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Blog item: What Does Earth Day 2009 Signify?

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5 comments, last: Apr-22-2009   Add a comment   Author:  PT (Apr-22-2009)
Categories: Economic/Financial, Pollution, Sustainable Living, Wildlife and Nature

Make every day an Earth DayBack in 1970, when the first Earth Day was observed, life was relatively easy for those in the industrialized nations.  Although there was highly visible pollution here and there, and the Cuyahoga River famously caught on fire in 1969, the problems were nearly all based on point sources, namely measurable, restrictable sources.  Although the effects of these sources were highly visible, they could be controlled with then-existing technologies and enforcement applied in a methodical manner.  And great improvements were made in controlling these visible problems, starting in 1970, the same year as the first Earth Day.

Last night, PBS Frontline program presented this encapsulation of the change in environmentalism and environmental needs from then to now.

In the 1970s, we simply needed to control manufacturers, town water treatment processing, and garbage management.  Today, we face more difficult problems:  the dependence on chemical processes for creating the goods of daily life, the move of nations into "advanced" technology and transportation usage, the dominance of factory farming so as to feed a growing world population, all of these are at far higher levels than ever before.  And the number of people in the world has more than doubled from 3.7 billion in 1970 to 7.77 billion currently.

Plastics gradually give off components of their manufacture, into the environmentIn the name of economic growth, the world now spews out plastics and products without any restraint or self-knowledge, in an orgy of expansion and competition which now leaves bodies of water contaminated with PCBs and hundreds of other chemicals, old and new.  The newer chemicals come from items such as deodorants, soaps, hair sprays, glues, antibiotics, other pharmaceuticals, and from specific varieties of plastics which give off chemicals such as endocrine disrupters.

In the oceans and bays, these disruptions of the environment are killing fish and whales at young ages – even before they reach adulthood – and are suspected in an increase in intersex and other sexual and reproductive problems in both animals and humans.  Human babies are now more frequently born with dual-sex genitals or other conditions needing extensive attention.  This has now become a subject of study by the US government, with major studies underway but not yet completed.

Looking in another direction, global climate change / global warming is the best known environmental threat, and avoiding that threat would require dramatic cuts in production of all greenhouse gases, with carbon dioxide and methane being the two biggest threats according to current analysis.  Black carbon, from unfiltered burning of wood and similar fuels in third world countries that are starving for energy of any form, is now thought by some to be second only to carbon dioxide as a source of global climate change.

And looking in yet another direction, we have likely passed the maximum amount of fossil fuel energy that the world will ever produce in a single year.  That phenomenon is known as Peak Oil (and Peak Gas and Peak Coal).  As the demands for energy continue to increase all over the world even in this recession (China's growth outweighs shrinkage elsewhere), loss of energy availability could quickly and dramatically change the nature of daily life worldwide, especially in developed nations.  If you use your imagination and think of long lines waiting for expensive fuel, and increased prices for all the other goods that currently need cheap energy to hold down their costs, you will start to get an idea.

So, what are the answers?  What does Earth Day 2009 represent, and what can we start to accomplish in the next year?

I think the answer is a mixed bag.  The burning wheel of consumption has a life of its own, firmly planted in the human mind through evolution, biology, and culture.  In other words, most people when we see a warm article of clothing (especially in the colder countries) or see a better item of food or of meat, or see a bigger house or faster or shinier vehicle, we want that item.  Not to be too cynical, in some cases those conveniences are able to increase the chance of survival of an individual person or family, in poorer countries.  Who would not get better food so the children and other loved ones have a better chance of being happy, healthy, and surviving longer?

What effect does the environment have on each human and animal?It is the innate animal force that lodges in every human being, that drives us to reproduce, to gather more possessions, and to fight for the right to do these things.  But we are able to evolve and become creatures beyond only the lower survival instincts.  Eventually, the increasing pressure of the new reality of scarcity of all kinds of resources, will force individuals worldwide into paths of personal development, spirituality, and rethinking of priorities, whether people know they are doing so, or not.

Entire social structures will need to evolve dramatically, as the nature of suburbs and cities will need to change.  There will be crying and shouting as we are all dragged kicking into a new way of life.

My goal is simply to be calm enough to act in a positive manner during all this, or at least to kick and scream less than I would if I was caught unaware.  And why does that matter?  It matters because in the end, each of us can and will need to rise to that level of perception before we can turn around our problems.  We might as well start developing that mind now.

What does this mean for Earth Day 2009?  It means living more simply, helping others, trying to consume less and want less, and finding more satisfaction in peaceful moments, in friendships, in socially-beneficial accomplishments.  As many have said, it may indeed be a more abundant life than a possession-based and activity-based lifestyle.

None of this is news.  Someone once said "The best things in life are free".  The carrot has always been there.  Now the stick also approaches.  We might as well get ourselves in gear and find the abundant good in living in more harmony with the earth and ourselves.

Movements such as Transition and Awakening the Dreamer, and many re-localization projects taking place around the world, are the way of the future, and are providing ways of joining with others to move to a sustainable future.

Maybe your Earth Day will be a day for personal reflection and inner peace.  Maybe it will be a day to think about and act on joining with others to take action.  Maybe it will be a day of learning more about specific techniques for living in a more green manner.  For those who will have a day more or less like every other day, some small part of you may start to think more about where we are headed, and what we should do to change course toward a better direction.

In any case, may it be a wonderful day for you.

Related reading:
  Commodification Of Water (Aug-11-2011)
  A World Of Plastic (Article And InfoGraphic) (Aug-2-2011)
  "If your experience is that your food comes from ..." (Jul-19-2011)
  The Shrinking Pie: Post-Growth Geopolitics (Jul-7-2011)
  "And the day came when the risk it took to remain..." (Jun-26-2011)
  I Think This Is A Good Idea, At Least Where I Li... (May-13-2011)
  Recycling? What A Waste. (Oct-17-2010)
  "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of..." (Aug-27-2010)
  Vegan Jelloware Re-Invents The Disposable Cup (Aug-14-2010)
  Uncivilization And The Dark Mountain Project (Jun-25-2010)

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Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Apr-22-2009)   Web site
Thank you David. I appreciate it and think you're probably right in the gist of what you're saying.

What I'm not certain of, however, is how many of these are really 'new'. The vortex of rubbish in the Pacific was only recently discovered, but may have been growing for decades. Certainly we face some new problems; other problems are recently discovered, but have existed for some time; some problems have been around awhile and are getting worse; while just a few (lead in petrol; aerosols and the ozone layer) may actually have got better.

Overall, however, if we could take 1,000 climate scientists and send them back to 1970, I think human civilisation would have a greater chance of surviving the challenges to come. Oh for a time machine!
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Apr-22-2009)   Web site

Thanks for your comments, OE and WH. I would respectfully disagree William regarding a great similarity existing between 1970 and 2009. In 1970 there were not, as far as I know, persistent dead zones in the oceans. Those are doubling in total size about every ten years. 40% of Chesapeake Bay near our nation's capital is totally empty of plant and animal life at the height of summer.

Other new phenomena are the disappearance of 90% of larger ocean fish, melting of glaciers and the North Pole, the Great Garbage Patch of de-composing plastics in the Pacific Ocean, and the very widespread exposure to household and pharmaceutical chemicals.

These latter, new factors are the ones that I point out as being harder to deal with than the old type. Everyone hates a giant pipe dumping toxic sludge into a neighborhood's drinking water. But how many will give up having electronics, cars, and plastic toys and diversions? Those are examples of the worldwide items that shed toxins nearly uncontrolled into landfills and into bodies of water.

Didn't mean to over-respond, William, but it takes a lot of words to get to the details on a topic like this.
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Apr-22-2009)   Web site

Yes, OE. I will never forget an early scene from the unique movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy". It showed a middle-class woman driving her car out of her driveway and just across the street, in order to mail a letter. Maybe dumping the car is the final desperate measure after taking all the other steps. :--)
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Apr-22-2009)   Web site

Another thought-provoking article, David. I agree; and Oemissions, I agree with you too!

Two comments really. First, I would say that the differences between 1970 and 2009 are not that great. We know more now than we did then; and 39 years of population growth and carbon emissions have taken their toll: but cleaning up your local river is as important now as it was when Simon and Garfunkel sang 'Bridge over troubled water'. In many countries legislation means that rivers are cleaner today than a generation ago, but in the Third World there are still terrible examples of local pollution. Acting to protect the environment can be taken globally (a small splash in a big pool) or locally (the reverse): both actions are worth taking.

Second, I think Earth Day remains an essentially American thing. I might be wrong about this, but outside the USA (and perhaps Canada) I think awareness is low. This may not be such a bad thing, however. One day in 365 is arguably the sort of tokenism that limits progress. And the USA, proud home of Earth Day, is one of the world's greatest laggards in terms of action to tackle global warming and preparedness for peak oil. Am I wrong?
Comment by: Oemissions (Apr-22-2009)   

People can change their light bulbs and recycle and even buy local/organic food but until they opt out of the daily drives, we won't see and experience a REAL commitment to saving our environment, people and planet.

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About author/contributor Member: PT (David Alexander) PT (David Alexander)
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Member: PT (David Alexander) My lifelong pursuit, since age 18, has been to live more fully and find wisdom. This has involved studies with Zen masters, Tai Chi masters, and great psychotherapists while achieving my license as a gestalt therapist and psychoanalyst.

Along the way, I became aware of how the planet is under great stress due to the driven nature of human activity on this planet.

I believe that the advancement of human well-being will reduce societies addictive behaviors, and will thus also help preserve the environment and perhaps slow down the effects of global warming and other major threats to the health of human societies.

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