In the range of solar system worlds, Earth is the only known home to life. It is also the only one with liquid water flowing across its surface. For these two reasons, the astronomers and planetary scientists seek to understand more about its evolution and how it came to be such a haven. Our planet, indeed, is an amazing place, but it needs our help to thrive! That’s why each year on April 22, more than a billion people celebrate Earth Day to protect the planet from things like pollution and deforestation. “We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the corona virus and the existential threat of climate disruption.” So says UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.
Mother Earth is crying for a call to action. Nature is suffering; oceans filling with plastic and turning more acidic; wildfires and floods, as well as a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, have affected millions of people. Now we face Corona Virus, a worldwide health pandemic linked to the health of our ecosystem. Climate change, man-made changes to nature as well as crimes that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change, intensified agriculture and livestock production or the growing illegal wildlife trade, lead to an increased risk of transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans like Covid19. According to a UN Environment report: “From one new infection disease that emerges in humans every 4 months, 75% of these emerging diseases come straight from animals.” That shows the close relationships between human, animal and environmental health.
Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet and the healthier its people and its biodiversity. Restoring our damaged ecosystems will help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent mass extinction. The UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, which was officially launched with World Environment Day 2021 (5 June), was intended to help us stop, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and every ocean. But we will succeed only if every one of us plays a part and let me assure you that each one of us can do that in his own small way.
In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day, Americans were consuming vast amounts of leaded gas through massive and inefficient automobiles. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of the consequences from either the law or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Until this point, mainstream America remained largely oblivious to environmental concerns and how a polluted environment threatened human health.
However, the stage was set for change with the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962. The book represented a watershed moment, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries as it raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and the inextricable links between pollution and public health.
The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, when a United States senator from Wisconsin organized a national demonstration to raise awareness about environmental issues. Rallies took place across the country and, by the end of the year the U.S. government had created the Environmental Protection Agency. As 1990 approached, a group of environmental leaders approached Denis Hayes to once again organize another major campaign for the planet. This time, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest honor given to civilians in the United States – for his role as Earth Day founder.
The pandemic showed its bright side also inasmuch as the corona virus-induced lockdown reduced by 50% the Earth’s Seismic Activity during this period even as the “anthropause” allowed scientists to collect new data on seismic activity. Scientists from the Royal Observatory of Belgium and five other institutions around the world just published a study in the journal “Science” that reveals how extensively the lockdown reduced seismic activity. They found that the biggest reductions occurred in densely populated urban areas such as New York City and Singapore, but the effects were felt even in remote regions, such as an abandoned mine shaft in Germany that’s considered one of the quietest places on Earth and in the interior of Namibia. Using data gathered from 268 seismic stations in 117 countries, the scientists observed a significant reduction in seismic noise at 185 of those stations. The data revealed a “wave of silence” tracking across the planet, starting in China in late January, moving next to Italy and the rest of Europe, and then on to North America as lockdown orders were put in place. This means that we can still retrieve a lot of lost ground and redeem the situation to a great extent.
Let us remember more than ever on this International Mother Earth Day that we need a shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet. We can celebrate and protect the planet at the same time. Check out these Earth Day ideas to help save the planet any time of year. Luckily, every one of us can contribute in this effort in our own small way; some of which are as follow.
Researchers estimate roughly 15 billion trees in the world are cut down each year, so help offset that loss by planting a tree of your own. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen for people to breathe. They also provide shelter and food for animals such as squirrels and owls. Depending on where trees are planted, their shade can even reduce the need for air-conditioning in hotter months. How many more reasons do you need to go green?
Electricity can be made from renewable sources like wind, water, the sun, and even elephant dung! Does that lamp really need to be on while the sun is out? Electricity doesn’t just happen—it has to be produced from things around us. A lot of times it comes from fossil fuels (such as coal, oil, or natural gas) that contribute to climate change. But electricity can also be made from renewable sources like wind, water, the sun, and even elephant dung! No matter where it’s coming from, try conserving electrical energy by using only what you need.
Turning off the tap when you brush your teeth can conserve up to eight gallons of water a day. It might seem like it’s everywhere, but clean, drinkable water is a limited resource. In fact less than one percent of the water on Earth can be used by humans. (The rest is either too salty or too difficult to access.) Turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth can conserve up to eight gallons of water a day. To help save even more water, challenge yourself to take a shorter shower (but still get clean!).
A plastic bottle can take over 450 years to break down in a landfill. Before throwing something away, think about whether it can be recycled or repurposed. The number of garbage trucks Americans fill each year would stretch halfway to the moon. Toilet paper tubes, made from cardboard, take two months to decompose in a landfill. A plastic bottle sticks around for way longer—it can take over 450 years to break down! But instead of turning to the trash bin, you could turn these items into an awesome telescope or a flower planter. Before you throw something away, think about whether it can be recycled or repurposed. You can also limit waste by reducing the amount of things you buy. For example, check the library for that book you have to read before visiting the store. Volunteer to pick up trash at a nearby park, start a collection drive for recyclable items, or organize a screening of an environmentally themed movie. By getting involved and working with others, you’re not just helping the Earth – you’re making new friends too!
In its lifetime, one reusable bag can prevent the use of 600 plastic bags. Recycling one can of soda will save enough energy to power a tv for three hours. Shutting down a computer when it is not in use, cuts the energy consumption by about 85 percent. For every mile walked instead of driven, nearly one pound of pollution is kept out of the air. All this shows that there is scope for each one of us to play a role in saving the planet.
Today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes. Now, the fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate change become more and more apparent every day.
As the awareness of our climate crisis grows, so does civil society mobilization, which is reaching a fever pitch across the globe today. Disillusioned by the low level of ambition following the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 and frustrated with international environmental lethargy, citizens of the world are rising up to demand far greater action for our planet and its people. A fresh and frustrated generation of young people is refusing to settle for platitudes. Digital and social media are bringing these conversations, protests, strikes and mobilizations to a global audience, uniting a concerned citizenry as never before and catalyzing generations to join together to take on the greatest challenge that humankind is faced with.
Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.