The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970 as a series of peaceful 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’s 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 alongside it. Decades of inaction on climate change have inspired generations of activists dedicated to solving the most important social, environmental and economic issue of our time.
A recent report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada shows that Canada’s North is warming at more than three times the global average. Around the country, our oceans are becoming more acidic and Arctic sea ice is melting rapidly, leading to further warming. Animal populations and habitats are declining, soils are being lost and extreme weather events are becoming more common. The global climate crisis is inextricably linked to our way of life. Our pursuit of a four-planet lifestyle (the idea that if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average Canadian, we would need four Earths to sustain us) is overwhelming the Earth’s living systems to the point that we have altered the planet.
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 can live simply. We can bring our own bags to the grocery store and refill our reusable mugs. We can shop local and choose products with recycled or minimal packaging. Composting our organic waste helps to create 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.
However, things are changing and we are in the midst of a new climate movement. In March, Greta Thunberg, a Swedish youth activist, not even old enough to vote, led more than one million students in a global school strike for the climate. Growing consumer demand is forcing governments to regulate, producers to redesign and grocery stores to unpackage.
Saving our environment means not only reducing our own consumption, but also 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 fight for the planet—after all, it’s the only one we’ve got.