Sunday 22 April 2012

Earth Day 2012

Wait! Again? I thought... Yep, you're right. There was an Earth Day on March 20, 2012. And now there's an Earth Day on April 22. So, what gives?

Peace activist John McConnell and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson separately arrived at the same idea. McConnell's idea was first celebrated in San Francisco and a couple of other cities on March 21, 1970 and Nelson's first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970 with twenty million people participating.

McConnell's Earth Day was recognised by the United Nations in 1971 and has always been an international event. McConnell's choice of March 21 was meant to coincide with the spring equinox, the moment when the sun passes over the equator. At this same moment, the vernal equinox, it is a tradition to ring the Japanese Peace Bell.

Nelson's Earth Day remained in the United States for two decades before going international in 1990 with the organization of events in 141 countries. The United Nations designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day in 2009.

Since Nelson's plan for an American only event, his choice was passed solely on a day which did not conflict with school, either exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and had decent weather being later in the spring. Amusingly enough and unbeknownst to Nelson, his choice turned out to be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin. For those looking for a Communist conspiracy including the Daughters of the American Revolution and J. Edgar Hoover himself, this was not a coincidence but a "Communist trick".

Earth Day 2012
EarthDay.Org known as the Earth Day Network is the place to get information about this annual event. The 2012 campaign is called Mobilize The Earth and in their introduction to this year's campaign, they write:

As the 42nd Anniversary of Earth Day approaches, people are becoming frustrated with the failure of governments to take any steps toward protecting and preserving the environment. The Earth Day 2012 campaign is designed to provide people with the opportunity to unite their voices in a call for a sustainable future and direct them toward quantifiable outcomes, using vehicles such as petitions, the Billion Acts of Green; campaign, and events.

Earth Day 2012 will act as a launch pad for growing the environmental movement and will put forth a bold declaration demanding immediate action to secure Renewable Energy for All and a sustainable future for our planet. The movement will be comprised of individuals of every age from all corners of the Earth, and will call upon local, national, and international leaders to put an end to fossil fuel subsidies, embrace renewable energy technology, improve energy efficiency, and make energy universally accessible.

Other Earth Events
Earth Hour is celebrated on the last Saturday of March and this year, it was celebrated on March 28, from 8:30pm to 9:30pm local time. (see my blog: Earth Hour: 60 Minutes to Make a Difference) Earth Week is celebrated from April 16 to April 22, the last day being Earth Day.

Earth Day Quotes
About.Com presents a number of interesting quotes from people both famous and not so famous that resonate with the idea of "Mother Earth" as a gift we should all cherish.

The earth does not belong to man -- man belongs to the earth.
-Chief Seattle

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.
-Frank Lloyd Wright

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
-Native American Proverb

There is a great need for the introduction of new values in our society, where bigger is not necessarily better, where slower can be faster, and where less can be more.
-Gaylord Nelson

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
-Margaret Mead

For 200 years we've been conquering nature. Now we're beating it to death.
-Tom McMillan

We have met the enemy and he is us.
-Walt Kelly

Of course, can we leave out the more comical look at these issues which although funny, say something about ourselves and our attitude to all this?

Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?
-Groucho Marx

Fall is my favorite season in Los Angeles, watching the birds change color and fall from the trees.
-David Letterman

Earth Day Activities
Various web sites list a number of activities to raise our awareness of Earth Day and its message of looking at our environment and trying to do something about it.

Public Transit
Instead of driving your car to work, why not take transit? Of course, when I say that I had to think that this is something more people should consider doing every single day, not just on Earth Day.

My personal story: The family divested itself of a car and I started taking the subway to work. What did I discover? I didn't have to fight traffic. I then had an hour to read or work on my portable computer. After a few months, I signed up for a course to go back and study some French. And what did I discover? My time going to work and my time coming home from work became my study time. Instead of commuting being a pain, I managed to turn this into a profitable part of my week. Now I would hate to have to go back to driving to and from work. What a waste of time!

I try to do this all the time but have come to realise that recycling and what can be recycled is dependent on the services available to individual communities.

Personal story: I purchased a great take-out lunch yesterday packaged in a plastic container. However, much to my dismay, I discovered that the plastic was labelled number seven and my office building only recycles plastics number one and two. I had to throw the plastic container in the garbage because it couldn't be recycled. I would have taken it home but found out number seven plastic is not recycled where I live either. Ah!!! Obviously our communities themselves need to do more to make recycling more universal and comprehensive. It's one thing to have people negligent in sorting things for recycling; it's another thing to find out you can't recycle even if you want to.

Join an Earth Day Rally
Even if you don't go to a rally per se, there are smaller local events planned. My office building is holding an event to mark the occasion but more than that, all during this week, Earth Week, they are publicizing recycling in an effort to make everyone in the entire building better aware of recycling.

Published on Mar 22, 2012 by earthdaynetwork
Mobilize The Earth Video
Mobilize the Earth. Earth Day April 22, 2012. Go to:

Here I go raining on your parade. We as individuals can do our part by planting a tree, buying an energy efficient light bulb, and doing more recycling. However, it is at a national level or an international level where we must lobby our governments to do more as it is at this level, on this scale that enormous change can take place.

In my blog Let's go green... er, black?, I talk about our need for electricity, how much coal we all may be burning to produce electricity and just what we collectively are doing and should be doing. I wrote:

A couple of years ago, I was reading an analysis in the editorial pages of the Toronto Star where the author [looked] at our green efforts. He listed off our various initiatives in North America like changing traditional light bulbs to more energy efficient ones, getting more green appliances, turning off unnecessary lights and dimming others, etc. Then he said that these types of efforts, while laudable were laughable when one took into account that at that moment, China was constructing a new coal-fired electrical power generating station every week. All of our light bulbs were dwarfed by the new developments elsewhere in the world which were leading to even higher levels of pollution.

The Kyoto Protocol aims to fight global warming. It sets out targets in the reduction of various pollutants known to contribute to this phenomenon. As of September 2011, 191 countries have ratified the agreement with one very notable exception: the United States, a country ranked by several reports as the biggest polluter on the planet. (I also note that my country Canada had the dubious honour of being the first country to renounce from the protocol in December 2011. Shame on Canada.)

What does this mean? What's my point?

While we're all feeling better for ourselves as human beings having spent the day planting a tree, the collective we as represented by our governments, our business, our society in general is spewing pollutants into the environment at unprecedented rates. My one little tree ain't worth diddly squat compared to a coal-fired electrical power generating station. Yes, my tree is better than a kick in the pants, as my father liked to say, but I must, we all must collectively work through our governments to enact regulations to control what the collective we does. Yes, we need businesses. Yes, businesses must make a profit to stay in business. Heck, that's capitalism and capitalism is a good thing.

However I hear over and over again the mantra of Conservatives, the Tea Party in the United States, that big government is bad. Hey, can I really argue with that idea? Who the heck wants a government which is bloated, inefficient and misspending our tax dollars? I'll be the first to vote against that! But, but, but and here is my big but, our government is the collective we and it is how we collectively pull in the same direction.

Who likes regulations? Who likes to be told what to do? Nobody it seems but then again, what are the consequences of no rules?

Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico
British Petroleum was obliged by the U.S. government to set aside twenty billion dollars for the Gulf oil spill. (Wikipedia) While this amount of money is deemed by analysts as a "drop in the bucket" in relation to what BP earns overall, there is for me quite an amusing side to the entire story.

As it goes, BP, amongst other oil companies, lobbied the U.S. government to stop regulation which would have required certain safety measures. These companies felt such measures were onerous to their operations or as restated by reporters, onerous to their bottom lines. From what I understand, BP was not obliged to shell out $500,000 for a safety valve. Such a valve would have apparently prevented the oil from leaking as it has been doing. Apparently, with the platform sinking and pipe being disconnected from the rig itself, this safety valve would have kicked in and sealed off the pipe at the seabed.

I am stunned by such an implication and I also have to laugh at it all. BP has now been obliged to set aside $20 billion. Who knows how much more they may have to spend on clean up and financial restitution? All of this is for what reason? It is because they lobbied to not be obliged to spend $500,000 for a safety valve. This is monstrous: monstrously short-sighted, monstrously funny and a monster of a catastrophe.

Subprime Mortgage Crisis
In the United States, financial institutions were able to set up lending practices that emphasized profit over prudence. Loans were being granted to people who would have been otherwise deemed incapable of repaying said loan. Terms were given that now seem to have only fuelled the precariousness of the loan. While many factors come into play to fully explain the complexity of the entire crisis, the rather simple reason is that a whole lot of people failed to pay back their loans, whether it is a mortgage on a house or some other form of debt. The entire system, in the quest for profit, failed to take into account the possibility of debtors being unable to repay their debt. Like a pyramid scheme, the entire house of cards fell over. Greater and greater risks were being taken in search for greater and greater profits.

No Regulations?
One of the principal ideas of a democratic free market economy is that government imposes little or no regulation. It is felt that the market itself will "self-regulate", it will find its own balance. However, like a pendulum which swings back and forth many times before coming to rest in the middle, how much adjustment will a market make, how much self-regulation is necessary before one finds that middle ground?

In the two stories above, the Gulf Oil Spill and the Subprime Crisis, a lack of regulation allowed the participants to do... well, pretty much what they wanted. By focusing on profit over prudence, people were "allowed" to proceed with a course of action that under-estimated the risk and over-estimated the reward. While a certain amount of risk would be inherent in anything we do, we must admit that certain levels of risk must be considered imprudent if not just plain stupid. After all, as the old saying goes, "Never bet more than you can afford to lose."

Don't Tell Me What To Do
An acquaintance, ah, John Doe, was telling me that he didn't want regulations; he wanted less government. He very much wanted to be free. I told John that we can all agree that a speed limit of 60 mph or 100 km is a reasonable restriction on our driving. Such a rule can save lives. John nodded his head and agreed with me. I then added that such a rule does not restrict where we can go; it only tells us how fast we can go. John became thoughtful.

I continued by explaining that the government imposes a speed limit because going faster is more dangerous and statistics prove that with speed, more people lose their lives. Nevertheless, the government is not trying to tell us where we can drive. It is not telling us where we can go. It is only trying to tell us the safest way of getting to where we have decided to go. The rule about the speed limit is for safety because the government actually wants us to get to where we are going. It imposes these rules for our own collective good.

John admitted that I made a good point; he had never looked at regulations that way saying that this made sense.

Every time I get in an elevator, I can look up and there is a little plaque in which I can read a certificate issued by the government showing "inspected by so and so on such and such a date". That somehow gives me a sense of security in that I don't have to worry about the elevator plummeting into the basement and leaving me flat as a pancake on the floor after a 10 story drop.

Anyone who flies an airplane is personally acquainted with a pre-flight checklist. This list covers dozens of items which the pilot must verify before he takes off. These rules are in place not to be a burden, but to ensure the pilot is actually successful in flying his plane.

When I was a boy, my father showed me the proper way of using a table saw. Explaining how a rotating saw blade can sometimes grab a piece of wood, he showed how in a twinkling of an eye a finger can be easily drawn into the whirling blade and be amputated. Proper procedure dictated guiding a piece of wood not with one's hand, but with another piece of wood. If the piece which is being cut ever got pinched by the saw blade, instead of one's hand being pulled into the blade, the piece of wood being used to guide the wood being cut would be drawn in.

Rules are there to help us, to protect us. There are not there to take away freedom; unless, of course, we want the freedom to maim or kill ourselves. Rules have been put in place by others who have gone before us who have observed phenomenon, analysed the results, figured out the why and determined what's necessary to avoid the bad.

If BP had been forced through regulation to purchase and install the safety valve, we wouldn't have the Gulf Oil Spill. If financial institutions were forced through regulation to only loan money to people who could realistically be able to repay it, we would not have had the subprime mortgage crisis. I am not advocating for more government but I do think some well thought out rules would not hurt. When I get on an elevator, when I turn onto the highway, I do not necessarily feel apprehensive. I think the rules in place are helping me and statistically doing their best to ensure that I get safely to the dinner table that evening.

Final Word
Earth Day. Plant a tree. Rah rah sis boom bah. We all do our part, our tiny infinitesimal part. However, my point is that we must collectively keep our eye on the bigger ball. Yes, there are bigger fish to fry. Despite the doomsday rhetoric of the Conservatives, nobody wants bigger government. Despite the blind obedience to the mantra "Less Government", I am certain the Conservatives do not want a repeat of the BP oil spill or the 2008 financial crisis. There is a middle ground. Yes, I am going to recycle. Yes, I am going to use an organics bin. Yes, I am going to turn off my lights when I'm not using them. But I am also going to vote. I am also going to express my opinion and do my part to ensure the collective we is thinking of the greater good and not letting itself be swayed by the narrow minded personal interest of any one group political or business. Earth Day is about the Earth. The Earth is all of us. Let's not just think about today, let's think about tomorrow. After all, tomorrow we won't be here but our children will be. Let's leave them a nice clean green park to play in.


Wikipedia: Earth Day
Earth Day is a day early each year on which events are held worldwide to increase awareness and appreciation of the Earth's natural environment. Earth Day is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network, and is celebrated in more than 175 countries every year. In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 International Mother Earth Day. Earth Day is planned for April 22 in all years at least through 2015.

Wikipedia: History of the Equinox Earth Day
The equinoctial Earth Day is celebrated on the March equinox (around March 20) to mark the precise moment of astronomical mid-spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and of astronomical mid-autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. An equinox in astronomy is that moment in time (not a whole day) when the center of the Sun can be observed to be directly "above" the Earth's equator, occurring around March 20 and September 23 each year. In most cultures, the equinoxes and solstices are considered to start or separate the seasons.

Wikipedia: International Mother Earth Day
International Mother Earth Day is celebrated each April 22nd at the United Nations. It was established in 2009 by the General Assembly under Resolution A/RES/63/278. The Resolution was introduced by The Plurinational State of Bolivia and endorsed by over 50 member states. It recognizes that "the Earth and its ecosystems are our home" and that "it is necessary to promote harmony with nature and the Earth." The term Mother Earth is used because it "reflects the interdependence that exists among human beings, other living species and the planet we all inhabit."

Wikipedia: Gaylord Nelson
Gaylord Anton Nelson (June 4, 1916 – July 3, 2005) was an American Democratic politician from Wisconsin. He was the principal founder of Earth Day... Nelson was always passionate about the environment. He is mentioned with Al Gore, Karson Coker, and Steve Erwin.

Wikipedia: John McConnell
John McConnell (born March 22, 1915), the founder and creator of Earth Day, has demonstrated a major passion for peace, religion, and science throughout his life. He has made efforts to relieve human suffering and promote the common good. His interests include attempting to answer many of the critical problems that face humanity today.

Earth Day Network
The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. The passage of the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed. Growing out of the first Earth Day, Earth Day Network (EDN) works with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

Earth Day Canada
Earth Day Canada (EDC) is a national environmental communications organization mandated to improve the state of the environment by empowering Canadians to achieve local solutions.

United Nations: International Mother Earth Day
The proclamation of 22 April as International Mother Earth Day is an acknowledgement that the Earth and its ecosystems provide its inhabitants with life and sustenance. It also recognizes a collective responsibility, as called for in the 1992 Rio Declaration, to promote harmony with nature and the Earth to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity.

Earth Society Foundation
The Earth Society Foundation was established by John McConnell and Margaret Mead to foster worldwide participation in the peaceful care of Earth, and to promote the annual celebration of Earth Day on the Equinox (March 20-21).

About.Com: A Brief History of Earth Day
The enduring appeal of Earth Day resonated far beyond its origins By Marc Lallanilla

Planetpals: stuff for kids

About.Com: Your 2012 Green Holiday Calendar By Marc Lallanilla
January 1: New Year's Day: Make a Green New Year's Resolution
February 2: World Wetlands Day
March 20: Spring (Vernal) Equinox
March 21: World Forestry Day
March 22: World Water Day
March 23: World Meteorological Day
Last Saturday of March (3/31/2012): Earth Hour
April 22: Earth Day
Last Friday in April (4/27/2012): Arbor Day
Second Saturday in May (5/12/2012): International Migratory Bird Day
May 22: International Day for Biological Diversity
First Saturday of June (6/2/2012): National Trails Day
June 5: World Environment Day
June 8: World Oceans Day
June 15: Global Wind Day
June 20: Summer Solstice
July 11: World Population Day
September 4: National Wildlife Day
September 21: International Day of Peace
September 22: Fall (Autumnal) Equinox
September 22: World Car-Free Day
First Week of October: Junk Mail Awareness Week
October 1: World Vegetarian Day
October 4: World Animal Day
November 1: World Vegan Day

my blog: Rob Ford drops the bag... er, ball
While I'm up here on my soapbox, one other thing which is bugging me. I talk about how the mayor of Toronto has promised to drop the city's five cent plastic bag tax. The CBC reported that a number of grocery stores such as the Metro and Sobey's chains have said their plastic bag distribution rates have fallen between 70 and 80 per cent since the bylaw went into effect. Hey folks, I can think of no better time than Earth Day to remind eveybody to recycle our bags. There is absolutely no need for us to be taking plastic bags, using them once, then throwing them out to fill up our garbage dump sites. (I have a funny picture of a plastic bag on which is written: "I'm a plastic bag, but you can always reuse me, idiots!")


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