This week and last, various student groups and University organizers dedicated events to the celebration of Earth Day on April 22. Considering the growing threat of climate change, our staff reflected on the significance of this year’s Earth Day and the complexity of celebrating our planet amidst its degradation.
In the 60s, a series of events and realizations led to the founding of Earth Day. For example, Rachel Carson released a book called “Silent Spring” in 1962 that revealed how the chemical pesticide DDT caused birds to lay eggs with thin shells that would break prematurely, causing a huge decline in bird populations.
At the time, there weren’t many environmental regulations in place, nor was anybody really monitoring the effects of large-scale industries on the health of the environment. At the time there was no Environmental Protection Agency (est. 1970), no Clean Air Act (est. 1970), and no Clean Water Act (est. 1972). Carson’s book made people wonder whether the same chemical that was doing this to birds and was widely used in commercial agriculture, could be seriously harming humans as well. The carcinogens found in DDT made more people begin to question whether corporations had the safety of not only the environment (including animal lives) but also humans in mind when they used short-term solutions like DDT to generate large-scale profit.
In August 2021, the United Nations released a report declaring a “code red” situation for humanity. The scientific consensus in that report was that we have already caused irreversible damage and that if we don’t make radical changes right now humanity could face extinction. We are in a geological age known as the Anthropocene, characterized by the distinguishable impact human activity has had on Earth’s ecosystems and climate.
It’s a shame to see that while there is a constant conversation about how the Earth is degrading under our feet, it feels like not much has been done to change that. Earth Day often generates feel-good news stories about inventions to help stop climate change that don’t exist yet, or cost unfeasible sums of money. Journals may also use the horror of climate change to write doom articles that cause panic. There is a fine line between making people aware of how dire this situation is and encouraging them to have the hope and motivation to reverse it. Mass panic doesn’t solve mass problems, but it shouldn’t be sugar-coated either.
There should be better incentives to volunteer or participate in neighborhood clean-ups, spread the word on renewable energy, or protest against those 100 companies causing the most damage to our planet.
There have certainly been large campaigns that claim to help the environment. For example, #TeamTrees, the Youtuber campaign that promised to plant a tree for every dollar raised, collected more than $20 million dollars. Such campaigns raise questions around whether they will follow through with their promises, and whether their activism is real or just a farce for profit or notoriety. TeamTrees has begun planting, but unfortunately, many organizers often greenwash their campaigns to scam people in the name of the environment while building their image on social media.
Many people use Earth Day as an excuse to post their favorite pictures of nature on Instagram without truly opening their eyes to the issue at hand: we won’t be around to celebrate Earth if drastic measures aren’t taken.
A major problem with humanity, especially in individualized Western culture, is that we forget we are a part of nature, we come from nature, and our roots are in the Earth itself. We can celebrate this very important Earth Day by reminding ourselves that we are not separate from nature, and reflect on how we can work in tandem with our environment, for the life that shares our home with us, rather than working against it. If we take on an interconnected point of view, instead of seeing ourselves as the peak of our own imposed hierarchy of life on Earth, we can begin to heal not only our relationship with nature but the damage we’ve caused it.
In addition to changing our mentality as a society, the intentions of the people in power need to change. They need to look to preserving our future, and protecting our home, instead of preserving a fickle economy and protecting the wealth of the top one percent. We need to expose environmental injustice, speak up for those who are seldom heard, and give voice to flora and fauna that have no voice of their own.
We cannot teach our children to be good stewards of the Earth without first setting a good example for them. Having grown up with the looming threat of climate change, we are scared to have children at all, as we don’t know how much of a future they will have when our own futures are uncertain. While it is easy to fall into pessimism, we need to conserve our emotional health and energy to avoid becoming apathetic.
One way to do this is to share and spark the joy in understanding the earth’s systems and science so admiration and wonder for our natural world can take hold and shape our generation’s attitude, instead of hopelessness. The force of gratitude and awe toward nature can be more productive than fear and can refuel our motivations to protect our planet. Student-led events like Climate Forward, which takes place April 29 from 3-7 p.m. in the Education Building parking lot, can help to do just that.
It is increasingly important for all of us, USF students included, to educate ourselves on how we can help, have conversations with others, support causes and have the humility to turn to others who are more informed on what is happening. This is a daunting and complicated issue, but if we maintain our curiosity and love for Earth, we can find the energy to continue to do what we can to save it from those who choose to neglect and destroy it.