April 22, 2002
DAY OF DAYS
Senator Nelson searched for many years to find a way to focus public attention on the environment. He thought he had found a way to bring the environment into the political limelight when he had persuaded President John F. Kennedy to make a nationwide conservation tour in 1963. Although President Kennedy travelled through Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Utah, Washington and California speaking about the need to conserve natural resources, the effort received little media attention. Senator Nelson realised he needed another mechanism for promoting environmental concern and asked himself, "how are we going to get the nation to wake up and pay attention to the most important challenge the human species faces on the planet?"
In 1969 anti-Vietnam War demonstrations called Ďteach-ins?had spread to college campuses across the nation. While reading an article on the protest against the War, a thought occurred to Nelson: Why not have a nationwide teach-in on the environment? At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, he announced that there would be a national environmental teach-in in the spring of 1970. Upon returning to Washington, Nelson raised the funds to get Earth Day started. He wrote letters to all 50 governors and the mayors of major cities asking them to issue Earth Day Proclamations. He sent an Earth Day article to all college newspapers explaining the event and one to Scholastic Magazine, which went to most high schools and grade schools.
The response was electric. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes and air ?and they did so with spectacular exuberance. An estimated 20 million people participated in educational activities and community events demonstrating their interest in the environment. It was a spontaneous response at the grassroots level. Nelson had neither the time nor the resources to organise 20 million demonstrators. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organised itself on April 22, 1970, the first World Earth Day.
On April 22, 2002, 31 years later,
Earth Day ?like so many phenomena of the modern age ?went global,
linking hundreds of millions of people, civic organisations and ecology
groups across the world for the purpose of raising global environmental
awareness. There was a worldwide campaign on four critical environmental
issues, crucial to a sustainable future.
How often we destroy wetlands to come up with 5-star hotels! How often we hunt innocent animals that have not harmed us in any way! How often have we upset the balance of nature!
Protecting biodiversity means protecting life on Earth. Each species, ecosystem, gene and culture is important to the future of our planet. All these have a specific role to play on Earth. For example, animal species are predator or prey. If a predator species disappears, the populations of prey will grow until there isnít enough food for all of them. The prey animals then begin to die as well. On the other hand, if the prey species disappears, the predators will starve. Each species is crucial to the system. When one species, one gene or one culture is destroyed, important information about how to adapt to the world is lost and can never be recovered.
Biodiversity loss is due to human activity, the causes of which are complex. The most important causes are:
Habitat Destruction: This includes the degradation of all eco-systems on land and in water. It includes the mass-scale clearing, over-harvesting and burning of forests and native shrublands for agriculture, mining and development. Desertification is a critical issue that results from habitat destruction.
Introduction of Invasive Species:
Invasive Species are organisms (usually transported to new areas by humans) which successfully establish themselves in native ecosystems and then take over. Species suddenly taken to new environments may fail to survive, but often they thrive and become invasive, killing off species of plants or animals native to the area. This process, together with habitat destruction, has been a major cause of extinction of native species throughout the world in the past few hundred years.
Pollution: Pollution, as we all know, comes from human activities. Household cleaning products and agricultural fertilizer and pesticides contaminate soil, groundwater and surface waterways. The burning of fossil fuels, among other things, causes pollution and global warming, which damage biodiversity as well.
Over-exploitation: This includes fishing and hunting. Over-fishing is depleting fish populations all over the world. Illegal hunting and poaching to satisfy the global demand for animal products is also a major threat to biodiversity.
Other threats are war, which not only destroys human life and societal infrastructure, but also destroys the natural world. The environment is directly damaged and conservation programmes are often forgotten. Also, some agricultural practices damage the environment, especially industrial agriculture, which damages soil quality and drains water supplies.
Earth Day 2002 recommended the international community to conduct community health assessment to assess the health of our local environment, plant wildlife gardens in our community to improve the health of our environment and attract local wildlife, protect local watersheds and plant trees as part of the global tree planting campaign.
How often do we cut trees for wood! How
often do we render several birds and animals
homeless! How often do we destroy forests for paving roads! By destroying our forests we are
losing our most reliable ally in the struggle with global warming, floods,
droughts and soil erosion. The main threats to forests come from commercial
logging, land clearing (for infrastructure, mining, farms, shopping malls
and other development), and the building of roads for logging and mining. On Earth Day 2002 there was a worldwide campaign to
save forests. People all over the world were told to plant trees as a symbol
of unity, peace and environmental concern, for forests are the lungs of our
planet. They purify the air, protect our water and soil, and are a critical
habitat to millions of animals and plants.
By destroying our forests we are losing our most reliable ally in the struggle with global warming, floods, droughts and soil erosion. The main threats to forests come from commercial logging, land clearing (for infrastructure, mining, farms, shopping malls and other development), and the building of roads for logging and mining.
On Earth Day 2002 there was a worldwide campaign to save forests. People all over the world were told to plant trees as a symbol of unity, peace and environmental concern, for forests are the lungs of our planet. They purify the air, protect our water and soil, and are a critical habitat to millions of animals and plants.
Pollution of fossil fuels and nuclear power is contaminating the air, water and our food supply. It releases over 6 billion tons of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. These gases blanket the earth, warming it and stay in the atmosphere for decades.
We can drastically increase energy efficiency through cost-effective technologies and commonsense practices. The efficient use of energy is a key step toward clean energy systems using the sun, wind and hydrogen. We must adopt systems that generate minimal pollution and use energy sources that are naturally and quickly replenished. We have the capability to produce and use energy in an environmentally sustainable way. The problem is that our leaders have lacked the political courage to move swiftly down a path that is opposed by powerful oil, gas, coal and utility companies. When joining together, ordinary citizens are the most powerful political force in the world.
On Earth Day 2002, people around the world joined hands to demand a rapid transition to energy efficiency and clean, renewable resources, which, in time, would improve human health and energy security. Various forms of renewable energies such as solar photovoltaic, solar thermal energy, wind power, biomass and geothermal power are needed to be successful in this transition, minimise economic disruption and ensure a livable planet. The cleanest energy of all is the energy we save.
The earth is 70 per cent water, as are our bodies. What we do to our water, we do to ourselves. Humans are increasingly putting this resource in danger. But, although 70 per cent of the earth is water, fresh water is a scarce resource. Freshwater ecosystems only cover roughly 1 per cent of the surface of the Earth. Conversion of salt water to fresh water is difficult and costly.
Humans are increasingly putting this resource in serious danger. We poison our ground and surface water. We burn fossil fuels that cause acid rain and global warming. We dam our rivers, interrupting water flow and destroying delicate ecosystems downstream. We clear vegetation and pave massive land areas, decreasing the groundwater level and increasing flooding and soil erosion. To top it all, those with access to the most water, waste vast amounts of it!
Yet each one of us can play an important role in conserving and protecting our local water supply. On Earth Day 2002 the world decided to conduct a community health assessment to assess the quality of our local environment. Focus on the quality of water we get and the impact that water quality has on our community. Protect local watersheds, educate ourselves and our community about water pollution, plant trees to promote flood management and protect soil, in turn protecting our water.
For Earth Day 2002, thousands of groups staged car free actions to let world leaders know that we need a transition to better transportation options and a clean energy future. Cars pollute our air, cause asthma and other serious respiratory ailments and heat up the planet. Car free events involving millions of people were held in major parts of the world.
Hundreds of groups around the world also held dialogues in their local communities to identify the environmental issues that are most important to them. It is now proposed that groups all over the world will use indicators to measure the health of their local communities. They will make assessments in relation to the issues, which community members have identified as being most critical to them in the Earth Day Dialogues.
How often, how wrong! Itís high time we CHANGE.
Earth Day is not only about pressuring governments to change their policies.
It is also about getting ordinary citizens like you and me to change their
daily habits ?to make a positive environmental impact.
Since the first Earth Day, the Earthís population has nearly doubled, and
if every individual were to take small steps to save the environment, the
overall impact would be significant. We can start in our own homes by doing
little things like using less water, using less electricity, then going on
and trying to join an NGO and help the local government in doing what they
are doing. And slowly get involved at the local level and try to do
something so that things get moving on a higher level. A booklet on Environmental
Calendar by Shobhana Bijoor, produced by the World Wide Fund for Nature
?India, suggests activities such as cleaning up beaches, roads, railway
platforms and other public places, making recycled paper by giving students
factual data of conservation of environment, making children sign the Earth
Day Pledge Tree by making them write their environmental pledge for the year
on a leaf of painted tree poster, and rallies as activities on
In September 1995, Senator Nelson was awarded the Medal of Freedom ?the U.S. highest civilian honour. President Bill Clinton said: "As father of Earth Day, he is the grandfather of all that grew out of that event ?the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act. He also set a standard for people in public service to care about the environment and to try to do something about it. And I think that the Vice-President would want me to say that young people like Al Gore, back in 1970, realised, because of Gaylord Nelson, that if they got into public service, they could do something to preserve our environment for future generations." Are our ministers listening? Anyway, we canít expect much when we are ruled in the main by corrupt politicians!
If humankind is ever to realise the golden age that
was supposed to have accompanied the end of the Cold War, we will be led
there not by end of the Cold War, we will be led there not by our
semi-literate politicians, but by informed, mobilised citizenry. It is we
citizens who have the capacity to create global solutions that will protect
our Earth. The environmental challenges that we face are enormous, but our
power as a global community is far greater. Through international
cooperation, we each have the strength of a million hands and a million
Earth Day achieved what I had hoped for. The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.
-Gaylord Nelson, Founder, Earth Day