Clearly this trend was not sustainable; we had to change our ways to preserve these resources for the future generations.
Policies had to be implemented to protect the watersheds in the surrounding areas. We depended on clean water as much as the salmon needed the cool shade of trees in the stream banks to spawn in calmer creeks free of sediments. Our awareness had to be raised about our impact on the Puget Sound, even though it was far away in the distance downhill from us. Was this all feel-good talk?
It is ironic that at a conference in Seattle back in September 1969, then US Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson first announced that a grassroots environmental demonstration would take place in the spring of 1970. Nelson was a proponent of stabilizing the uncontrolled population growth, aware that “the bigger the population gets, the more serious the problems becomeâ€? with growing pressure on the environment.
April 22, 1970 was the day when perhaps 20 million Americans participated in demonstrations, demanding a healthy and sustainable environment. Denis Hayes was the national coordinator of these demonstrations which aimed to draw attention to environmental degradation, bringing together diverse groups concerned about environmental issues, including clean water, pesticides, fertilizers, untreated sewage, oil and chemical spills, toxic landfills, nuclear waste, industrial pollution, clean air, habitat loss, related extinctions and threatened species.
It was not long before this popular movement would spread to the rest of the world. Our small planet was a living, breathing oasis in the cosmos on which our lives depended. Pollution in one corner of the world did not stay there, and was transported elsewhere by air and water. The growing world population was leading to deforestation at an alarming rate for lumber and for farms. Disturbing grasslands, draining wetlands, paving surfaces for malls or industrial plants or parking lots, clearcutting rain forests, burning woodlands, poisoning our wells, abusing resources, each were accelerating the degradation of arable lands worldwide. Overfishing and pollution in the world’s oceans were creating conditions ripe for imminent collapse of entire populations of species.
April 22, 1990 saw the massive participation of 200 million people in the Earth Day celebrations in 141 countries. The mobilization of concerned world citizens in such large numbers led the way to increased recycling efforts and to the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. On the Earth Day in 2000, when global warming had become a growing concern, Denis Hayes of Earth Day Network spearheaded another grassroots campaign to emphasize the need for clean energy. This time with the help of the Internet, participation grew to around 5,000 environmental groups reaching 184 countries.
It is fine that demonstrations happen once a year around the world. Yet these will not make any difference unless we each feel that we are a stakeholder of this planet and hold ourselves accountable. We are each a steward of this fragile chunk of rock that we call: Earth. Our impact is far reaching in every one of the choices that we make in our daily consumption to maintain a habitual lifestyle. The way we commute, the way we live, the way we eat, the way we power ourselves, each leave a lasting footprint on the environment. This calls for behavior modification on a massive scale which cannot happen unless we each become aware of our impact on the environment. How can we each reduce our own footprint? This is a compelling question worth exploring as members of a consumer society...
A simple example from our household is that, when Nancy and I were in the market for a new car a couple months ago, we made the conscious choice to buy a hybrid car. Our old car used to get about 20 miles per gallon; now we average 43-44 in the city and 47-48 on the highway. With that single important choice, we reduced our air pollutants by half and we gave up our need for half the oil extracted from world’s distant corners. We have choices, and Nancy and I feel good about making them.