Saving our planet
Photo : Flavio Takemoto/sxc.hu
Earth Day has become an international symbol of unity and respect for the environment and this year has been no exception. Under the slogan ‘Mobilise the Earth’, 192 countries all over the world – from Egypt to China, Italy, Canada, USA and Brazil – celebrated Earth Day with the aim to sensitise people and offer solutions about environmental problems.
So what was your contribution to Earth Day? Did you switch off all unused lights? Or did you use your bicycle instead of your car? These are only a few examples of actions that could make a positive change and help to save our planet from pollution and waste of non-renewable resources. ‘It is not only possible to “solve” environmental problems, it is also possible to share resources in a more equitable manner, so that we do not have global hunger, mass poverty, or toxic waste killing people and the planet,’ explained Muna Lhani from the organisation Earthlife Africa. With that in mind, the purpose of Earth Day is to create awareness around more sustainable lifestyle choices: recycling, conservation of natural resources (like oil and fossil gas), cessation of the destruction of forests and protection of endangered animals.
22 April 1970
The first Earth Day was organised in 1970 thanks to the commitment of the US senator, Gaylord Nelson. For his entire political career, Nelson was concerned about environmental problems and for years tried his best to sensitise the US government and citizens. In 1963 he convinced President Kennedy to run a National Conservation Tour with a series of conferences devoted to environmental issues. Kennedy agreed, but because the events were not very successful they were pulled out from the political agenda.
However, Nelson did not stop his environmental campaigning and during a political tour in 1969 he was inspired by student protests against the Vietnam War. It was then when he thought that, with a big mobilisation, it would be impossible for the government and locals to ignore what was happening to the planet. With the aid of his staff, Nelson started to send messages, news, faxes and leaflets all around the USA and on 22April 1970, one month and two days after Spring Equinox, 20 million Americans poured into national squares and gardens to demonstrate a healthy, sustainable environment. Adding to the success of the protests was the support garnered by college and university students, rallying against environmental degradation. Thanks to this event the US government created the United States Environmental Protection Agency and passed the ‘Clean Air/Clean Water’ and the ‘Endangered Species’ Act.
1990: The bend
With the arrival of the nineties, Earth Day became global; mobilising 200 million people in 141 countries and the campaign helped pave for the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Green consciousness began to spread globally and there was a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide. For the following two decades, Earth Day's focus moved on to other interests tied to climate and green actions. In 2000 the main focus was on global warming and the need for clean energy and in 2010 they returned to focus on other environmental problems. And for 2012, they decided to launch the ‘Billion Arts of Green’ campaign – aimed at convincing the global community to ‘act green’ and show the world that individual ‘green acts’ can make a change. Earlier in 2012, organisers of Earth Day were involved in the UN Environmental Summit in Rio de Janeiro and pleaded with world leaders to engage in the salvation of the planet, because natural resources are the heart of the earth.
One event in every country
All over the world there are organised events, concerts and initiatives to celebrate a day dedicated to our environment and to raise awareness about the importance of preserving our beautiful earth. Ukraine for example launched the campaign ‘Let's do it’ to identify and eliminate all illegal dumping sites in the country. And this year in Italy, they decided to change the location from Rome to Naples to claim a good reputation after Naples’ famous waste scandal. The Surfinder Foundation Europe went as far as cleaning the oceans in Africa and Europe; and in Asia, Taipei launched a campaign to reduce the usage of air conditioning. Many Hollywood stars, like Leonardo Di Caprio, also made appeals to educate people on ‘green actions’.
In South Africa, Earthlife and Zero Waste in Africa both believe that ‘everyday should be Earth Day!’ They also fight continuously against the proposed six more nuclear power stations in South Africa and the proposed fracking of water and poor people in the Karoo and elsewhere. Earthlife also focus on the ongoing battles to support food sovereignty and food justice and the necessity for South Africa to stop subsidising major corporations with ‘cheap electricity (and more) and rather subsidise the use of safe and clean energy for the poor, so that people have a safer and more dignified life than is currently the case,’ explained Lhani from the dedicated organisation who went on to explain that ‘shifting to a renewable future is easier than one would think – it takes the halting of the never ending over consumption of “stuff”; the understanding that we need to live simply, and not simply be willing consumers for all that is foisted upon us that we do not need to live simply, and not that we will be happier for it.’ Lhani also explained that the fundamental change that needs to happen is ‘to stop the basis of the current economy from economic growth (nothings grows forever!) to a people and planet friendly “economy” that places people at the heart of resources usage, instead of profit.’
Many other organisations in South Africa, such as groundWork share Earthlife’s belief, as director Bobby Peek stated that, ‘We are heading to a stage where we do not have a choice about whether we deal with issues of non-renewable resources and waste. Pollution and waste from non-renewable energy sources means we need to therefore wean ourselves off fossil fuels because there is no long-term future in this.’ Peek underlined a serious fact: South Africa’s electricity production is not accessible for the large majority of its citizens. ‘Residents pay up to seven times more per unit of electricity than big business. Most of the residential energy produced is used by the richest 40% of households in the country, and 20% of the population do not have access to electricity and thus “energy poor”’. For this reason groundWork used Earth Day as ‘an opportunity to call for clean energy’.
As 2013 approaches us, with the theme ‘Tech for a Greener Future’, we need to keep in mind what South Africa needs to do to look after its environment. Our Earth is undoubtedly precious and it’s all we have, perhaps it might help to consider what Robert Orben, American writer and humorist, said ‘There is so much pollution in the air now that if it weren't for our lungs there'd be no place to put it all’. It's time to try to do something concrete to fight the pollution overload, not only on Earth Day but every day.