“The ideology of consumption is so prevalent that it has become invisible: it is the plastic soup in which we swim.” – George Monbiot
Earth Day was first held on April 22, 1970 as a series of demonstrations against growing air and water pollution. Almost 50 years on, it has grown into a global event. According to the Earth Day Network, “more than 1 billion people in 192 countries now take part in the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.”
It is not surprising that Earth Day has grown so significant. As the evidence of human impact on the Earth’s climate continues to mount, a global movement to protect the environment has grown. Decades of inaction on climate change have inspired generations of activists. Worldwide there is now a growing community dedicated to solving the most important social, environmental and economic issue of our time.
Signs from the recent global School Strike for Climate that took place in March of 2019 (Goran H/Pixabay).
According to a new scientific report from Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canada’s North is warming at more than three times the global average. Our oceans around the country are becoming more acidic, and Arctic sea ice, our reflective shield against solar radiation, is melting rapidly, leading to further warming. Animal populations and habitats are collapsing, soils are rapidly being lost, and extreme weather events are becoming more common. The global climate crisis is inextricably linked to our unsustainable way of life. Our pursuit of a four-planet lifestyle is overwhelming the Earth’s living systems to the point that we have permanently altered the planet.
Observed changes (°C) in annual temperature across Canada between 1948 and 2016 (Canada’s Changing Climate Report).
So what can we do? Individual behaviour changes are one way we can attempt to lower our own environmental footprint. Refusing disposable products is a start. By saying no to single-use items, we are sending a message to producers that we want our products redesigned. After all, waste is just a product of bad design. We must live simply. We can bring our own bags to the grocery store and refill our reusable mugs. Shop local and choose products with recycled or minimal packaging. Composting organics creates new soils for growing local food, and prevents the release of methane from our landfills.
Look online and you will find countless suggestions for how we can take responsibility for our individual impacts. Unfortunately, reducing our own impacts has limits. Our individual behaviours can only do so much in a system designed for endless economic growth.
According to the Carbon Majors Database, just 100 fossil fuel companies have been responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Privatization, deregulation, tax cuts, free trade deals and government subsidies have allowed global corporations to generate massive profits at the expense of the environment. The responsibility for environmental protection has been surreptitiously shifted to the individual. Meanwhile, the Nestlés, the Coca-Colas and the ExxonMobils get off scot-free.
Just 100 private and state-owned companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988 (Carbon Majors Database).
The good news is things are changing. We are in the midst of a climate movement. In March, over one million students participated in a global school strike for the climate led by Greta Thunberg, a youth activist not even old enough to vote. Growing consumer activism is forcing governments to regulate, producers to redesign, and grocery stores to un-package. Fossil fuel divestment and pipeline protests are signalling to politicians and corporations that enough is enough. They will have to adapt to a green economy or risk being left behind.
Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, center, leads a march of thousands of French students through Paris, France, to draw more attention to fighting climate change, Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. Sign reads : “school strike for the climate”. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Saving our environment means more than reducing our own consumption. It means challenging the system that protects corporate interests at the expense of people and ecosystems. This Earth Day, and every day after until things change, we must stand up to corporate power. We must demand our political leaders to act, and fight for the planet. After all, it’s the only one we’ve got.