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Articles

Earth Day


2021/05/01

Compiled by Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

This year’s Earth Day celebration was a three-day affair, April 20 - April 22, the original Earth Day. Informative sessions began on April 20, 2021 with a global youth climate summit, featuring hundreds of youth Earth advocates. The global youth summit consisted of panel discussions, speeches, and special message from youngsters including Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villaseñor, and Licypriya Kangujam. The evening’s digital event examined climate concerns, environmental justice, and issues of pollution, poverty, and the pandemic.

On April 21, Education International led the “Teach for the Planet: Global Education Summit.” This multilingual virtual summit featured prominent educators from every continent emphasizing the crucial role that educators play in educating the public on environmental issues.

The main attraction on April 22 was the theme “Restore Our Earth,” which covered natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems. Other topics were reforestation efforts, regenerative agriculture, citizen science, clean-ups, and more.

The five pillars of Restore Our Earth are:

(1) The Canopy Project: improves the shared environment by planting trees across the globe. Since 2010, earthday.org™ has planted tens of millions of trees with The Canopy Project, working worldwide to strengthen communities.

(2) Food and Environment: A “foodprint” measures the environmental impacts associated with growing, producing, transporting, and storing the food we eat, from the natural resources consumed to the pollution produced. While we should work to reduce our foodprints, there are many factors, including access, affordability, health, and culture that shape our decisions about what we eat. You can try a foodprint calculator to find out how your meals affect the planet, and try out new recipes.

(3) The Great Global Cleanup seeks to clean up the litter that we leave everywhere. Small groups can have a big impact with an organized clean up. Even individual efforts make a difference. Wherever you are, you can pick up plastic pollution that harms a wide array of animal, fish, and bird life; clean up your favorite hiking trail; or clean up along the road side near your home. At home, look at what waste you create, remove the single use items and other items that you commonly throw away.

(4) Climate Literacy: Launched in Summer 2020, this formal educational campaign combines efforts by students, educators, and nonprofit organizations with national level commitments from the Ministries of Education and Environment. It ensures that students across the world benefit from high-quality education to develop into informed and engaged environmental stewards.

(5) Global Earth Challenge: Beginning in April 2020, this citizen science initiative engages millions of people while integrating billions of data points from both new and ongoing citizen science projects. For example, a current project is to understand how insect populations like bees are changing. There is also research on air quality, plastics, and food security.

Find out more about each of these topics, a history of Earth Day, and learn more at the website: www.earthday.org.
 
PBS Educational Programs
As a prelude to Earth Day, PBS aired two programs hosted by David Attenborough about the state of our planet. “Extinction: The Facts” laid out the alarming rate of extinction of a variety of species on Earth and how rapidly it is occurring. The huge variety of life on Earth, known as biodiversity, is being lost at a rate unprecedented in human history. A main factor in extinction of species is biodiversity loss. Another factor is humans killing off particular species (to extinction) for profit. One sad part of the program showed the last two White Rhinos in the world. Another interesting fact is how the extinction crisis is related to increases in pandemic diseases. If you missed it on television, you can stream it at: www.pbs.org/show/extinction-facts/

The other program Attenborough hosted was “Climate Change: The Facts.” This program brought together leading climate scientists who are documenting the current changes to the planet as increased greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, are increasing the global mean temperature. These scientists examine the consequences of rising temperatures on ice sheets, fragile ecosystems, developing communities, and extreme weather events.

Extreme weather events have an impact on ecosystems. Certain locations, including those around the equator, are becoming increasingly uninhabitable as temperatures rise. With global temperatures rising at an increasing rate, animals are not able to keep up with the changing climate. Scientists believe that at least 8% of animals are at risk of extinction solely due to climate change. The loss of even the smallest organism destabilizes and increases the risk of a potential collapse of the world’s ecosystem, which holds together life on Earth.

Personal accounts of California wildfires, extreme coastal flooding in Louisiana, and increasing temperatures in Australia paint vivid pictures of these devastating weather effects. In recent years, record-breaking hurricanes, extreme coastal flooding and devastating wildfires, such as in California and Australia, have left irreversible damage on the affected areas.

As the environmental effects of rising temperatures increase, they can reach a “tipping point:” a point of critical mass, threshold, and the boiling point at which things reach epidemic proportions. Tipping points can form a cascade, with each one triggering others, creating an irreversible shift at a global level. Potential tipping points come in three forms: runaway loss of ice sheets that accelerate sea level rise; forests and other natural carbon stores such as permafrost releasing those stores into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane, accelerating warming; and the disabling of the ocean circulation system.

Dr. Katey Walter Anthony, a University of Alaska Fairbanks ecologist, examines the methane that is trapped under the permafrost in the Arctic. With warmer temperatures and the ice melting, the methane will start to bubble up and enter the atmosphere.  When she looks beneath the thin ice, she sees white pockets of gas. As the permafrost melts, these bubbles of methane are released into the atmosphere. You can even hear the gas escaping. To demonstrate, she uses a torch to ignite the gas and flares shoot up from the ice. “These flares demonstrate that the bubbles contain methane, which is a very potent greenhouse gas,” she explains. In fact, methane is 21 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So if a large amount of this gas burps out of the permafrost, it will cause an acceleration of the global warming that is already happening – a tipping point of no return.

Find more information and view video clips from this program at: www.pbs.org/show/climate-change-facts/

The Yale School of the Environment at Yale University hosts a website, “YaleEnvironment 360,” which publishes scientific papers, in-depth reporting, and analysis of environmental issues. Find factual, reliable information on a variety of topics at: https://e360.yale.edu/

The “bottom line” related to all of these environmental issues is this: unless we have a habitable planet, nothing else is possible.

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