For years now we have been celebrating Earth Day on April 22.
In that time, millions of trees have been planted, mountains of old electronic devices have been recycled, and countless green-themed events world-wide have been held as part of the festivities.
But has the once-a-year celebration of Earth Day really made a difference in resolving the environmental problems that plague the world?
Climate change is progressing. More carbon was belched into the atmosphere last year than ever before. The planet just experienced its hottest winter on record. The oceans are littered with plastic debris that is washing up on once pristine beaches, choking sea birds and killing fish. Toxins are to be found everywhere.
The world will not even come close to meeting its Copenhagen targets to reduce carbon emissions by 2020. Nevertheless, car use still outpaces use of public transit, with the number of vehicles on the clogged roads rising 15 per cent between 2008 and 2013.
There is much to be gloomy about when it comes to the future of the planet and our collective failure to protect it. That we stop once a year and venerate the Earth seems a hollow gesture in light of all this…or is it?
Beyond the feel-good gimmicks, Earth Day is nevertheless an important occasion. Primarily aimed at children, Earth Day offers up an opportunity to make sure the next generation doesn’t make the same mistakes as their parents. And it should serve as a moment of reflection for today’s adults to acknowledge their collective missteps.
Instilling in youngsters a duty of stewardship toward the environment and encouraging them to live their lives in ways that leave the smallest possible footprint on the planet can indeed be an agent of change, albeit one that takes time to have an impact. Telling children why it’s important to limit toxins, walk rather than drive, eat local, grow gardens, to reduce, reuse and recycle can form healthy habits from an early age. With any luck, these simple lessons may also rub off on parents trying to set a good example and put their words into action.
And as young children who have been inculcated with the messages of Earth Day grow up, they may start to press for the changes needed to protect the environment, both within their own families and in society as a whole. There is plenty of evidence today’s young people are environmentally conscious — and highly concerned about policy issues like climate change and carbon emissions.
A new, more ecologically responsible toxin-free generation is the true legacy of Earth Day.