Thursday, April 22, 2010
Earth Day 2010: 40th Anniversary - April 22, 2010
I have mixed feelings on this 40th anniversary Earth Day. I look back 40 years today. I was a young college freshman participating in an Earth Day campus demonstration, one of many demonstrations organized on campuses all over the U.S. on that first Earth Day. It was inspiring to witness the birth of an environmental movement that has steadily grown over the years. Many considered environmentalism to be a fringe movement, a collection of "hippies and radicals." Over the years, environmental concern has expanded, and the movement is becoming more mainstream. Earth Day has become a worldwide phenomenon. At the same time, "greenwashing" has become a phenomenon; many businesses are paying lip service to green ideals in order to cash in on the growing awareness. It is also disturbing that maybe half of the population is either apathetic about the need to care for the environment, or in total denial that human activities are changing the Earth for the worse.
Progess has been made, but so much more is needed. Fourty years ago we saw news reports of rivers on fire, lakes where no marine life lived, and cities where the smog was thick enough to obscure the sun. Since then, many of the most polluted waterways have been cleaned up, some wildlife populations have rebounded, and vehicles and industrial facilities have emission controls limiting the most toxic pollutants. Environmental laws have been enacted and an Environmental Protection Agency exists in the U.S. to enforce the requirements. However, we are facing the threat of worldwide climate change, a concept that was virtually unknown fourty years ago. World leaders seem to lack the political courage to take meaningful decisive action.
We need a transformation to clean energy sources. It will happen eventually anyway, because reserves of fossil fuels are limited, and as reserves are depleted, supplies will decrease and prices will soar. Better to devote strong efforts to it now, rather than wait for the crisis of supply and demand.
We need a better infrastructure for collecting and recycling reusable resources. Items that are made from recycled material require much less energy use and cause less pollution than items made from new resources.
Ideally, production systems should be endless loops of production, use, recyling, re-production, and reuse. Here's an example: there are enough aluminum cans in circulation that if every can was recycled, cans would no longer have to be made from new ore! This could be a closed loop system, resulting in great reductions of use of energy and resources, and the resulting pollution. Yet we see discarded aluminum cans everywhere. Instead of circular, production systems are linear: Production, use, landfill. What a waste!
I hate disposable products. They are everywhere. Most disposable products can easily be replaced by reusable products. Food and yard waste can be composted. I envision a future where everything we use is recyled. Paper, plastics glass and metal can be recycled now. Unfortunately, the infrastructure for collection is not available everywhere, making it inconvenient for many people. And many are apathetic and can't be bothered to make an additonal effort for the Earth.
Here's how I look at disposable products or throwing away recyclable material. How hard is it to wash an extra plate or cup instead of using paper, or even worse, foam? How hard is it to filter tap water and put it in a refillable bottle, instead of contributing to massive plastic bottle waste? All products are made of resources. In that sense, every product is a piece of the Earth. So every time we throw something away, we have turned a piece of the Earth into a piece of garbage. The Earth's resources are finite. So, as we continue to turn pieces of the Earth into pieces of garbage, over enough time, the entire Earth is turned into a giant heap of garbage!
Think about it.
Happy Earth Day, and please try to make every day Earth Day!