Skip to content

Reflecting on Earth Day's golden anniversary

Sidney Cohen/NNSL photo If Zea, a dog at the Ecology North offices, could speak, she might say humans should celebrate Earth Day every day. April 10, 2018

Imagine the scene 50 years ago. 1970, the Summer of Love just ended, a massive oil spill off Santa Barbara was still in clean up mode, Greenpeace was just starting out in the quiet port city of Vancouver and across the United States there was a growing realization that humans were poisoning our planet with well-intentioned but catastrophic pesticide spraying of DDT. Waterways were dammed, rivers and lakes were being declared dead, while lead spewed from inefficient vehicle exhausts, smog and billowing black smoke stacks from industrial plants were still seen as a sign of prosperity and growth.

Earth Day brought America together with a shared vision of a changed future where the Earth would be appreciated for what she provided us. Fully 20 per cent of the country came together to celebrate the Earth. Mass youth protests sparked this movement, the Environmental Protection Agency was born and the environment was suddenly appreciated, instead of just exploited.

Now flash forward to today, 50 years later. The planet is a vastly different place. In North America, the population has increased by 150 million people, we have banned the use of DDT, came together to reduce the risk to the ozone layer, solved acid rain issues, and many of our acute water pollution issues, and our cars are tremendously less polluting. All great wins for Mother Nature, but for each challenge tackled, new ones have emerged. Air pollution has been outsourced, Glyphosate has replaced DDT as a widespread pesticide, overfishing and microplastics threaten ocean life, we're in the midst of an extinction crisis, but mostly climate change has become the singular global environmental threat that overshadows and impacts all other impacts. It seems we aren't yet in harmony with nature after 50 years of Earth Days.

This Earth Day is more important than most realize. We are perhaps at a crux in the very survival of humanity as the most successful form of life our planet has ever seen. Our response to Covid-19 and climate change needs to be successfully intertwined into a story of economic and societal transformation and change. We need to learn from the lessons that the Earth and our First Nations provide. We must live within the confines of nature and the very resources of our planet, or face uncertain consequences. Absolutely, let's all celebrate Earth Day this week, but think about what you can do to lend your voice to the growing chorus to ensure that 50 years from now our kids will continue to celebrate Earth Day.