It has been 48 years since 20 million+ people demonstrated across the United States of America in an unmistakable call for environmental reform and to mark the first ever Earth Day. The collective push of those 20 million+ individuals helped spur significant change in environmental policy and practice, including the extension and passage of both the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts along with the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The progress launched that day in 1970 has never really ceased. Earth Day is now celebrated in over 193 countries and is said to be the most widely-observed secular holiday in the world. The annual event is broad recognition that the way we treat our planet impacts all of us, and transcends nationality, race, religion, and socio-economic strata.
Earth, our small but verdant rock, is an extremely rare thing in our universe; a lifeboat in a vast sea of lifelessness. This ‘Spaceship Earth’ that we inhabit grows closer to capacity each passing year, but like other closed-systems, can provide regenerative abundance if the right conditions are created or otherwise met.
Our home planet is remarkably resilient. It is already over 4.5 billion years old while human-recorded history only goes back a mere five-thousand years – we’re essentially a small blip on the geological timeline of our planet. And yet, we humans have been so impactful in that short amount of time, the last 150 years in particular.
The growth of our human population and our capacity to innovate are closely connected to the relative climatic/ecological stability of the last ten thousand years. These innovations have clearly made net positive improvements for human life, however, they have also had a net-negative impact on the rest of life on the planet. In particular, the fossil fuels and plastics that empower rapid human advancement are choking our oceans, poisoning the air and water, and changing our climate. We have reached a point where our innovations can no longer be one-sided – we must now make changes that are positive for both people and planet.
Our Earth has endured some tough times – multiple mass extinctions have set evolution back millions of years throughout its history. Nevertheless, life bounces back and Mother Earth persists. So, we need to ask ourselves, is the world really in danger of demise or are we? Whose existence is really threatened when we ignore the breadth of our own ecological footprints? When we allow the interests of a few to degrade the protections for the land, air and water of all? When we hope that someone else will step up and do the right thing while we go about business as usual?
No, the Earth does not the need the power of human ingenuity and consciousness to intervene on its part – we need to use that to save ourselves. As designers of the built environment we have that power. We also know how to wield that power successfully. So as we move forward beyond Earth Day 2018, sure, ‘do it for the Earth’ but in the back of your mind know what you really should be doing it for yourself and every generation that will follow.