HOW IT ALL BEGANFor starters, where did Earth Day originate from and what inspired it. In 1969 a disastrous oil spill occurred in Santa Barbara, CA that inspired Earth Day founder Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin to take action. Gaylord was a staunch environmentalist who was focused on building awareness of our world’s environmental challenges and fought to get environmental protection onto the political agenda. To make a long story short, his efforts paid off. The following quote is from The Earth Day Network – “As a result, on the 22nd of April in 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.” Protecting the planet, our well-being, is one thing we should all be able to get aligned on. It has now been 44 years since the first Earth Day in 1970.
ABOUT OUR HOMEIf you haven’t seen it yet, the new refurbished series of the “The Cosmos” narrated by Neal Degrasse Tyson is an inspiring eye-opening experience that’s put together extremely well. It’s been crafted in such a way that all people can enjoy it and understand the science being conveyed. You literally walk away with new perspectives on life and an understanding of how you fit into it all. So, how did science help us determine the age of the earth or at least give us our very best guess? In 1926, the National Academy of Sciences adopted the radiometric timescale which allowed for improved methods of dating, which incorporated advances in mass spectrometry, sampling and laser heating. The resulting knowledge has led to the current understanding that the earth is 4.55 billion years old. Additionally, the Earth has an estimated mass of 5.972E24 kg and a radius of 3,959 miles (6,371 km) Think about the combination of complex factors that had to come together to provide the conditions required for life to flourish. When you break it down, our home is a big blue ball of fire, rock, and water, with just the right chemical makeup and the perfect distance to the sun which is about 92,960,000 miles (149,600,000 km). We are part of that chemical makeup and we happen to be aware of it. What are the odds?
Let that sink in for a minute and take notice of how amazing it really is. The part that’s more amazing is that we are such a small part of the universe. There are billions upon billions of galaxies. Yes whole galaxies that have stars and planets of their own. A fun dinner conversation question I raise and tend to trick people with is this “How many stars are in our solar system?” Do you know the answer? Most will say “I have no idea, billions?”. Well the answer is one. Yes, that would be our very own shining sun. The light that hits your eyeballs was created tens of thousands of years ago and it took that long for them to be emitted by the sun. The photons emitted from the sun then travel at the speed of light across space and it takes about 8 minutes and 20 seconds to reach earth.
It’s all fascinating, beautiful, and humbling. When you think deeply about these barely comprehensible perspectives you might see human behavior today as being ridiculous, fighting over make-believe money, creating fake borders and wars, thinking we are something separate from nature, competing rather than cooperating. What creates a line of thought that causes those actions? Many say it’s the human ego or false ego. Have we lost our way over time as a species? Why are we fighting for a growing economy rather than protecting our planet, our very well-being? What can we do to change that line of thinking for better outcomes now? Maybe it’s time we move beyond politics, war and competition and embrace life working together. We have the technology and know how to provide for all people. We have enough resources but we don’t have enough “money”.
When astronauts saw Earth from space for the first time they were struck with an emotional overload they could never have prepared for. They stated that in that moment they understood that the earth is a living thing and how everything is connected.
You can hear from astronauts first hand about their experience seeing earth from space in this great video – The Overview Affect
Looking at the big picture you realize that the human species is relatively new, estimated at about 200,000 years old, but we are rapidly growing in numbers, technology is booming at fasters speeds year over year and unfortunately we tend to use resources as if earth is NOT a finite island. Even worse, we seem to have little to no concern for how much waste we create or where we put it.
Today, numerous studies indicate that humans are actually altering the geological properties of earth. Can that be possible? It has to be considered fairly. Can 7 billion people be apart of Earth and not impact the state of the whole? Did you know your white blood cells only account for about one percent of your blood? However, they are critical, what they do matters greatly to the body. White blood cells are essential for good health and protection against illness and disease. The point I’m attempting to convey is that Earth can be defined as an organism that we are part of so what we do likely impacts the whole.One of our greatest threats today is our production and consumption. We create products that do not go back into the earth such as plastic. Motivated by monetary gain we do what is cheapest, produce as much as possible and even plan for things to break down so people buy more. Our oceans have become landfills for human waste. The currents of the ocean collect garbage in a vortex and have created the five gyres which are massive garbage patches in our oceans. To get an idea of size, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas! As you might have heard, Malaysian Airlines flight 370 recently disappeared and has brought a lot of attention to our pollution problem. Search crews went out in boats and planes searching the Indian Ocean but debris sightings that gave blips of hope only turned out to be infinite streams of trash that humans have been dumping into the oceans for years – plastics bottles and bags, fishing gear, household wastes, cigarette butts, and the list goes on. Birds, whales, fish, are all being found dead with stomachs full of plastic. A whale found in the past year was found ashore dead and had over 40 pounds of plastic in its stomach. When you think about our production and consumption motivations you realize they are driven by money and not the well-being of all life. That perspective seems to create a compounding problem.
The latest edition of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report states that we are already experiencing the increasing impact of climate change – melting Arctic ice cap, droughts, floods, extreme weather, species going extinct, dying corals, stressed water supplies and more. The signs are all around us, screaming at us, and we need to respond appropriately. The change we need likely comes with a whole new way of thinking which leads to smarter decisions on a regular basis. Understanding the world around us, what we are, why we are the way we are, and making decisions that are based on the well-being of all life, not the bottom line. No “us and them”.
As Albert Einstein’s famous quote goes – “You can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking that created them”
Here is a trailer for a new great documentary that takes a deep dive into our consumption and production habits. Powerful and inspiring.
The good news is that awareness is spreading like wildfire thanks to the internet and perspectives are shifting. Additionally, we are seeing the age of open access education. The more educated our population is as a whole the stronger we are. Some people feel that what they do everyday does not matter but that’s simply not true. It matters very much and can be contagious to people around you. There is no reason for us to continue down a path of self-destruction. Today we have the science and technology to solve all our biggest challenges but it seems we need our values and way of thinking to align. Let’s see the bigger picture and celebrate our home and the gift of life we have all been given!
Awe inspiring montage of time-lapse photography from the International Space Station
An Earth Day Message of Hope Narrated by Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund