Increasing ecological awareness led a million people to protest deadly smog and declining biodiversity on the first earth day April 22, 1970.  President Nixon and Congress responded by creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They also passed environmental laws to protect the air and endangered species. 

This year, a billion people from 193 countries including citizens, scientists, politicians and religious leaders celebrated a day of civic action to help raise awareness about our planetary plight and the importance of preserving earth’s habitat. Whether they planted trees, cleaned up parks and ponds or pledged to pass new laws, people took action on behalf of the planet. 

Will environmental activism one day a year be enough to decrease the decline of this precious habitat’s resources and the living creatures that depend on them? Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the problems it addressed as it began still plague us. 

Spring and Easter are about new beginnings. Earth Day Network which organizes the global efforts on behalf of the planet picks an annual theme in hopes of inspiring individual action on a global scale to make a bigger collective difference.

Last year’s theme was to end plastic pollution and targeted single use plastics such as straws and water bottles. The focus was on the health risks for marine life from plastics in the oceans, and on humans for the presence of microplastics in our foods. Millions woke up to the environmental destruction and took one small step to rectify it by refusing single-use plastic straws.

This year’s theme is Protect our Species. Humans have upset the balance of nature and the rate of species extinction is increasing rapidly due to human activity. Habitat loss, climate change, deforestation, poaching and pesticide use are a few of the culprits causing this “global destruction and rapid reduction.”

The current EPA has deleted the climate change section of their website, but NASA’s is still intact and features their Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. Although there is widespread agreement among scientists about global warming, it’s still a hotly debated topic. 

For those who refute it, the easiest answer to give them is that the climate has changed before. 

In the last half a million years, the Earth’s climate has had numerous cycles of glaciers advancing and retreating resulting from small changes in the orbital pattern of the planet which altered the solar energy received. 

The last ice age ended about 7,000 years ago and the current climate conditions became habitable for human beings. The past seven ice age glaciations progressed slowly and incrementally. Human-caused climate change is predicted to be more abrupt and dramatic.

NASA is providing global data from space to help determine the vital signs of the earth. NASA satellite images show decreased spring snow cover for the last fifty years with earlier snow melt. They report that ice sheets are shrinking both in Greenland and Antarctica by billions of tons a year. Antarctica’s ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade. 

Sea level rise is accelerating from melting land ice and the expansion of seawater as it warms. 

The acidity of the ocean has increase by 30% since the Industrial Revolution due to increased carbon emissions which are absorbed by the upper layers of the ocean. 

While scientists were initially pleased about how oceans helped reduce the greenhouse effect, they’re now realizing that it is also changing the chemistry of the seawater. The resulting warmer oceans are causing thermal stress which is contributing to the bleaching of coral reefs. 

This planet we call home was celebrated by NASA yesterday with a #PictureEarth social media event. People from around the planet posted their favorite images of earth including majestic mountain pikes, wildflower super blooms, and pristine alpine lakes.

Rachel Carson said, “In nature, nothing exists alone.” Each living species plays an important role in the web of life. The problem is we are losing key links in that web including bees, elephants, coral reefs and sea turtles. Extinction rates can decline and recover, but it will require a global movement of concerned citizens. 

Earth’s future will be shaped by what her inhabitants do to preserve their precious habitat. Last year at the Paris climate agreement, Brazil, the fourth largest air polluter and home to the Amazon rainforest signed the agreement, but the US dropped out. We’ve just celebrated Easter, a time of new beginnings… what will you do starting today to help the planet?

 

Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at educationallyspeaking@gmail.com.

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