On Earth Day the world supposedly pauses for a day to contemplate how green our lifestyles are, and what we can do to "help" the environment. Here we look at some of the ideas out there.
Sometimes, our efforts are illogical. "In honor of Earth Day, after I filled my SUV with fossil fuel, I saved the rainforest by not printing a receipt" according to a Tweet.
The marketing machine has caught onto "plant a tree", the response to global deforestation. The warcry seems plausisble: forests have an important role to play in carbon sequestration and producing oxygen.
But planting a tree is not the answer everywhere; it is the best answer in area where trees are being felled.
If we did pause on Earth Day to contemplate our actions and responses, what would we conclude? What message should come clearly from environmentalists to the marketing machine?
Some environmentalists are pointing to the enormous impact we have on the planet as a moral issue - and then planting trees really is a bandage on a festering wound.
Al Gore reminds us that nothing demonstrates the complexity of the natural world—and our ability to disturb it—like the climate crisis.
"Every day, we pump 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere as if it were an open sewer. Already, we are experiencing many of the impacts scientists predicted decades ago—higher temperatures, more extreme weather, the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases, and rising sea levels.
"Scientists have warned us of the disturbing future we are creating for ourselves and our children and grandchildren. At stake is the survival of our civilization as we know it and the type of world we are going to leave as a legacy for those who follow us.
"It is at times like these that people must come together, mobilize, and demand the change we need. This is a moral moment, a fork in the road. It is not ultimately about any scientific discussion or political dialogue but about who we are as human beings. And, it was young people and social activists who helped to end apartheid in South Africa by supporting the divestment movement in the United States and around the world, which ultimately pressured the government to end legalized racism."
Al Gore urges that we reflect on Rachel Carson’s message:“in nature nothing exists alone.”
He challenges us to to act, to feel the preciousness of the connection to children and the solemnity of the obligation to safeguard their future and to protect the Earth. He says, "Human beings do not live in isolation, but as part of something much bigger."
Staying in America, Donna Brazile, columist and contributor for CNN reminds us that it is also the second anniversary of the start of the BP oil spill.
In the wake of the spill, Braile has looked for "moral lessons in every tragedy -- practical lessons that bring us from the personal to the universal."
She concludes that there are three moral lessons:
The first reflects a principle in South Africa's National Environmental Management Act - the polluter pays principle. She says "Only Big Business has the resources to clean up its own mess. The federal government had neither the technicians nor the knowledge to stop the oil from gushing into the Gulf and sliming our shores, the barrier islands, marine life, our way of life and food supply."
Second, she concludes that "only Big Government is big enough to keep Big Business from thumbing its nose at the public welfare, and besmirching the public's health and safety." In South Africa "Big Government" is not there yet; the abiity to monitor, to enforce and to take the learning from the failure, is poor.
Finally, "there's something wrong with the philosophy that almost any regulation is overregulation." She advocates that an ounce of regulation is worth many pounds of rectification. Thisinsight cannot be implemented effectively while monitoring and enforcement remain problematic. It will increase the perception of lawlessness and corruption.
If it is our moral obligation to do something and we want to do more than "plant a tree", what makes a difference?
It has to be a change of lifestyle, not a random act on "green letter days".
Albert Einstein said "Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." Many people associate their carbon footprint with the fuel in the car they drive but they don't associate it with the food on their plate. The meat industry is very hard on our natural resources: it pollutes our land and water, cuts down rain forests and slaughters billions of animals annually that are raised in horrific conditions on factory farms.
Leilani Munter, Activist.
Change the way we think. We have a great deal of intellectual difficulty understanding threats like climate change, where the cumulative effects of our actions today shape the lives of people far away or not yet born.
But we have even more difficulty translating that somewhat abstract knowledge into motivation for action.
David Roberts, a staff writer at Grist.org.
If there is such thing as being a good person, surely being a good ancestor is part of it. This wish is for aa planet run entirely on clean, renewable energy. If it had been that way since we first started using electricity. In this ideal world, no one ever thought to build coal-fired power plants or stick gas tanks on cars. Solar, wind, and other renewable sources are seen as the only viable choices.
I'd settle for a complete switch over to renewables in the next 5 to 10 years.
Ariel Schwartz Senior Editor , Fast Company's Co.Exist.
Stop choosing disposable. How about a list of embodied resources on the packaging: something similar to a nutrition label?
For each disposal plate/nappy/bin liner etc. you use, here's the amount of water, fiber, and energy you've traded for convenience. We don't have to be sanctimonious about it: just give people this information, and see how it affects their choices.
Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, founder and editor of sustainablog,
Remove the cultural identity baggage from environmentalism.
On the one hand, you have people who feel like any acknowledgement of environmental risk is tantamount to denying everything they believe in.
On the other hand, you have people who consider themselves environmentalists, but for whom the idea of "what is good for the environment" is as influenced by cultural ideals as it is by science.
So you get those people idealizing simpler times—small towns and rural life—when those aren't really the best things for energy efficiency, conservation, and fossil fuel reduction. For that, you need denser cities.
Then we get tribalism, with neither cultural group wanting to be associated with things that the other side likes, even if those things make sense. It's frustrating. And, unfortunately, it's something that I don't really know how to solve in the real world.
Maggie Koerth-Baker, chief science editor at BoingBoing.net, author of Before the Lights Go Out.
A change of attitude. We look for the easy solution to our eco-issues—changing a lightbulb, not running the water too long, or buying something labeled "green" and calling it a day. But to make a true difference that will stand the test of time and make a drastic difference will require a change in attitude.
The attitude of "what's mine is mine" or "I don't want to change if no one else is going to" needs to change to a more positive one of "I can make a difference by altering my behavior which will not only make others' lives better, but may also encourage them change their behavior for the better as well."
The sooner we all realize that everything we do affects all of our fellow humans, the sooner we can all work together in a positive way towards a cleaner, healthier planet.
You in? Let's get started.
David Quilty, founder of The Good Human.
Environmental issues are moral issues. The decisions cannot be made in isolation - we need to represent futre-other and others impacted beyond this space and place.
Do the right thing in the context. Adopting what works elsewhere may seem easy enough, but it may be the right thing in the wrong place.
Be the eyes and ears needed to enforce the regulations and laws - get involved in your own neighbourhood.
Make the small changes that have a big impact -
Ask yourself more often, "Do I really need this?"