Chair's Report: Earth Day 2019: Protect Our Species

by Kate Bartholomew, Chapter Chair
This year marks the 49th anniversary of Earth Day, and the stakes could not be higher. We are in the end game, if you will, of determining whether we have the resolve, strength and persistence to ensure that the Earth we know — and all its diversity, multiplicity and interdependence of biotic and abiotic elements, including ourselves — survives. That the planet will remain is not in doubt, but in what form is where we have the opportunity to make an impact through some rapid and significant choices we make now.

The first Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, 1970, was created by Senator Gaylord Nelson (R-Wisconsin) and organized by Denis Hayes in response to a massive oil spill — over three million gallons — off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, that killed over 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals and sea lions. The spill occurred on January 28, 1969, when a well drilled by Union Oil blew out. In addition to Earth Day, this disaster spurred the creation of the National Environmental Policy Act, the first of many new environ-mental protection laws sparked by the national outcry about that calamity.

There is also a competing Equinox Earth Day on March 20, set to coincide with the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. This date was introduced by environmentalist John McConnell at the 1969 UNESCO Conference on the Environment. The April 22 date was chosen by Hayes to maximize participation by college students as he determined the date didn’t coincide with exams or college breaks.

The theme for Earth Day 2019 is “Protect Our Species,” as in all our many species inhabiting the planet. But it can must be understood that, in so doing, we are protecting ourselves by maintaining the interde-pendent biodiversity necessary to maintain a healthy, sustainable biosphere. And this message can’t be emphasized enough given the current rate of species decline. The scientific community is basically in ac-cord with the finding that the extinction rate on the planet today is between 1,000 and 10,000 times the previously observed background rate of extinction of 0.1 species per million, or one to five, species per year — a rate not experienced for the last 60 million years. In other words, we are on the cusp of a sixth mass extinction.

The very first mammal species — the Bramble Cay melomys — a small rodent indigenous to a tiny, sov-ereign Australian island in the Torres Strait near Papua New Guinea — was officially declared extinct during the week of February 18, 2019, with human-induced climate change listed as the cause of the mammal’s demise. Although official recognition of the animal’s extinction occurred this week, none had been sighted since 2004. Though this is the first mammal, many other species of amphibians, fish, birds and insects have preceded the Bramble Cay melomys across the bridge into extinction courtesy of man-kind in recent decades.

So, what can we do, both individually and collectively, to help stave off this march toward mass extinc-tion? Well, the list is only limited by your imagination, energy and will. Stopping and reversing Climate Chaos, protecting and restoring habitats, stopping and cleaning up pollution in all its many forms — all of these are paths toward a better, sustainable future for all species. Many different organizations have pro-jects and campaigns to kickstart your imagination and activism. You could use this Earth Day as a launch pad for a multi-part, multi-year plan to envision a better, healthier biosphere for all life. Everyday can and should be an earth day.

Start a project at your home, school, library — or in your community — to plant pollinator-friendly gardens growing native plants without pesticides. Use organic methods to regulate pests.
Initiate a community garden project in your school, village or county-wide. Again, avoid pesticides and try using non-GMO heirloom seeds. Think also about a local farmers’ market.
Start a “carbon reduction challenge” in your school, business, church, town, village or county. See who can become the “climate champion” each week, month, year by driving less, walking or biking more, weatherizing homes, switching lightbulbs, reducing meat in diets, buying local foods, reducing water use, and re-using and recycling items instead of buying new, etc.
Create a tree-planting campaign in your community or state. Build out the canopy or reforest empty lots with trees and pollinator-friendly plants and bird-friendly ground cover. All species must be native to the area.
Begin a “plastic bag ban” campaign in your community. Have a design contest for a graphic to go on the reusable cloth bag to distribute as an alternative. Strive to get local ordinances passed at the town, city and county levels to ban single-use plastic bags.
Initiate a “prevent plastic pollution” (P3) campaign similar to the “carbon reduction challenge,” and award “P3 power awards” to those individuals and groups who collect the most plastic pollution each week. If you live near a body of water, vary the location of collection goals to land and water weeks. Maybe even throw in a couple of “nurdle nines” — nine days of going to beaches and collecting those tiny plastic building blocks found almost everywhere (but wear gloves).

These are just a few ideas. Many more can be found through campaign links on the National Sierra Club website, the Earth Day Network website, Plant for the Planet, Roots and Shoots, and The Great Global Nurdle Hunt. And, of course — your creative mind.

The bottom line remains — doing nothing is no longer an option. But doing something can be positive, enriching and sustainable, as well as community building and enhancing.