Feature photo called Earth in a forest is by Peter Gleick
By Elizabeth Trickey
Oh, what a glorious planet we live on! Everything we could ever need, not to just survive, but to thrive. Every one of us is incredibly lucky to call this place our home! That’s why we are celebrating World Earth Day on April 22nd. This is a time to remember how fortunate we are to have our planet, and to realize that it won’t always be here for future generations unless we take care of it. That’s why the theme of this year’s Earth Day is “Restore Our Earth”.
Our Earth formed about 4½ billion years ago, and, over a billion years, it evolved so that it could support life. Since that time, from fossil evidence, scientists have estimated that over 5 billion species have lived on our Earth, and 99.9% of them are now extinct. That’s normal – extinction is an expected part of life on Earth, and yes, humans will also become extinct one day. In the meantime, however, we really shouldn’t want to speed up that process! Click on the globe below to see a great video on Earth’s development:
Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, only 250 years ago, humans have altered the environment in significant ways – the depletion of resources, land degradation, industrial pollution, destruction of wildlife habitat, excessive waste, and global warming. I know – nobody wants to read about doom-and-gloom. However, in order for people to help evoke a change in the path we are on, we need to know the facts about what we are up against. And sometimes the truth is inconvenient – it’s more of an effort to compost and recycle, “new” looks nicer than recycled, grabbing a bottle of water is easier than filling up and cleaning a reusable one, driving is faster than walking, eco-friendly services and products tend to be a bit more money, turning away is easier than confronting. We need to look beyond short-term inconveniences to the long-term survival of our world.
Our existence does depend on oxygen, fresh water, and both plant and animal species. We get our oxygen from plants, with one third coming from trees in the rainforest and two-thirds coming from aquatic plants in the ocean. These resources absolutely need to be protected. We require fresh water, not just for ourselves, but also for plants and wildlife. We use it for drinking, cooking, keeping clean, and to produce food for ourselves. Sure, two-thirds of our planet is water, however, only 3% is fresh water. And, unfortunately, we are draining our wetlands, polluting fresh water sources, over-consuming, and engaging in activities that lead to global warming which also contributes to fresh water loss.
Although we are considered an apex species (those at the top of the food chain in their habitat), we cannot exist in isolation. Every ecosystem has an apex species that feeds on plants and/or other animals that, in turn, feed on other species. It is a fine balance that can cause catastrophe if one species disappears. When that happens, the animals that usually feed on that species either go without food or take food away from other animals. As well, whatever the extinct species fed upon, it no longer has that predator and can grow out of hand.
As a science teacher, I used to read the book “Wolf Island” by Celia Godkin to my Grade 5 students. It explained, quite clearly, the balance in nature and how the disappearance of one species can affect every other one. Below is the story. And, no, that is not me reading it!
You might be thinking that if all species are going to become extinct anyway, why bother trying to save them? It’s because nature has a way of having extinctions happen over a long period of time, allowing ecosystems to gradually re-balance. With so much human induced pollution and destruction of habitat over a very short time, extinctions are happening far more quickly than nature can adjust to. In the last 40 years alone, human activities have reduced animal populations by about two-thirds. Not good…..
So let’s look at what we could be doing on World Earth Day to show our appreciation for our home and to help restore its ability to see to our needs. Individuals, as well as industries and governments, can do their part to ensure our planet stays healthy and viable.
Exercise by plogging (a Swedish word meaning to pick up litter while you jog around your neighbourhood) and leave the car at home
Appreciate all the animals in your community since they all have a valuable job in nature and it is their habitat you are living in
Reduce your carbon footprint by decreasing water waste, recycling, composting, avoid using plastics, and shopping locally
Talk to your MPs and MPPs about new building developments that destroy ecosystems and what can be done to mitigate the damages to animal habitats
Host a seedling or plant swap with your friends to help promote biodiversity
On April 22nd, to celebrate Earth Day, let’s all embrace environmental stewardship – use our planet’s resources responsibly and protect our ecosystems. Together, we can all make a difference!