On Monday, April 22, the world ‘celebrated’ Earth Day for the 49th time. In some countries, the so-called celebration is being extended into Earth Week, a full seven days of events focused on green living. But given the atrocities still being committed by human beings against a planet that is our only home, is there really anything to celebrate?
Maybe we should ask the organisers and people taking part in ‘Extinction Rebellion’ in London. This is a protest that started since April 15 in which those protesting have blocked major London thoroughfares including Oxford Circus, Parliament Square and Waterloo Bridge. Up to Monday, over 1,000 people had been arrested among them ordinary people, an Olympic Gold Medallist and academics; a number of persons have also been charged.
The protesters are calling for the government to tell the truth about climate change, act to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 and to create a citizen’s assembly to help drive the process. They do not mind being arrested as they feel this will call more attention to their cause. According to London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who made an impassioned plea on Twitter for an end to the protests, more than 9,000 police officers have had to respond to the protests.
Or maybe we should check with the students in over 100 countries around the world who have joined the School Strike for Climate movement, sparked by the actions of now 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg. Last year, on August 20, Miss Thunberg was the sole figure at the very first such strike outside the Swedish Parliament, an action which propelled her out of the depression she had sunk into after learning about the climate crisis and the environment at school. The movement is now a vast, global one and the Swedish teen has spoken at varied global fora, chiding and admonishing word leaders for their lack of action.
But both groups, Miss Thunberg and any number of environmentalists would very likely demur. For while there is no doubt that from the first Earth Day in 1970 – then observed only in the United States – to today there have been some strides made with regard to conservation, raising awareness about environmental issues and trying to transform public attitudes, there should have been far more accomplished given that almost 50 years have gone by.
Unfortunately, all around the world, we are still raising awareness and addressing the need for human behaviour change. In fact, in some ways, the world has regressed. There is, for instance, a growing number of climate change naysayers, among them current US President Donald Trump, who is doing his level best to increase coal mining, despite the fact that such activity can worsen climate change and damage the environment. His message on Monday to mark Earth Day could well have been an American tourism advertisement.
Human behaviour has been/is still contributing to widespread environmental pollution, which not only harms the earth, but humans as well. For instance, air pollution is wrought mostly by the burning of fossil fuels like coal and petroleum; noxious gases including carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emitted during agricultural, industrial and other human activities and tobacco smoke.
Then there is marine pollution caused by activities such as non-ecological agriculture, tourism, mining, fisheries and manufacturing, among others, which cause marine pollution. There are also sewage outfalls and perhaps the most egregious of all – plastics. It is estimated that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the oceans, of which 269,000 tonnes float on the surface, while some 4 billion plastic microfibres per square kilometre litter the deep sea. Just the thought of how much it is, is mind boggling.
Land pollution is also an issue with household garbage and industrial waste dumped not only in landfills, where they produce some toxic gases, but also strewn near waterways where they create havoc in the environment. We are thoroughly familiar with all of these types of pollution in Guyana, particularly land pollution. Littering and dumping are critical issues that neither local nor central government seem to be able to get ahead of. Preoccupied as it was with the Easter Monday holiday, Guyana did not do much, if anything to ‘celebrate’ Earth Day on the day itself. Though it would have been a good thing if the two were combined as everyone out flying kites, some of which are adding more plastic to the environment even now, could have also been engaged in picking up the trash littering the beaches. While the parks appeared to be clean, every beach had litter that was there before the kite-flyers arrived.
At this point, every action that can be taken to halt and reverse pollution and reduce emissions should be eagerly pursued by everyone. We might seriously damage it, but Planet Earth will still be here long after we humans have celebrated ourselves into extinction.