April 22nd is Earth Day. So what, we may ask? What does having an Earth Day marked around the world even mean?
For some Earth Day is just another day like any other whereby we go about our daily business. For others Earth Day is a time to pause and reflect on what it means to be a human being living on the small blue planet. It is a time to think about how we conduct our daily business to see what we can do to lessen our human impact upon the earth. Earth Day can be a time to think about the choices we make. Will our thinking lead to action or indifference or leave us with feelings of futility of the situation?
A key message of Earth Day is to work towards a sustainable and healthy environment by becoming more aware of our actions, particularly those that are detrimental to the well-being of all living organisms. As individuals we may not think that our single actions can or do make a difference, but when the earth supports more than seven billion of us, then our actions have considerable significance.
For some people the earth's resources are simply to be measured and used up for our survival needs, business and pleasure. For others the earth is to be conserved, protected and honoured. Our actions will determine how we view the earth and her resources. For some of us we are like Groucho Marx who once said, "Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?" He may not have been referring to Earth Day, but the message is relevant.
We may be familiar expressions like "We don't inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." While this expression is only made up of a few words, the meaning has immense consequences. For many, this is the passion they bring to dealing with climate change. Marshall McLuhan, communications theorist, educator and philosopher, said "There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew."
Humans are unique amongst all living creatures. We have the capability of producing goods and services (harmful or not) that can last for generations, if not for almost eternity, like no other creature. That capability brings huge consequences. If we are to have any responsibility for our enormous consumption as humans it is that "we are all entrusted to care for the earth." As Wendell Berry said, "The earth is what we all have in common."
Gaylord Nelson stated it another way, "The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats... that's all there is. That's the whole economy. That's where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world."
Various Earth Day websites, including Earth Day Canada, are worth checking out. This website and many others have tons of ideas and educational resources for individuals, groups and communities to raise awareness and to take action. Perhaps we can't all be like Julia Butterfly who spent 738 days living in a tree in order to save old growth forests, but we can ask ourselves like she did, "I wake up in the morning asking myself what can I do today, how can I help the world today." Many people are doing just that – asking, thinking and taking action.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a study that raised the threat of climate change to a new level, warning of sweeping consequences to life and livelihood. A three year effort by more than 300 scientists, the report indicates that the effects of climate change have doubled since the last report in 2007.
In the most comprehensive study into the effects of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the IPCC warns that this could undermine global economic growth and increase poverty. "All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change" the study warns.
According to Rachel Kyte, the World Bank vice-president for climate change, "There is a way to talk about what you eat that will bring a conversation around climate change. You want to be able to sustain your children. It is a concern whether you are rich or poor. I don't think we have put a huge focus on food and it's time we did."
Chris Field, one of the two main authors of the IPCC report, says, "We are now in an era where climate change isn't some kind of future hypothetical." The warning signs about climate change and extreme weather have been accumulating over time. But this report draws a clear line connecting climate change to food scarcity and conflict.
One way to measure our impact upon the earth is to calculate our ecological footprint – as individuals, as nations or globally. We can start by calculating and learning about our carbon footprint, housing footprint as well as our goods and services footprint. Even our food footprint is more than what we eat. Along with cropland and grazing land for our food, ones needs to look at the energy, forest land and other resources needed to process foods (e.g. manufactured, canned, frozen), to package them and to ship them to our grocery store or home.
Among the many websites that can be used to calculate one's ecological footprint are www.earthday.org and www.myfootprint.org (Center for Sustainable Economy).
Assiniboine Food Security Alliance (AFSA) is interested in helping homeowners with unused garden space to find and be matched with potential gardeners who do not have any garden space to grow vegetables. If you are interested in becoming involved in this simple program as a homeowner with available garden space or as a gardener looking for garden space, contact AFSA at 306-782-3249 or afsamatt...@gmail.com to find out more.
In addition to the healthy benefits of growing and eating vegetables from a garden, this is a great way to celebrate Earth Day and bond in community with others.
Honouring Earth Day is to promote conservation and concern for our fragile environment. We are reminded on this day how much damage humans have caused, and that we should do our best to correct what we can and prevent more damage from this time onward. Every day really is Earth Day. Today is one of those days where we should all breathe in the fresh air and live out what we can do for our planet. It starts with each one of us.