Earth Day: Past and Future
For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day we are going to give a quick overview of the environmental movement throughout the years so you can be inspired by all that we’ve accomplished and know what we need to do to keep moving forward.
How Far We’ve Come
Earthday was founded off the back of the environmental movement. Between Rachel Carson’s 1962 book on the dangers of pesticides, particularly DDT, becoming a bestseller and the Cuyahoga River catching fire in 1969 due to the massive amount of pollution, the people decided enough was enough, and in April of 1970 cities across the US were marching for the planet. This led to the creation of the Environmental Protection agency along with a wave of environmental legislation, such as the Clean Water Act and the banning of DDT.
Thankfully the environmental movement was not satisfied with the first wave of legislation, and has been a force for change to this day. One of the biggest moments came in 1980, with the creation of the Superfund operation. After the disaster at Love Canal, where a quaint New York suburb discovered it was built on a chemical dump site and after the EPA discovered an entire valley of improperly discarded chemical drums in Kentucky, the people demanded a system to clean up chemical disaster areas and make the polluters cover the cost, and that’s exactly what got done. But probably the biggest success of the environmental movement so far is with the Ozone. When scientists discovered common chemicals in refrigerants and hair sprays were causing a hole to appear in the Ozone, the world came together in 1987 with the Montreal Protocol to ban the chemicals causing it. In the year 2000 we finally saw the fruits of this, with the prolonged break finally giving the ozone layer to heal. These days the ozone layer is doing so well it is now no longer messing with the world's jetstreams and is well on track to be fully healed by 2050.
The Problems Still Facing Us
Unfortunately we are long from being done with the fight of course. Climate change first started getting recognized as a threat in the late 80s, and despite decades of activism and calls to action we seem no closer to solving it now then we did back then. The threat of climate change is starting to be really felt between continuous record hot years, frequent damaging storm events, and droughts causing climate refugees. What's more, we’re somehow in danger of missing the Paris Climate Accord targets even as the targets are being criticized for not being enough.
In addition to climate change, other threats to the planet are starting to make themselves fully known to the public. Between the Pacific garbage patch world’s recycling systems starting to break down in 2019, it became apparent that recycling wasn't good enough to prevent a plastic pollution crisis. This became compounded by the recent attention to microplastics, both to how widespread they are and how damaging they can be. First noticed with plastic microbeads in the cosmetic industry getting linked to increased heavy metals in ocean food chains, since then microplastic, including microfibres from synthetic clothing, have been discovered basically everywhere, from the Mariana trench to rainwater in the alps. Another environmental awakening has been the realization that it’s not just fossil fuel related industries causing problems. The massive amount of waste generated by the fast fashion industry has brought attention to a waste crisis, along with pesticide and water intensive cotton industry fueling it. Industrial agriculture has grown into another massive problem to be tackled, being blamed for greenhouse gas emissions, food waste, wildlife loss, and biodiversity loss.
What We Can Do
Considering how far we have come though, these current problems shouldn’t be a reason to despair but a galvanization towards action, and for many it already has. For a long time the canvas bag movement has been making slow but steady progress into the mainstream until finally in 2019 we had a breakthrough year in plastic bag bannings. 2019 also became a year where the scope of single-use plastic bans extended, including Styrofoam bans in NYC, San Diego, Seattle, and Washington DC, a major single-use plastic ban effective across the EU, and groundbreaking lawsuits against some of the world’s worst plastic polluters like Coca-Cola.
Recently we’ve also begun to completely change the shape of our fast-pace consumer culture. Various slow movements, from slow food to slow fashion, have sprung forth to turn us away from disposability and planned obsolescence towards a society built on reduce, reuse, and long lasting products. Zero waste went from a flight of fancy to a real movement, with popular influencers like Bea Johnson giving real actionable tips on reducing your waste output right now. Upcycling companies like Rust and Fray, rental clothing like Rent the Runway, and companies rethinking the basics of production like Veja are reshaping the fashion world, while the vegan food movement is so popular that restaurants of all sizes are now serving creative new vegan dishes and replacement meats like Beyond Burger. We have the tools and the abilities we need to make the world a better place, and with enough support we can and will succeed.
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