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  • Melissa Sims

What's Going Well: Earth Day 2024

Reflecting on Our Planet's Past and Present, and Pioneering a Sustainable Future

It’s really easy lately to see what’s NOT going well in the world. I know you don’t need me to make a bullet point list. Because it is in our faces daily, it becomes more difficult to see what is going RIGHT in world. This past Monday was Earth Day, if you didn’t know, and I think that’s a great reminder for us to keep looking for the things that are on the positive side of the world’s balance sheet. 

Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day has evolved from a national environmental teach-in to a global movement, with millions of people across nearly every country engaging in activities designed to protect our planet. Earth Day underscores the importance of environmental stewardship and has significantly contributed to raising awareness and prompting actions against pollution.

Earth Day was the brainchild of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, who was moved by the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse the energy of anti-war protests with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it could force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of serious human health impacts.

The first Earth Day was effective in raising awareness among the general public and putting environmental issues on the agenda of lawmakers. It led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of critical environmental laws such as the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

Since then, substantial progress has been made. Technology has become cleaner and more energy efficient. Laws regulating the discharge of pollutants into the air and water have become stricter. The global community has also come together on numerous occasions to address world-scale environmental challenges, such as the Montreal Protocol, which effectively began the healing of the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances responsible for ozone depletion.

However, despite these advancements, the battle against pollution continues. Issues like plastic pollution, air quality degradation in rapidly industrializing regions, and the unpredictable impacts of climate change on global ecosystems remain formidable challenges. 

What else has been accomplished since Earth Day’s inception? The pesticide DDT, which was a catalyst in many bird species being placed on the endangered species list, was banned in 1972. By 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list, among other species. The ozone layer, which in the early 80s had a growing hole in it, is repairing itself and is expected to be completely “healed” by 2060. In addition to these great milestones, electric vehicles are now more common than ever and on their way to being more financially accessible. Clean energy is now the cheapest energy available, and 80% of all the new electricity generation installed world-wide was solar and wind in 2023. That’s incredible progress!

How You Can Do Your Part: The Ripple Effect of Small Actions

Every Earth Day serves as a reminder that the Earth needs our help to stay healthy, and this help can come from everyday activities. The concept of making small changes to our daily habits can have profound impacts when adopted by millions of people. This can be as simple as reducing waste, recycling more effectively, opting for public transport, conserving water, or supporting local and sustainable businesses.

For instance, choosing to bike rather than driving for short trips can significantly reduce one's carbon footprint. If 1,000 people opted to bike daily, it could save approximately 300 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Each action, while seemingly insignificant on its own, contributes to a larger wave of change. And leading by example can inspire those around you to follow suit!

Try eliminating, or reducing, your plastic use. Plastics have become a major source of not only land and water pollution, but also air pollution. Because plastics are made from fossil fuels, their off-gassing creates an immense strain on our skies. We will likely never get rid of plastic pollution, but if we do our part now, we can mitigate it’s effect for the future.

How Mindfulness Plays a Role

Mindfulness in the context of Earth Day means being more aware and conscious of how our actions affect the environment. It's about connecting the dots between what we consume and how it is produced. This awareness can dramatically shift how we interact with our environment, guiding us toward more sustainable habits and lifestyle choices.

Practicing mindfulness can also help us appreciate the natural world and recognize our part in its preservation. Walking meditations in nature can enhance our respect and appreciation for the planet’s natural resources, deepening our commitment to protecting them.

Furthermore, mindfulness can lead to stress reduction, which in turn can decrease consumption-driven behaviors, such as excessive shopping or use of resources. When we are more relaxed and content internally, the compulsion to find fulfillment through consumption diminishes.

As Earth Day approaches each year, it's a chance to reflect on progress and set new goals. The world is increasingly recognizing that economic development should not come at the expense of ecological health. Renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind are becoming more cost-effective and widespread. Urban planning is increasingly emphasizing green spaces and energy efficiency. These initiatives need to be supported by both policy and individual choices. Each decision to support sustainable practices contributes to a larger pattern of change that can transform our world.

Earth Day is a powerful testament to what can be achieved when humanity bands together for a common cause. It has not only helped mitigate some of the damage done but has also cultivated a global consciousness toward the environment and our responsibilities toward it. Think of how much we could accomplish if we applied that kind of passion to other problems in the world!

Mindful actions, when multiplied by millions, can cause a ripple effect leading to substantial environmental benefits. As we continue to celebrate Earth Day each year, let's commit to daily, mindful actions that respect our planet and ensure its health for generations to come. Remember, every small action counts in the grand movement towards a sustainable and thriving Earth.


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