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Earth Day

By Betzaira Ruiz

Greenspace via Seattle.gov

Origins of Earth Day

Earth Day dates back to April 22, 1970 with 22 million Americans participating in the first celebration. This day was established to increase awareness of the world’s problems and how we can work towards helping the environment. On April 22, 1990, more than 200 million people in 141 countries celebrated Earth Day. This year marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day. Environmental activism really started to take off in the early 1960s. During this time there were no laws protecting the environment and so in response, many activists devoted their time to increasing public awareness on the effects pollution was having on the Earth. Authors like Rachel Carson brought awareness of the dangers of pesticides to the public through her book Silent Spring published on June 30, 1962. Rallies were held in Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities to help engage the public in the fight for environmental justice.

Senator Gaylord Nelson, considered one of the most important leaders during the environmental movement, helped develop the idea of Earth Day. The goal was to try and convince the federal government to become more aware of environmental issues. Millions of Americans throughout the country participated in rallies and marches on the first Earth Day celebration. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests and rallies as well. The main spark that led to Earth Day came from the massive oil spill that happened in Santa Barbara on January 28, 1969.

Today we are facing many environmental challenges, and Earth Day is all about awareness of those challenges and making a difference.

Pollution

Pollution has become a huge problem worldwide, and damages the air, water, and land. Cars are a significant source of pollution through their exhaust pipes and when a car is leaking oil, the oil ends up in the rivers and ocean. Other sources of pollution come from burning coal, which pollutes the air, and pesticides used to kill weeds and insects, which gets in the water and harms wild life.

Pollution via UChicago News

The smoky air from one country can drift to another and create harmful environments. Air pollution is not visible most of the time, but if it gets bad enough it can create a smoky haze which is known as smog. Air pollution causes people’s eyes to burn, makes it difficult to breathe, and in the long term can cause respiratory issues that can develop into things like lung cancer. Air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gasses. Cars and factories are the number one producer of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrocarbons. When gasoline is burned it creates carbon monoxide and then it is released to the air. They create a thick fog and the air becomes hazardous. Cities like Hong Kong have suffered from this and the government constantly has to release warnings to avoid going outdoors. An extreme result of air pollution is acid rain. Acid rain is a blend of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide mixed with moisture. In Sweden, acid rain has led to thousands of animals dying in acid rivers. This type of rain can also causes gravestones to be erased and it destroys many historical buildings and monuments. Greenhouse gases are another type of air pollution. They are made up of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap heat so the Earth does not become too cold and people can live in it, however the amount of burning fossils fuels and deforestation have increased the amount of greenhouse gases that have been released. This increase in greenhouse gases has resulted in more heat being trapped and temperature increases worldwide.

According to National Geographic, global climate change has been a huge issue in the past few years. The increasing heat has led to an increase in severe storms, droughts, and floods in many regions around the world. One of the most serious consequences of global climate change is the melting of the ice sheets and glaciers. This has led to the sea level rising about 2 millimeters per year. If sea levels continue to rise it will eventually lead to the flooding of coastal areas and islands. It has also resulted in more animals dying. There has been a decline of polar bears in the past years because their homes are disappearing and there is not enough food for them. The ozone layer is also being altered due to the pollution that is being released into the atmosphere. The ozone layer is a region in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. It helps protect the Earth by absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Lately the ozone layer has been shrinking and becoming thinner. This means people are being exposed to more radiation and they can suffer from skin cancer, eyes diseases, and other illnesses.

Problem with Plastic

In replace of ivory, plastic was created. It is estimated that about 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every single year. In 1992, there was an experiment, that happened by accident, where 28,000 plastic toy ducks fell overboard in the ocean. It has been 20 years since and they are still showing up on shores in places like Hawaii, Australia, Scotland, Chile, Washington, Maine, and Newfoundland. Sadly, tiny pieces of plastic trash have been found in the food and drinks we consume. Animals often eat these tiny pieces of plastic, which then build up in their stomachs. Humans then eat the animals that consume these tiny pieces of plastic. Plastic has been found in shrimps, fishes, oysters, and mussels. About 700 types of species now have plastic in their stomachs. Seabirds are the animals that have eaten plastic the most. When seabirds eat plastic, they think they are full because the plastic stays in their stomach. As a result, they do not eat enough food and eventually starve themselves. Many birds rely on the odor from phytoplankton because it is their source of food and so when bacteria and plankton grow on the plastic the birds confuse the whole thing as food and end up eating it. In addition to seabirds, more than half the sea turtles confuse plastic as jellyfish and they end up eating it as well. Plastic straws have also been a huge problem because they can end up in the noses of the turtles. It is estimated that about half a billion straws are used every day in the United States.

Ocean Pollution via National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Tons of trash end up in landfills and oceans each year. Only 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled. The United States’ current recycling contamination is around 25%. It takes more than 100 years for plastic to break down and the majority of the time recycling plastic does not help as much due to only a portion of it actually being used for recycling. During the 70s and 80s people would recycle their stuff more and they would reuse it more. Instead of throwing it away in the recycling area, they would reuse it around their home- unlike how recycling is used today. For many years the United States would sell its plastic to China, but in 2018 China banned it. This forced the United States to export its trash and plastic to other countries. The U.S. sends over 68,000 containers to Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Ghana, Laos, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Senegal per year. In order to address the problem of plastic, many cities have tried to ban the use of plastic straws and have taken away plastic bags from stores. San Francisco has banned selling plastic bottles in the airport.

Water Pollution

Flint Water Crisis via PBS

Having dirty water has been a challenge as well. It is estimated that about 4,000 children die every day due to drinking dirty water. A popular example in the United States is the Flint Water Crisis in Michigan. For 18 months the residents were drinking, showering, and cooking with the polluted water. This causes skin rash, hair loss, itchy skin, and it elevated blood lead levels in the children. More than 9,000 children were given the contaminated water for 18 months. The crisis lasted between 2014-2019, but some pipes are yet to be replaced by new ones.

Water pollution can also be caused by oil spills. On April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil exploded causing oil to pour into the ocean floors. Around 2 million animals died as a result. The water also gets polluted by all the chemicals people use in their homes or out in the streets. They get into the drinking water and causes harm. Chemicals usually get into the drinking water through rain. If chemicals are released through the house pipes or on the street floor, they can end up on the rivers and oceans. Eventually they end up in our drinking water.

Conclusion

Earth Day is a reminder of how important the planet is and how much we are supposed to take care of it. By harming the Earth, we are also harming ourselves and our families. Here are some steps we can take to make the Earth eco-friendlier for everyone:

  1. Use reusable bags
  2. Reusable water bottles
  3. Bamboo toothpaste
  4. Reusable razors
  5. Reusable glass containers
  6. Rechargeable batteries
  7. Use reusable straws
  8. Use paper plates
  9. LED lights
  10. Walk or use bicycles more

References

Denchak, Melissa. “Flint Water Crisis: Everything You Need to Know.” NRDC, 1 May 2020,

www.nrdc.org/stories/flint-water-crisis-everything-you-need-know.

“Earth Day 2021.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009,

www.history.com/topics/holidays/earth-day.

“Marine Plastics.” Edited by Jenna Jambeck, Smithsonian Ocean, 19 Feb. 2020,

ocean.si.edu/conservation/pollution/marine-plastics.

“Pollution.” National Geographic Society, 9 Oct. 2012,

www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/pollution/.

“The Recycling Problem: A Feel-Good Story That’s Too Good to Be True.” Earth Day, 13 Dec. 2019,

www.earthday.org/the-recycling-problem-a-feel-good-story-thats-too-good-to-be-true/.