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Earth to Earthlings: Do you read me?

Regarding our planet on Earth Day



The first scientist to shake the tree about climate change was Svante Arrhenius. Back in 1898, this Swede calculated that the average temperature on Earth would go up as the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere went up.

Then in 1938, a noted English steam engineer and amateur meteorologist, Guy S. Callendar, re-examined this 19th century theory in a paper called "The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and Its Influence on Temperature." Callendar analyzed data on a global scale, including the absorption of infrared radiation by trace gases, and confirmed that even back then global warming was happening. (I'm particularly taken by Callendar and his work because when I saw a photo of him as a young man I jumped, he looked so much like my granddad.)

As we close in on the 43rd annual Earth Day, I'm thinking about how many alarm bells have been clanged over the years, the decades, the centuries by the likes of scientists, philosophers, biologists, poets, academics, artists, spiritual leaders — you name it — about our recklessness with our lovely Planet Earth.

Wars. Bombs. Mining that resembles bombing. Chemical saturation. Carbon dioxide. Deforestation. Bad food. Worse food production, including trawlers that sift through our ocean's waters with nets so humungous they can fit 13 — that's not a typo; it really is 13 — 747s in the mouth of the net. And you thought the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise certification program was just a namby-pamby nicety?

The first official Earth Day itself — organized to simply make people aware of environmental issues — was held back in 1970.

The date of April 22 was chosen by the "father" of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson, then senator for the state of Wisconsin, to maximize exposure to students on campus. We all look to our youth for social change. Nelson also looked to law and policy, sponsoring the U.S. Wilderness Act and playing a key role in the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

Rachel Carson published her epic Silent Spring, the bible against DDT use, just a few years before Earth Day's launch. All of us of a certain vintage who went through Langara's journalism program had that for required reading, along with E. F. Schumacher's 1973 Small Is Beautiful. "A Study of Economics as if People Mattered" says the sub-title, which could have been written by someone in last year's Occupy Movement.

I still have my yellowing copy, which was responsible for opening many of our eyes to Earth-shaking transformations, like the mass abandonment of rural, agrarian life styles for the city.

At the time, Schumacher noted, the formerly beautiful Spanish city of Lima, Peru, for instance, was home to sprawling slums and three million souls, with "people arriving from rural areas at the rate of a thousand a day — and nobody knows what to do with them."

A big tipping point in a number of ways was roughly the year 2000 when everyone was all akimbo about the Y2K bug — remember that paper tiger distraction? — and they should have had their eyes on far more critical issues. Number One would have been climate change and the fact that, the Earth's population had hit six billion — four times the number of people on the planet when our Swedish friend, Svante Arrhenius, made his 1898 discovery about it.

The year 2000 also marked the first time in the history of the planet that more people lived in urban centres than in rural settings, and the number of obese people on Earth equaled the number starving or under-nourished.

Even the term "ecological footprint" — usually now shortened to "eco-footprint" and used in a more general sense rather than as an actual metric — now looks like an historic alarm bell, one that first clanged back in 1992.

It was then that our own Dr. Bill Rees at UBC, working with his PhD student, Mathis Wackernagel, coined the name. It means a standardized measure of demand for natural resources compared to the Earth's ecological ability to regenerate, and lead to the idea of how many Earths it takes to support we Earthlings. Rees's, Wackernagel's, and many other scientists' take: if we keep on the track we're on, we aren't going to make it, sustainably speaking.

Scientists say that the way we live today, it's taking 1.5 Earths to support us. By the year 2030, it will take two planet Earths to support we Earthlings.

When they examine individual countries like the U.K., they estimate it would take three or even more than five Earths, in the case of the U.S., if everybody on the planet lived like the citizens of that country.

So what can you do, my singular fellow Earthling?

First, just for fun, figure out your own ecological footprint, by going to the site recommended by Wackernagel: Global Footprint Network.

Then consider all the things we've heard about over the years to keep ourselves and this singular planet healthy. In the food department, shop the outer aisles of the grocery store. Try a meatless dinner once a week. Stop buying bottled water. Find a really local supplier. Eat more fruits and veggies. Organic ones when you can. Wash up with non-toxic soaps and cleaners.

If you want more Earth Day-ish inspiration, you can choose to join the Earth Day's Network Billion Acts of Green, now pushing two billion acts.

If you're somebody in a position of social power, including policy makers — otherwise known as politicians, but I like to unload that loaded word — you can scale up the action. Why can't a community as environmentally thoughtful as Whistler — after all it copped a nice seven per cent reduction in energy use for Earth Hour last month — step a little closer to the plate?

Take a look at Sonoma Mountain Village. It's the first One Planet community in North America, with initiatives like an impressive battery of renewable energy supplies and a system that only uses non-potable water for its sewage.

At the very least, think about this gorgeous Earth and why you love it just once this coming Earth Day. After all, even small thoughts can be beautiful.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who writes as if people matter.