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Earth Day: a Celebration and a Reminder
April 22, 2000

Happy Earth Day! That's right, Saturday, April 22 is Earth Day. Earth Day galvanizes the forces for social and environmental justice into one movement on one day. It brings together people from all over the world who are concerned about our planet and its well being. For one day, the world's human inhabitants focus their activities and lend their voice in praise of the planet that gave them life.

And it really isn't just one day. Some people celebrate Earth Week and even Earth Month. Events in observance range from festivals and concerts to political meetings and environmental protection activities.

So how did all of this start? Well, back in 1969 a Senator by the name of Gaylord Nelson was really concerned about the environmental degradation that he was seeing not only in the US but around the world. At the time, environmental politics was practically unheard of. What Senator Nelson wanted was to make the environment a political issue that everyone would have to recognize. Based on the sit-ins by students that were occurring around this time, he organized a nationwide teach-in to bring to the public's awareness the issue of environmental degradation. It was set for the spring of 1970 and had a tremendous turn out; almost 20 million people took to the streets!

Why do we continue to observe Earth Day? The answer is, we still have a great deal of work to do before we can truly say the environment is safeguarded from harm. While many environmental disasters are being reported in the news these days, like oil spills and nuclear meltdowns, many disasters are not. Unlike when a nuclear power facility "goes China", many events such as intensive irrigation, the grazing of domesticated farm animals and deforestation to make more room for human use often do not make the front page of your local newspaper.

Other issues; like slow leakages by chemical processing plants into rivers, streams and eventually the ocean; are not always shown on the 5 o'clock news. In many parts of the world, huge corporations take advantage of lenient environmental laws by dumping hazardous waste into any convenient area they chose. In the US, although we have many laws to protect the environment, most are just touching the tip of the iceberg in terms of providing complete protection.

Expert Fact

Expert Photo Did you know that Iran has the equivalent of Earth Day?

Dr. Badi Badiozamani is the author of "Iran & America: Rekindling a Love Lost" (soon to be published), is a scholar, journalist and expert on Iran.
With the total human population soaring past six billion, we are having to find ways to produce more and more food from a land that is proving less and less capable of sustaining such a large population. In many areas, the more trees we cut down, the more erosion takes place. Flooding is one of the results of erosion. In deforested areas water has no place to go but down, and fast. During rainstorms the water flows off deforested mountains and hills. In addition to causing flash floods that destroy communities, the waters also bring mud and silt down to farming regions. This mud and silt destroys the fertility of farming lands. If this trend continues, 33% of the world's cropland will be destroyed over the next ten years.

The earth used to contain over six billion hectares of forest. Two thirds of that forest has been felled, half of which was cut down between 1950 and 1990. It really isn't such a new occurrence, either. By the Middle Ages, people had cut down 75% of the trees in Europe. We see the same things happening in India, Indonesia, China, Africa, Canada, Mexico, the United States, Amazonia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, and Germany. In the United States, each person puts the equivalent of three pine trees into the garbage every year.

Our consumption in general is the main source for our current situation. We consume more than we can produce and still be able to live in symbiosis with our environment. We have gone past "taking what is needed" and headed into the territory of "taking what is wanted". How often do you think about the energy and resources that went into producing the things you buy? Are you aware that everything we produce comes from some other resource? And, that the resource is transformed irrevocably by the production process?

As an example, think about the production of a car. What goes into making a car? What raw materials are needed?

And By The Way...

Heath hazard statistics from a Ford assembly plant at Dearborn, Michigan 1997:

Recognized Carcinogens 40
Suspected Carcinogens 351
Suspected Cardiovascular or Blood Toxicants 500,870
Recognized Developmental Toxicants 20,340
Suspected Developmental Toxicants 487,781
Suspected Endocrine Toxicants 36
Suspected Immunotoxicants 338,990
Suspected Kidney Toxicants 172,774
Suspected Gastrointestinal or Liver Toxicants 544,400
Suspected Neurotoxicants 543,302
Recognized Reproductive Toxicants 40
Suspected Reproductive Toxicants 427,220
Suspected Respiratory Toxicants 581,401
Suspected Skin or Sense Organ Toxicants 522,200


Let's make a list:
RAW MATERIALS: iron, steel, aluminum, and other metals; a wide range of synthetic plastics, fibers, and foams; paints and coatings; glass; rubber; processing materials including toxic solvents such as toluene and methyl ethyl ketone; minerals such as phosphates and sulfides; and fuels for electricity and production.

PRE-ASSEMBLY PARTS: This includes all the thousands of small parts that will be used in the final assembly of the car. Materials used include metals, plastics, and glass.

ASSEMBLY: The basic processes performed at a typical vehicle assembly facility are body assembly, painting and coating (which includes anticorrosion, priming, and finishing), and final assembly. This requires electricity usage, tool manufacturing, machine manufacturing and maintenance, building construction.

VEHICLE LIFE: gasoline, oil and other lubricants, transmission fluids, brake pads and brake fluids, windshield wiper fluids, random small engine parts, and tires. If you are in a collision, you may have to replace engine parts or paneling (which would require primers and paints).

VEHICLE AFTERLIFE: Once a car is scrapped much of it can be recycled. Unfortunately there is still a lot left over. Plastics, fibers, foams, glass, metals, and rubber are bi-products of scrapping cars. About 5 million tons of this bi-product is produced in the US each year. It is disposed of in landfills throughout the county. One side effect of creating more fuel efficient cars is that the materials used are less likely to be recyclable due to the US's poor recycling programs.

QUESTION: Is owning two or three cars for one family really necessary? Is owning one car for a family really necessary? Considering how much energy and waste just one car produces in its lifetime, can you really justify having one? If you are thinking about buying a new car, consider the full range of possibilities before you do so. Have you tried public transportation yet? Could you ride a bike to work and back? Could you carpool?

If you are not ready to put away your car just yet, take a moment to consider what you could put away or do without. As with cars, a huge amount of energy and resources are utilized in the production of everyday items like shoes, or toys, or that squeegie mop that reaches into hard to reach places. Do you really need five pairs of shoes? Do you have to have the next big consumer fad? Will the benefits of owning a higher quality entertainment center outweigh the consequences of its production?


galvanize - bringing together
irrevocabe - without ability to change
symbiosis - where two things living together help eachother
hectares - 2.471 acres

Becoming aware that there is a price to be paid for everything that we "take" from the planet is the first step to making the conscious choice between what we "need" and what we "want". If we purchase less, production will drop. Natural resources will not need to be harvested at the such high rates. We can slow down the environmental degradation we are causing. We can exist without compromising our natural resources.

Do you want to learn more about what you can do to stop environmental degradation? Check out these resources:

Earth First - the ultimate environmental activist's information publication
National Resource Defense Council - maintaining the integrity of Earth's ecosystems
Greenpeace - promoting action and awareness in a variety of environmental areas
World Wildlife Fund - protecting the world's biodiversity
Sierra Club - providing protection for our forests and generating ideas for conservation
Goldman Environmental Prize - honoring individuals who have made a difference

The ultimate decision is yours. Only you can choose to be wise in your consumption. Whether you are part of a group of friends working to stop environmental degradation or just one person who regularly recycles, doing something, anything, is better than bearing blind witness to atrocities the human population is committing against its home. Make a difference.

- Team

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