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Does Earth Day Work?

By Phil Dickenson | April 22nd 2021

Despite an outcry following the movie Blackfish, Orcas are still kept in captivity.

On the 22nd April 1970, legendary news anchorman Walter Cronkite addressed America "A unique day in our history is ending, a day set aside for a nationwide outpouring of mankind seeking its own survival. 'EARTH DAY' a day dedicated to enlisting all the citizens of a bountiful country in a common cause of saving life from the deadly by-products of that bounty. The fouled skies, the filthy waters and the littered earth."

Starting in the U.S. over 50 years ago 'Earth Day' has engaged 192 countries and 1 billion people (according to the official website). Yet in the half century that followed, neither fair-weather hippies or seasoned environmentalists have managed to slow-down the rampant destruction of our planet.

If Walter Cronkite were still alive, he would wax lyrical that the skies are more polluted now than ever before, the water is more filthy and the earth (inc. the seas) far more littered. In addition, keen observers recognise that our ice caps & glaciers are melting at an alarming pace, the oceans are rising and emptying of fish and our forests are bulldozed on a daily basis until they are bare.

So does EARTH DAY work?

Consider this, how healthy and happy would you be, if you only celebrated your life, ate well and successfully managed your stress levels for one day each year? The answer is, you would probably be depressed, undernourished and at risk of developing heart disease or cancer. Likewise we might celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd but how considerate are our actions in May, August or October? Most of us routinely neglect the health of our planet in much the same way we neglect our own.

Image source unknown

The Impossible Burger & alternative proteins are helping people switch to a plant-based diet.

Admittedly there is no hard evidence to answer this question. In fact we’re certain that the question of whether designated days work for the overall health and longevity of humans, other species and the Earth is impossible to answer. If something substantial had occurred, things might be different. If, for example everyone planted a tree or took part in a plastic clean-up on Earth Day, we will have planted a few hundred billion trees and stopped several billion tons of plastic from entering the ocean. Proportionately if we could measure the level of complacency those annual exertions caused for the subsequent 364 days of the year, we might be able to arrive at a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Still with the predicament we find ourselves in, there's certainly merit to debating whether Earth Day has had its day and should become a 24/7 conscious concern.

Photo by Danielle Barnes

Penguins gather in smaller numbers on smaller patches of ice.

Earth Day is just one of hundreds of days dedicated to nature, for instance 6 days prior you could perform somersaults for 'Dolphin Day' or 3 days later one might waddle side-to-side for 'Penguin Day' both animals continue to be threatened in the wild, the former as a result of by-catch and dwindling fish (its diet) and the later a result of dwindling sea ice and rising temperatures.

World Salmon Day on October 8th hasn't stopped British Colombia from damming rivers and preventing these once prolific fish from returning to their ancestral spawning grounds to give birth. World Elephant Day on August 12th didn't stop the trade in ivory and their numbers falling by 60% from 1 million to 4 hundred thousand and World Ocean Day on June 8th hasn't prevented overfishing by super-trawlers or nitrate & phosphate pollution from farming and fertilisers. The knock-on effects are sometimes widely and at other times lesser known. For instance Chinook Salmon are fish-of-the-day for Orcas in British Colombia, Canada and without them their newborn babies are dying. Elephants are sometimes referred to as our "giant gardeners" because they disperse seeds in their faeces and create paths through the forest for smaller animals. While our forests and oceans act as a sponge for our filthy skies (carbon dioxide) and breathe out filtered air (Oxygen).

Illustration source unknown

The Tasmanian tiger was categorised as extinct in the 1930's

Of course there’s always the risk that without certain days earmarked in the calendar for birds, insects, mammals, fish and whales that we might forget them entirely. Would a Tasmanian Devil Day have saved the carnivorous marsupial or a Dodo Day have saved the eponymous bird? Leaving a species undiscovered and uncelebrated would preclude efforts to protect them, albeit with a billion dollar wildlife trade you might argue that maintaining their anonymity would reduce demand for their bones, their fur, their scales, their horns or tusks.

What we can say for sure is humans are curious and domineering animals that have hunted (consumed) many species to extinction. Full of contradiction, we reserve affection for domesticated animals at home, but brutality for animals in laboratories and farms. People of faith teach kindness and compassion in religious buildings powered by oil and gas. Neo liberalism promotes infinite growth in markets and stocks at the cost of our finite planet. So for Earth Day to work in the long-term and as Walter Cronkite announced, secure our own survival, first we must address these inconsistencies of the human spirit.

Photo by Gabe Pierce

Walking alongside the LGBTQ community, holding hands with people of colour and staunchly supportive of women's rights, we must do our part to ensure justice for the climate, wild spaces and animals! If we are to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and restore the earths biodiversity, a sustained effort will be required and top of our 'To do list' must be keeping fossils fuels in the ground. Second is a reduction in day-to-day consumption and replacing single use plastics with bio-degradable alternatives. Third we must radically transform our food system, bringing crop diversity back to soils, reducing the use of chemicals and switching to a predominantly plant-based diet.

These are giant steps for humankind that can't be taken on a designated day, so for Earth Day to work, we must make it eternal.

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