Friday April 22nd marked the 41st annual Earth Day, a holiday contrived by former US Senator Gaylord Nelson to raise awareness and appreciation for environmental issues and the fate of the Earth. Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day has become an internationally-celebrated event in over 175 countries.
The French philosopher and writer Albert Camus aptly described culture as “the cry of men in the face of their destiny.” Seemingly, no other issue or plight has spanned such a broad and rapid pace of global awareness as the destiny of our world’s disheveled environment. Despite the cry of global culture, there remain tremendous gaps between popular environmentalism/“green” trends and the harsh lessons and observations of 21st Century Earth Sciences.
The vast and complex interdependency of global ecology and society is among one of the most crucial lessons that world culture continues to grapple and assimilate. Globalization and the rapid spread of industrial capitalism have interconnected both economic and environmental systems so profoundly that events effecting distant regions tend to have significant repercussions around the world.
For example, on March 30 2011 EPA officials recorded levels of the radioactive isotope iodine-131 in Denver water at a level of 0.17 picocuries per liter, a result of the fallout from Japan’s recent nuclear disaster. Experts claim that the levels are currently below unsafe levels for human consumption, and that the short half-life of the particular isotope will allow for rapid elimination. In addition to the widespread radioactive contamination, many factories around the world have experienced parts shortages due to Japan’s nuclear crisis. Recent industrial disasters such as BP’s Gulf spill and the ongoing Fukushima meltdown illustrate the sensitivity and connectivity of the Earth System.
Regional and national economic events rapidly affect global environmental issues in a similar fashion. In response to the economic crises of 2008, a political coup in Madagascar rendered the country’s park system and conservation efforts mostly ineffective. Illegal logging and export of endangered hardwoods skyrocketed, and remains beyond control.
On a planet struggling to adapt to an exponentially growing, consuming, and polluting human population, celebrating and protecting what remains of Earth’s nature and wilderness should not be relegated to an annual event but incorporated into culture and consciousness daily.