There are eight planets in the solar system but only one that is able to provide life – Earth. The Earth is roughly 4 billion years old – a vast number that a lot of us cannot wrap our heads around. Modern humans have only been on this planet for about 10,000 years, and no other species has developed a similar level of intelligence or changed the face of the planet like we have.
Other species seem to be in harmony with our environment, but the same cannot be said about humans, or humans in the past century at least. In the last 100 years, due to rapid industrialisation and population growth, humans seem to have lost their ability to live in balance with nature, instead bringing about destructive changes to entire ecosystems – like climate change and pollution.
Thankfully, in the 1960s environmentalism was surging through the US. Several protests were held against nuclear testing, the use of pesticides and widespread pollution. An oil spill in Santa Barbara in January 1969 which caused the death of thousands of sea animals including seabirds, dolphins and seals, triggered activists to mobilise. Twenty million concerned Americans took to the streets and protested against this flagrant want for profit over preservation. Later that year, at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, activist John McConnel proposed to have a day dedicated to the Earth and its protection. Several government officials agreed to support this proposal and the following year, on 22 April 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated. Currently, 193 countries participate in this global event every year.
Earth Day paved the way for a multitude of environmental laws to be passed in the US and adopted by other countries, such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. Not only that, the Environmental Protection Agency was established as a direct result of this movement.
Changes in climate are not new to our planet in its 4 billion years of existence. In fact, climate change is not at all bad in itself. Millions and millions of years ago, different waves of climate change decimated entire populations of different species – some of which sit at the top of the food chain – and these events enabled our own species to survive, prosper and dominate.
However, these historical changes in climate were caused by natural phenomena; for instance, a large volcano erupting, a meteor crashing, or the movement of our tectonic plates. These transformations were gradual, spanning thousands, if not millions, of years. This is the first time in the history of our planet that climate change has been due to man-made causes. Widespread pollution, destruction of forests, irresponsible mining operations, and other devastating human activities have altered the face of the planet, and not for the better. In recent years, we have seen plenty of weather-related disasters, leaving everything – humans, animals, plants and our structures – damaged or killed.
Biodiversity is being exceedingly adversely affected by reckless human activities. The list of endangered species is ever-growing, and the reason for the decline in their population is, most of the time, man-made too. In fact, a staggering 500 animal species have become extinct, most in the 20th century, due to destruction of habitat, extermination by humans, agriculture, exposure to man-made chemicals and climate change.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a stark example of how our continuous destruction of habitats can turn against us and turn out to be catastrophic. Humans encroaching on territories belonging to wild animals permitted the emergence of new diseases through transmission from animals to humans. COVID-19 is believed to have originated from diseased bats in China and has now caused over 2 million deaths within a year of its appearance. Prior to COVID-19, the world suffered an outbreak of HIV, which was found to have originated from monkeys in Africa. Since the 1980s, over 35 million people have died because of AIDS, the disease caused by HIV.
What We Can Do
It has never been more important to spread awareness and educate humans on what is happening, what we can do, and what will happen if we do not do anything. In recent years, more than 1 billion people have participated in the observance of Earth Day annually. However, the Earth’s population is now close to 8 billion people, which means more hands are needed to reach more people. The proliferation of the internet is a good way to start. In 2016, an estimated 3 billion people had access to the internet. Social media and websites are excellent channels of communication, with an extensive reach.
Aside from spreading the word, we must also play our own part in the protection of the environment. Being environmentally conscious in our household decisions can play a big role. Choosing biodegradable packaging and recycling can reduce the amount of waste in landfills. Eating less meat to help lessen greenhouse gases and the expansion of farming is also a responsible choice. It is beneficial to our environment to maintain a sustainable lifestyle because buyer decisions influence large corporations to also make their products more sustainable, and thus cultivate greater positive changes.
Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels
Sustainable travel and the environment
The United Nations World Tourism Organization approximated that there are 1.5 billion international travellers annually in 2019 – a huge increase from the 25 million travellers the agency estimated in the 1950s.
While tourism, especially sustainable or other forms of ecotourism, can be great for any country’s economy and can encourage preservation, the industry’s continued growth is taking its toll on our environment. One of the greatest contributors is air travel, constituting up to 9% of the total climate change impact of humans. Alternative methods of transport can have significantly a lower impact on our environment – choosing to take the train can reduce CO2 emissions per passenger by up to 90% compared to flying.
There is a popular quote intended for travellers: “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time”. It is very important to be mindful and have respect for the flora, fauna and their habitat. Most tourist spots have general guidelines for the public to follow which help to preserve their natural beauty, and it is our obligation to know and follow these. For example, when snorkelling, one cannot step on the corals because this can damage them. When visiting a river or a beach, it’s harmful to stack stones or take seashells home with you because this can actually upset these ecosystems. One thing you can do though, whether on land or at sea, is pick up litter and dispose of it properly. Not only does it help keep the area looking good for other visitors, but it can help prevent pollution, the destruction of habitats and ecosystems, and possibly the death of wildlife.
Other small things we can do to make a positive contribution when travelling are choosing sustainable and responsible accommodations and tours (we’re slightly biased but it’s still really important!), buying local goods and getting to know the local community of the area that you’re visiting. Reducing the amount of plastic you use when away can also make a big difference so bringing your own reusable items such as water bottles, travel mugs and shampoo bars is also a great idea. If this is something that you’re keen to learn more about, check out our article on single-use plastics for more suggestions.
Earth Day is a great way to show our planet that we care for it and that we are fighting our hardest to preserve it. After all, there is no place like home, and this planet is the only home that we know.
Earth Day, environment, nature, plastics, pollution, sustainability, sustainable travel, United Nations