Earth Day 2015: the Good, the Bad and the Silenced

Candice Gaukel Andrews April 21, 2015 9

In 2014, it was reported that an “ice plug” holding back the ice sheet of East Antarctica might melt away in coming centuries if ocean waters warm, causing a global sea-level rise of up to 13 feet. ©Ted Martens

Wednesday, April 22, is Earth Day 2015, the 45th celebration of what started out as a true grassroots movement—the environmental likes of which we haven’t seen since.

Last year, on Earth Day 2014, I wrote about Americans’ declining concerns about natural resource issues and the slackening of our environmental laws. I questioned whether we still have the intestinal fortitude to take to the streets today in support of our environment. I asked what Earth Day 2064 would look like.

I think I may have been a little optimistic. I’m not sure 50 years from now there will be an Earth Day. So instead of looking far into the future this year, let’s gaze back into the recent past—just since Earth Day 2014—and see what the planet has endured in the past 12 months and if there is cause to have hope for the future.

The bad news since Earth Day 2014

Last year, a drone crashed into the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. The extent of the damage is not yet known. ©Frank Kovalchek, flickr

1. A new video from NASA, released in November 2014, became the first simulation to show in ultrafine detail how carbon dioxide moves through the atmosphere and travels around the globe. The climate model depicted in the video is one of the highest-resolution ever created, at approximately 64 times greater than that of typical global climate models. If you think any of us can escape from human-caused global warming, a viewing of this video will dispel that myth.

2. Last year, in November, the United Nations reported that only 50 parts per million (ppm) of greenhouse gases now stands between disaster and us. Anything higher than 450 ppm (we’re now at 400 ppm) would change the climate so dramatically that neither humans nor ecosystems could easily adapt.

3. In May 2014, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research issued a report on the ice sheet of East Antarctica. An “ice plug”—a small rim of ice resting on bedrock below sea level, which currently holds back the ice behind it—might melt away in coming centuries if ocean waters warm. If it goes, a global sea-level rise of nine to 13 feet would ensue.

Culling bison was on the agenda for federal and state governments in the winter of 2014-2015. ©Henry H. Holdsworth

4. Also in May 2014, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report titled National Landmarks at Risk: How Rising Seas, Floods and Wildfires Are Threatening the United States’ Most Cherished Historic Sites. At least 30 major historic buildings in the United States are at risk due to rapid climate change, such as the Statue of Liberty in New York; the Johnson Space Center in Texas; the Kennedy Space Center in Florida; the Gold Rush-era town of Groveland, California; and historic Jamestown in Virginia.

5. An article in the journal PLOS Biology, published in February 2015, showed that national parks and nature preserves bring in far more money than governments spend on them for conservation. Yet financial support for our public lands is continually being cut.

6. Last summer, in August 2014, a drone crashed in Yellowstone National Park. The full damage to the Grand Prismatic Spring is not yet known.

Filmmaker Ken Burns thinks traffic jams are an important part of democracy—as are, I think, “buff jams.” ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

7. World Wildlife Fund published its Living Planet Report 2014 last September. The news was not good: between 1970 and 2010, the planet has lost 52 percent of its biodiversity. The previous WWF report, published in 2012, showed a decline of only 28 percent over a similar time frame.

8. In June 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity reported that the USDA Wildlife Services kills millions of animals every year. In light of the subsequent WWF Living Planet Report 2014, that seems all the more tragic.

9. Culling animals that have recovered from the brink of extinction—and that also represent the wild as no other native North American animals do—was on the agenda for federal and state governments in the winter of 2014-2015.

10. A new type of poacher proliferated in 2014: redwood poachers.

The good news since Earth Day 2014

Fortunately, there were some strides last year, as well:

1. Climate change deniers—even those serving in Congress—can have a change of heart.

2. Last summer, an article that appeared in The Atlantic posited that the millennial generation is more interested—by a 23-percentage-point margin—than older generations in traveling abroad. That means that we are growing a new generation of those who will care for the outdoors.

3. Not only young people but veterans of recent wars, too, are finding solace in the outdoors, building more advocates.

In late February 2015, China announced notable gains for pandas. ©Brad Josephs

4. All of this new outdoor activity can lead to crowds, but Ken Burns, filmmaker and director/producer of the PBS series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, has said that he is happy to see the throngs at national parks and put up with all that they entail. “Traffic jams are an important part of democracy,” he has stated. “If there were no traffic jams, the national parks would have no constituency.”

5. In the midst of last year’s Ebola outbreaks, it was demonstrated that our natural places are extremely important for our health because of the cures and medicines they hold. That can only make them more valuable in the eyes of the world.

6. We now have modern models of good land stewardship to follow, such as in the Great Bear Rain Forest.

7. There are also new models coming into play to protect endangered species. In the West, sage grouse advocates are hoping that a new strategy, termed “cooperative conservation,” will avoid the costly, lengthy and hassle-filled legal battles that official endangered species listing involves.

A more accurate and science-based count of the world’s tigers should help protect them. ©Toby Sinclair

8. In 2014, renowned evolutionary biologist and author E. O. Wilson got new attention for his Half Earth theory, which suggests that we set aside 50 percent of the world for wildlife.

9. In the meantime, there have been notable gains for Canada lynx, elk, pandas, sharks and wood bison.

10. A pledge to count the world’s tigers by 2016 was made at a conference in September 2014 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A science-based count should help to create more effective strategies for protecting the animals.

The newly silenced

Like New Year’s reflections or college graduation speeches, it’s good to have annual Earth Days to assess every 12 months what’s been accomplished and what is yet to do. Unfortunately, this past year saw something we never had to contend with before: those in positions of legal power who wish to stop us from even publicly talking about the condition of our Earth.

The Great Bear Rain Forest is a modern example of good land stewardship. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Just a month ago, I wrote about the governor of Florida, who allegedly banned the words “climate change” from the language of state officials while on duty. It sounded outrageous, until something similar happened in my own state of Wisconsin. Just a week ago, Tia Nelson, the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands executive director, was put under orders not to discuss “global warming” on state time. To me, that seems odd, to stop someone who is responsible for our public lands from talking about what may be the most important issue facing them. But according to the board, working on climate change—or even mentioning it while at work—is a waste of public funds.

I should mention that Tia Nelson is the daughter of Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day.

Do you think Earth Day itself is “endangered”? Next year, will I be able to talk about Earth Day 2016? Will you?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

9 Comments »

  1. Robert Patterson April 23, 2015 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing Candice! You picked some great topics to highlight, and provided some links to help generate further discussion. To be honest I forgot it was earth day yesterday until I saw the google ad, there’s normally some sort of local billboard or advertisement to remind people but not this year….maybe it’s time to re invent the movement.

  2. Johann Breytenbach April 23, 2015 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Thank you for all your effort. Earth Day needs to become a much celebrated day. It just seems impossible that mankind is not able to see the impact we are having. The Meadow’s book’s on Limits to Growth really scare me. I started hunting for early warnings and the following ones really brought it home to me that we have visionary people with us for some time. For example: –

    “People at present think that five sons are not too many and each son has five sons also, and before the death of the grandfather there are already 25 descendants. Therefore people are more and wealth is less ; they work hard and receive little.”

    HAN FEI-TZU, ca. 500 B.C.
    And now 2500 years later we are still not doing anything about populations. The planet can no longer support us. We should be scared, really scared!!!!

    Johann Breytenbach

  3. Brian Magee April 23, 2015 at 4:44 am - Reply

    This is good research to have about earth day, I know that this holiday is facing a lot of problems. With climate deniers especially politicians, as well as the corporations behind the pollution and the denial. But it is nice to know that there is some good coming out during the celebration of this holiday.

  4. Nandkishore Agarwal April 22, 2015 at 5:41 am - Reply

    How different Nations have observed/remembered celebrated) Earth Day?
    We need to sensitise public as well as governments on quality
    development for quality environment, stopping development is not the solution. We have to understand development and environment together, may be we have to re-define the meaning of development.

  5. Susan Sharma April 22, 2015 at 5:39 am - Reply

    Well, here is an add to the positives
    Delhi NCR area greets 2015 Earth day (22nd April) by opening the Aravali Biodiversity Park near Vasant Vihar to public. Ten years of hard work has seen the black eagle, Indian Pitta and Oriental pied horn bill make a comeback after 60-70 years.
    http://indianwildlifeclub.blogspot.in/2007/06/nature-does-not-protest-it-adapts.html

  6. Brad Follett April 22, 2015 at 5:35 am - Reply

    It is our 45th Anniversary… our Earth Month theme for 2015 is “Our Planet in Peril”. The article is most fitting just to describe recent events in the past year. One would think that in 45 years we would have come further along. European countries have surpassed the USA in many areas. What the future holds is up to each individual to make change more than just a simple reality.

    How many events or reasons can you find or describe to put our planet in such peril. Better yet, how are we to resolve those pointed issues? We have a lot of work ahead of us, so get busy!

    Happy Earth Month and Earth Day!
    Brad Follett
    Professor of Practice
    Founder/President/CEO
    Earth Month
    Earth Month Network, Inc.
    http://www.Earth-Month.org

  7. sinnadurai sripadmanaban April 22, 2015 at 5:31 am - Reply

    Instead of celebrating once a year it should be done once a month and later once a week, if possible daily, for which governments should cooperate.

  8. Thomas Sawyer April 22, 2015 at 5:25 am - Reply

    Candy, what an incredible amount of work, effort, time, research, and passion you have put into this. For myself and the many others that I hope will read this-we thank you from the bottom of our hearts! First of all, my compliments for such an excellent compilation of information and data, all very thought-provoking and inspirational subject matter. Secondly, I hope such stories will be publicized as much as possible so that others may see what is happening not just in our own little corners of the world and neighborhoods, but on a global level as well. I look forward to your article at the next Earth Day. Thank you again!

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews April 22, 2015 at 5:50 am - Reply

      Thomas,

      Thank you! I really appreciate that. Comments like yours make it all worthwhile. —C.G.A.

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