50th Anniversary of the Earth Day ( on 22nd April 2020 )
Dr Surjit Singh Bhatti, Retired Professor & Head, Department of Physics and Dean, Faculty of Sciences, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar (India).
Earth Day is celebrated around the world (on April 22) every year to support efforts for environmental protection. First celebrated in 1970, it is now coordinated globally by the US Earth Day Network Organization. It has blossomed into a global movement, raising awareness of environmental issues on a global scale in about 200 countries.
Gaylord Nelson, a US Senator, first gave the idea of a ‘day’ to focus on factors like ravages of massive oil spills, emissions from polluting traffic and factories, raw sewages, toxic dumps, and harmful pesticides destroying wildlife, air and water. On April 22, 1970, he inspired 20 million Americans to demand a healthy environment, which led to creation of US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and passage of the Clean Air, Water and Endangered Species Acts.
By 1990, this movement globally mobilized 200 million people to raise the issues onto the world stage. Recycling became popular. National Crush Day, (also known as Crush a Can Day), is held every September 27 and highlights the importance of recycling. By 1992, Rio de Janeiro UN Earth Summit was opened. This issue soon came on the political agenda and world media began to take note of this problem.
Plastics Pollution Destroying the Planet
Every year since inception of Earth Day, a specific theme is setup for implementation internationally. The theme for 2017 was ‘Environmental and Climate Literacy’, calling upon the global community for action to protect the planet Earth for future generations. The 2018 theme was: ‘End Plastic Pollution’ that harms land and oceans. Up to 9 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the oceans each year. All organisms are harmed by entanglement, ingestion and by the chemicals in plastics. Plastics outnumber by 7-to-1 baby fish in coastal ocean slicks that are nurseries for larva. Humans get adverse hormonal changes due to plastics.
Deforestation Devastating Biodiversity
The theme for 2019 was “Protect Our Species“. Extinction of species today is linked to human activities like deforestation, pollution due to industries and vehicles and the indiscriminate use of pesticides, among others. These result in climate changes, diseases and habitat loss. It is found that these toxic materials are also responsible for social violence and wildfires in forests throughout the world.
The theme for 2020, is ‘Climate Change’. During this year, around 60 countries will hold elections. Demands for climate-related action are being made. The US Earth Day Network has called on leaders to know how important this issue is for all. Some governments have, however, not fully implemented the Paris Agreement to control pollution in air and water.
Increasing Energy needs cause of Pollution
Human-induced climate change began about 5,000 years ago, particularly with the advent of extensive agriculture, in the Middle East, China and North, Central and South America. This led to the huge production of Methane and other Green House Gases (GHG). Burning of forests and clearing of land for farming began to impact biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Energy needs of the increasing population are rising exponentially, leading to further pollution and the consequent negative climatic changes and adverse effects on all types of flora and fauna.
Digital Technology Revolution impacting Climate
The amount of energy being consumed all over the world due to the digital revolution is now found to be a big source of Green House Gases. The ever-increasing number of mobile phones, their exploding new apps, computers and the servers required by them and other communication devices are a sort of tsunami. The energy requirements of these systems are now comparable to the burgeoning energy needs of the expanding road transport and aircraft industries.
What are the Solutions of this Problem?
Several efforts are being made by concerned individuals, organizations, scientific bodies, governments and the UN and its agencies to avert the imminent crisis facing the planet Earth.
Individual acts can make a big difference. The garbage from homes and industries can be reduced by a judicious use of materials. Toilet papers take months to decompose in a landfill. At least 17 trees must be cut down to manufacture one ton of bathroom tissue rolls. A family of four persons requires about 30 kg of tissues each year. The current world population necessitates cutting of about 27,000 trees every day for this purpose. Some alternatives are, therefore, urgently required. Plastic bottles can take over 450 years to break down. Their use needs to be reduced to the absolute minimum. Reusable bags must totally replace the plastic bags.
Governments need to act swiftly and in co-ordination at the global level. About 15 billion trees are being cut down each year world-wide. Their shade can reduce the need for Air-Conditioners. Tree plantation around homes and reforestation on a large scale by the governments are the only solutions. Electricity generation from Renewable Sources like wind, water, sun, geothermal and bio-wastes should be increased drastically. Conserving electrical energy and water by every organisation in all countries can add up to a huge saving.