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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Editor’s Note: In the ever-changing world of emergency and disaster management, there are countless challenges facing EDM professionals as they respond to natural and manmade events — some of which are interconnected. From intensified storms to droughts and devastating fires, those in the field have a deep understanding of how changing conditions pose new hazards and require innovative approaches to protecting the communities they serve.
Monday marks the 49th anniversary of the founding of Earth Day in 1970. EDM Digest is pleased to recognize Earth Day and honor the professionals who are continuously training and evolving their strategies to support preparedness.
The theme for Earth Day 2019 is “Protect Our Species,” which calls attention to the documented loss of 40 percent of the world’s wild animal population. Marine animals have been devastated. Turtles especially have been hard-hit by the destruction of their nesting grounds.
African Manatees, Bees, Insects and Sea Life Face Threat of Extinction
Also under threat of extinction is the African manatee. Similarly, bees and other insects responsible for pollinating the world's plant population are being decimated by insecticides and the mysterious colony collapse disorder that has killed millions of honey bees in recent years.
At the same time, climate change threatens almost 75% of the world's coral reefs, the habitat of many species of sea life.
Climate Changes Also Affecting Arctic Sea Ice
Since the late 1970s, ice in the Arctic Sea has shrunk on average about 21,000 square miles (54,000 square kilometers) annually. “That is equivalent to losing a chunk of sea ice the size of Maryland and New Jersey combined every year for the past four decades,” according to NASA’s Global Climate Change website.
Air Pollution Was Once Commonly Accepted as the Smell of Prosperity
At the time of the first Earth Day, air pollution was not considered a major environmental problem. Americans were guzzling leaded gasoline for their massive V8 sedans that were not equipped with emission control systems.
“Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press,” recalled the Earth Day Organization. “Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. ‘Environment’ was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news.”
US Senator Credited with Earth Day Idea
Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) is credited with the idea of a national day to focus on the environment. He had witnessed the 1969 massive oil spill off Santa Barbara, California, that released an estimated three million barrels of oil into the Pacific. The largest oil spill in the U.S. at the time, the slick killed thousands of birds, fish and sea mammals.
Nelson’s inspiration was the student anti-Vietnam war movement that was raging at the time. He “realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.” He chose April 22 as Earth Day because it coincided with students’ spring break, which would allow their greater participation in the historic enterprise.
As Nelson said in his founding Earth Day speech in 1970, “The battle to restore a proper relationship between man and his environment, between man and other living creatures, will require a long, sustained, political, rural, ethical and financial commitment far beyond any effort we ever made before in any enterprise in the history of man.”
Love Canal Contamination Prompted Creation of Federal Superfund Cleanup Program
If any further impetus was needed for an annual day devoted to securing the health of the planet, that day came eight years later at Love Canal in upstate New York, near Niagara Falls. The tiny community sat atop 21,000 tons of toxic industrial waste buried by a local company in the decades after World War II.
“Over the years, the waste began to bubble up into backyards and cellars. By 1978, the problem was unavoidable, and hundreds of families sold their houses to the federal government and evacuated the area,” Time magazine reported. Love Canal as a town ceased to exist. But the disaster led to the formation in 1980 of the federal Superfund program, which helps pay for the cleanup of toxic sites.
One of the goals of Earth Day is to end plastic pollution in the world’s waterways. The “exponential growth of plastics is now threatening the survival of our planet,” the Earth Day organization warns.
Iconic Polo Shirts to Be Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
This week, Polo Ralph Lauren launched a version of its iconic polo shirt made entirely of recycled plastic bottles and dyed through a process that uses no water.
In announcing the Earth Polo, the company has committed to removing at least 170 million bottles from landfills and oceans by 2025. Earth Polo shirts will be manufactured in Taiwan, where the bottles are collected. Each shirt uses an average of 12 recycled bottles.
“Every day we’re learning about what’s happened with global warming and what’s happening all around the world, and our employees and our customers are really feeling that it’s time to step up and make a difference,” David Lauren, son of company founder Ralph Lauren, said in a statement.
The company’s other goals include use of 100% sustainably sourced cotton by 2025 and 100 percent recyclable or sustainably sourced packaging materials by the same year.
Thanks to events like Earth Day and imaginative uses of recycled materials, a growing number of citizens, governments and corporations are taking positive steps to stem and reverse the critical ecological losses of the past several decades.