This April 22, the world will be celebrating the 49th Earth Day. Almost five decades of environmental activism and the world seem to be in worse shape than ever. The oceans are chocking in microplastic, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is all time high and the Environmental Protection Agency is still trying to roll back decades of environmental regulations. Yet this movement has made significant accomplishments.
Victory through the Lens
Earth Day was founded in 1970 when about 20 million Americans marched to streets, auditoriums and parks demanding the government to do something to protect the environment. Since then, hard-fought environmental gains have won the battle against the governments and global leaders over and over again. After a lot of drama, finally in 1972, DDT was banned, and other pesticides were subjected to more stringent regulations. This allowed the populations of endangered birds like peregrine falcons and bald eagles to recover. It took another decade for the activists to convince the International Whaling Commission to adopt a moratorium on commercial whaling. The Kyoto Protocol in 1972 was the first serious attempt made by the global leaders to respond to climate change. They laid the groundwork for effective future actions. This was followed by the Energy Independence and Security Act which resulted in the birth of new tougher fuel economies.
Earth Day went global in 1990 when over 200 million people of 141 counties mobilized to speak about environmental issues onto the world stage. This Earth Day paved way for the United Nations Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro) in 1992 which emphasized on increasing recycling.
The US President Bill Clinton in 1995 awarded the highest honor given to a civilian in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Senator Gaylord Nelson for his instrumental role in the foundation of Earth Day. Today, Earth Day is celebrated by over a billion people across the globe. Over time the focus has now shifted to sustainable development and efforts to reduce climate change and species extinction.
Protecting Our Species
Each year Earth Day Network picks a focus topic to raise awareness on. Last year, it was plastic pollution. This year, the focus topic of the theme is protecting our species. This includes protecting our biodiversity and raising awareness about alarming rates of extinction. Human activities have been causing the extinction of species at an unprecedented rate since the time when dinosaurs stopped roaming the earth.
How to Make a Difference?
Recycling everything and buying nothing is an unattainable goal. However, we should not make the ideal enemy of the good. For instance, in the 1990s, an average dishwasher consumed about 10 gallons of water per cycle which today has been reduced to about 2 gallons. We need to invest our time, energy and resources towards creating a better, efficient and sustainable system, rather than just advocating recycle of everything.
It is not just the rules and regulations rather the choices individuals make — as citizens, consumers and activists— which can make the difference. This Earth Day and every other day, we need to ensure that we are making the right choices towards an environmentally friendly lifestyle.