The first Earth Day was celebrated 45 years ago in 1970. At the time, most Americans knew very little about the severity of air and water pollution in the U.S., so Earth Day was proposed by Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, who had witnessed the effects of a massive oil spill in California and wanted to spread awareness about environmental issues.
It worked: As a result of those efforts, an estimated 20 million Americans began organizing, protesting and demanding changes that would create a more sustainable environment. Since then, Earth Day has become the largest civic event in the world, “celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths, and nationalities,” according to EarthDay.org.
But we still have a long way to go. Here are 9 reasons why Earth Day matters more now than it ever has before:
Rainforests are disappearing faster than ever.
It might be an old cliché that environmentalists just want to “save the rainforest,” but about half of all the world’s rainforests have now been cleared, and the equivalent of 36 football fields of forest are destroyed every minute. Not only has this imperiled indigenous cultures, plant and animal species, but deforestation is also responsible for up to 12% of global carbon emissions responsible for global warming. One of the main reasons for this is palm oil: The deliciously fatty ingredient used in packaged snack foods like ice cream, cookies, crackers, cereal, doughnuts and potato chips is most cheaply obtained by clearing rainforests.
How you can help: The company that owns Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut has just agreed to use 100% responsibly sourced palm oil thanks to a massive petitioning effort. You can sign a petition asking PepsiCo to do the same. You can also seek out brands that are Rainforest Alliance Certified to make sure your dollars are supporting companies that don’t hurt rainforests.
Animal species are rapidly going extinct.
A study conducted last year found that "extinctions are about 1,000 times more frequent now than they were in the 60 million years before people came along," and it’s estimated that at least 10,000 species go extinct every year. Species we’ve said goodbye to forever in just the last ten years include the Pinta Island Tortoise, the Japanese Sea Lion, the Javan Tiger, and the Mexican Grizzly Bear.
How you can help: Consider fun ways to fundraise for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), or use the WWF’s easy online forms to sign petitions and contact officials about protecting tiger habitats, stopping wildlife crime, protecting the Great Barrier reefs, saving elephants, and more.
Despite lots of promises, massive oil spills just keep happening.
It’s been five years since the massive BP Oil Spill in the Gulf, but dolphins, sea turtles, whales, fish, and birds are still dying in record numbers, and just this month an oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing four people. It was also recently discovered that an offshore well platform owned by Taylor Energy has been quietly leaking into the Gulf of Mexico for over ten years.
How you can help: You can support companies that use renewable energy sources, sign Greenpeace’s petition to stop oil drilling in the Arctic, and ask Shell not to get in the way of the UN climate talks in Paris this year.
We’re drowning in plastic -- and so are the oceans.
Plastic production is rising and recycling is lagging. Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times, and we currently recycle only five percent of the plastics we produce. The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year, and millions of tons of plastic end up in oceans every single year--there's enough of it to fill five plastic grocery bags with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world. In the Los Angeles area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic (like grocery bags and soda bottles) are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.
How you can help: Choosing to use reusable shopping bags, water bottles, sandwich bags, and mugs instead of disposables can make a huge difference. You can also volunteer for a local beach cleanup and follow Rise the Above Plastics campaign on Facebook and Twitter to stay informed.
Climate change is causing sea levels to rise faster than we knew they could.
A recent report found that due to climate change and melting ice sheets, sea levels are rising far faster than they did in the past. The current sea level rise rate is 2.5 times faster than it was from 1900 to 1990. Rising sea levels pose a risk to populations of people who live along the coasts.
How you can help: The EPA has suggestions for changes you can make at home, at the office, on the road, and at school to reduce your carbon footprint. Corporations do far more damage than individuals (or even governments) ever could, so knowing who the biggest contributors to climate change are and calling them out on social media can make a big difference.
Special interest groups are actively fighting to destroy environmental protection laws.
According to prwatch.org, the special interest lobbying organization American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was forced to release documents revealing that they helped special interest groups support a total of 131 bills in 2014 that “roll back state renewable energy standards, increase costs for American households with solar, hype the Keystone XL pipeline, push back on proposed EPA coal regulations that protect human health, and create industry-friendly fracking rules despite growing national and international concerns about fracking,” amongst other things. The motivation: Bigger profits for ALEC and their customers.
How you can help: Several big companies including Walmart, Amazon, and Johnson & Johnson have agreed to stop funding ALEC over their initiatives surrounding voter-suppression, union-busting, and other unsavory enterprises. You can sign a petition asking other corporations and Democratic State lawmakers to stop funding ALEC.
In awesome news, the use of renewable energy sources is growing faster than anyone thought it would.
According to "Tree Hugger" despite all predictors, "corporations are reaching renewables goals years ahead of schedule and many utilities are phasing out coal entirely." "Treehugger" also pointed out that in 2002, experts predicted that the world would add one new gigawatt of solar power per year by 2010, but it turned out to be "17 times that by 2010 and 48 times that amount by 2014." Wind power has been following similar trends.
How you can help: You can use the power of your wallet and your voice on social media to support these ten companies that run on 100% renewable energy. You can also follow @RenewablesNews on Twitter to stay informed.
Plus, the US government is finally considering how our diets impact the environment.
Eating meat has long been linked to a considerably larger carbon footprint, but recent studies have shown some good news: Americans are eating less and less meat. A new report by the US’s foremost nutritional panel is considering the effects our diets have on the environment for the first time ever, which could help improve the healthiness--for both humans and the planet--of military and school lunch programs.
How you can help: Buying local produce that’s in season, buying organic, and cutting back on meat can all make a big difference.
Change is on the horizon.
A whole new world
Since the passage of the EPA’s Clean Air Act in 1970, Americans breathe less pollution and face lower risks of premature death and other serious health effects, and Clean Air Act programs have significantly lowered the levels of common and toxic air pollutants. We still have a long way to go, but the Clean Air Act proves that when we’re able to make laws that protect the environment and actually enforce them, change really is possible.
How you can help: You can review bills pending in the US Congress that are related to the environment and contact your representatives to voice your support for laws that will help protect it.