With record wildfires, deadly heat waves and severe flooding making headlines across the province, along with stories of climate anxiety, advice on how to help save the planet and statistics on carbon emissions that adorn our daily news feeds, is Earth Day still necessary?
Are we not fully aware of the seriousness of the effects of climate change?
Some say yes: now, more than ever, is the time to recognize our achievements in protecting the planet and to insist that more be done.
“I think we need to take a day once in a while, even if it’s only once a year, to celebrate successes,” said Melissa Lem, a climate advocate and physician from Vancouver.
“We have to stop and think about how much this planet and the people who live on it mean to us.”
Earth Day through the years
The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, was a political movement and featured rallies and classes in schools across the United States by National Earth Day Coordinator Denis Hayes.
“You have to wonder, over the decades, what happened to all that energy and political cooperation?” said Lem.
In 1990, Earth Day became a global celebration – CBC records show that around 200 million people in over 130 countries took part in Earth Day events.
Today in Canada, some schools are hosting special Earth Day events to educate young people about climate change and how individuals can reduce their carbon footprint, while many families observe Earth Hour. turning off the electricity for one hour to save energy.
A ‘useful reminder that we are not on the right track’
Last year was declared the sixth hottest year on record. Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) detailed how financially costly climate change is. The UN has also declared that the world is on the verge of being “unlivable”.
Although the outlook looks bleak, youth-led climate protests, inspired by Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, have become a global phenomenon as younger generations demand climate action, while scientists continue to work around the clock to find solutions to what they describe as an impending climate catastrophe.
“I think the vast majority of Canadians care deeply about climate change, but they tend to be concerned about other more immediate issues for their lives, things like the cost of gas,” said Kathryn Harrison, professor of political science at the University of British Columbia. Columbia which specializes in environmental policy.
“Earth Day is this helpful reminder that we’re not on the right track. We need to do so much better.”
The “we” she refers to includes not just individuals, but also government and industry.
Lem says there is ambivalence towards what the government says it is doing to fight climate change because current climate commitments are not enough to prevent the earth from warming.
“You hear the government [is] fighting climate change on one side, but then doling out billions of dollars for fossil fuel subsidies and approving new projects on the other,” Lem said. “It’s confusing.”
“I think we really need to have a discussion about what an effective fossil fuel subsidy is in the context of a product that works by causing climate change,” Harrison added.
The oil and gas sector was the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the country in 2020, according to Statistics Canada, and although the government’s new plan to cut carbon emissions specifically targets this industry, advocates said that that was not enough.
“We need to look outward at what our government is doing, what industry is doing in addition to individual actions we can take,” Lem said.
“I think now is a good time to bring everyone into the sphere of thinking about our planet and our health.”
The first edition14:03Earth Day Climate Change Panel
Our planet is changing. Our journalism too. This story is part of a CBC News initiative called Our changing planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done to address them.