It’s April 2023, How Should You Recognize Earth Month, Day, Hour

Ah April! With longer days, the cloak of winter darkness rests lighter on our shoulders. The warmer sun thaws our blood and makes our spirits rise. April is a month of rebirth and awakening; a time to give thanks for the joy of seasons, the laughter of children playing outside, the birds singing and the plants greening, April is also Earth Month, a time to celebrate nature’s bounty and to give thanks for the ecosystem services provided to us by the plants, animals, water and air that surrounds us and supports us. Earth Day on April 22nd, is a time to honour the achievements of the environmental movement and raise awareness of the need to protect the Earth’s natural resources for future generations.

Some would argue the environmental movement merely slows down progress and adds costs to development projects. History shows, however, that unbridled progress often leads to unintended environmental consequences and the potential for human catastrophe. Let me offer a few examples.

I was 18 years old when the first Earth Month and Earth Day were celebrated. When I was growing up, few people would consider swimming in Lake Ontario, its waters so polluted as to make swimming unpleasant if not downright dangerous. And Lake Erie was far worse, considered little more than a dumping ground for industrial waste. In fact, water quality in the Great Lakes had been deteriorating since before the turn of the last century. In the early 1900s sewage and industrial effluent caused outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. By 1909 the situation had gotten so bad that the US and Canada formed an International Joint Commission, (IJC) to look at ways to manage Great Lakes water quality. A bacterial analysis was conducted in 1912, concluding that human-caused biological and industrial waste was ruining water quality and killing fish and other wildlife in and around the Great Lakes. Yet it took until 1972 for the two governments to sign the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with the intent to restore and protect the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes waters.

After the agreement was signed, water quality began to improve. Within a few years, salmon were reintroduced in the Credit River near my childhood home although swimming by anyone other than the stalwarts like Marylyn Bell, who was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario, was still considered unhealthy. Today, many people crowd the beaches and shorelines from Kingston to Hamilton during the hot summer months. And the Credit is home to runs of chinook, steelhead, coho and Atlantic varieties of salmon. I remember the signing of water quality agreement being celebrated as a win for people and the environment. No one spoke about the 60 years of missed opportunity or how the water quality was allowed to deteriorate in the first place.

Then there was the banning of DDT in 1972, heralded as a major win for naturalists and the environment. DDT, a synthetic chemical, was invented in the 1950s. Initially used to combat malaria mosquitoes, it was found to be very effective at killing all manner of insects. My parents used it at home to combat ants, wasps and bees. We even sprayed it on the dog to prevent fleas. But, as the use of the chemical grew, danger signs began to show. It was found that because of its chemical stability, it would bio-accumulate meaning it concentrated in animals higher up the food chain, including, birds, fish and people. Higher concentration levels led to toxicity resulting in reproductive issues, disease and even death amongst people and animals alike.

Yet, despite public outrage and the obvious ecological risk of unregulated pesticide use, sparked by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, it took another 10 years for the US to ban DDT. Canada followed suit in the early 80s. And even today, DDT is still being used in many countries. How much damage will it take before DDT is banned completely? And what of today’s neonicotinoids, a modern day pesticide used in agriculture that is protecting crops while threatening total population collapse of bees and other pollinator insects.

Here’s another example. Most of us think that the biggest world threat in the 60s and 70s was nuclear war between the US and the then Soviet Union. In reality, however, the bigger threat was coming from our refrigerators!

In the late 70s, scientists discovered growing holes in the Earth’s ozone layer. The ozone layer protects the earth by absorbing much of the harmful UV radiation from the sun. Without it, life on Earth would be impossible. It didn’t take long for scientists to figure out that the reason for the holes was the use of ozone-depleting substances such as freon gas, then a popular refrigerant. But it took almost a decade for the governments of the day to take action.

In 1987, the Montreal Protocol was signed that banned the use of ozone depleting chemicals. The agreement was successful. No one talks about killer ozone holes anymore. But, it will take another 40 years for the holes to completely repair themselves and we came perilously close to frying all life on earth. Why did it take so long from the time we recognized the danger for governments of the day to act?

The point is, the environmental movement is not just about saving trees, swampland, frogs and other animals. We need the environmental movement to counteract the forces of unfettered development based on the principal that anything driving short-term economic growth must be good. We need the environmental movement to overcome the inertia of governments of all stripes unwilling to take swift decisive action, even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of real threat. By acting as that voice of prudence and underscoring the interconnectedness of all things in nature, the environmental movement is key to our very survival.

During this Earth Month of April, get out and enjoy the spring but also think about the environmental crisis that we are in. This year’s global Earth Day theme is, “Invest in Our Planet”. What investments are you prepared to make? Will you resolve to reduce your environmental footprint by evaluating and changing your lifestyle habits? Will you take steps to hold our governments’ collective feet to the fire and demand they take action for a sustainable future?

The City of Brampton is hosting an Earth Day event on Saturday April 22nd at Norton Place Park from 12:00-4:00pm. Ride in to the event on your bike with a group. Come out and learn about all the environmental groups and initiatives in our City. Volunteer your time. Support them financially if you are able. If not, then then at least make the opportunity to thank someone in the environmental movement for their advocacy and passion. What they do is valuable work, no matter how small. The work is tough and the challenges many. As Kermit the Frog used to say, “It ain’t easy being green”. But the alternative is even worse.

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