Earth Day is upon us once again this week and there has never been a more urgent call for people around the globe to unite and work towards combating the world’s climate crisis.
With a billion people celebrating Earth Day each year, the international day of environmental action focuses on a ‘Restore Our Earth’ theme for 2021. The theme brings a greater sense of urgency to reduce our impact on the planet and address how we may start to repair the ecosystems worldwide.
As the climate emergency deepens, Earth Day 2021 will place natural processes, emerging green technologies and innovative thinking under the spotlight, in a desperate attempt to restore the world’s ecosystems before it is too late.
While the three-day event starts today (April 20), the main Earth Day digital event kicks off on Thursday April 22, with many events online due to Covid-19 (last year was entirely digital).
US president Joe Biden has chosen April 22 to stage his virtual world leaders’ summit from Washington, which will be live streamed to address the climate crisis, a testament to Earth Day being such a key date in the calendar.
The first Earth Day started in 1970, later becoming an international campaign in 1990 and is vital for raising environmental awareness. Here are just five of the many reasons why we need to get the world back on track:
1.Global temperature increase
Our planet is warming up rapidly and most of the hottest years on record have all occurred since 2014. The term ‘global warming’ was coined in 1975 and globally, 2020 was the second warmest year on record. While a one-degree temperature increase doesn’t sound drastic, it is an enormous amount of heat to warm all the oceans, land, and atmosphere.
An astonishing 60% of animal populations have been wiped out by humanity between 1970 and 2014. Humans have had a greater impact on our planet than any other species and our population is forecast to soar to more than nine billion by 2050. Change must be implemented to save our animals and forests as we now catch more fish than the ocean can replenish and chop down trees before they get even a chance to mature.
3. Annual global carbon emissions increase
We are emitting more carbon into the atmosphere than forests and oceans can absorb. Even the pandemic’s impact of country-wide lockdowns wasn’t enough to curb carbon emissions for long as CO2 remains at record levels, according to theWorld Meteorological Organization (WMO).
2021 is due to see the second largest annual increase of energy-related carbon emissions, according to a report from the IEA. The Global Energy Review 2021 report estimates that CO2 emissions will increase by almost 5% this year to 33 billion tonnes, due to the demand for coal.
The good news is the UK government is expected to confirm a new target this week, ahead of President Biden’s Earth Day Summit, which will see emissions reduced by 78% (against 1990 levels) by 2035.
4. Coral reefs are vanishing
Coral reefs are one of the most diverse, delicate ecosystems we have which are sadly declining at a rate of knots.
Covering less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, the underwater ecosystem offers food, shelter and breeding grounds to a quarter of all marine species and directly supports more than 500 million people.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is under threat due to rising sea levels, pollution, increasing temperatures and disease - more than half of the coral reef was destroyed in 2016-2017 alone.
In addition, three quarters of reefs are now mostly flat in the Caribbean, compared to the 1970s, when Earth Day first started, according to researchers from the UK’s University of East Anglia.
5. Traffic pollution
Transport is the largest polluting sector, accounting for 28% of UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to figures from the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Vehicle emissions are one of the most visible sources of pollution (plastic is another culprit) that is choking our cities and causing shortened life expectancy as well as respiratory problems.
These emissions mix up a rather large and ghastly cocktail of pollutants including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter which leaves a hangover you definitely don’t want.
How we can help solve the above issues on Earth Day 2021
1. With just over a decade to halve our emissions, we can all play our part to help lower global temperatures. Even turning off unnecessary lights and appliances when not in use can help make the difference. Contact your local MP about your views on climate change or join a social movement/campaign to take part in environmental activities and conversations. While everyone feels starved of a holiday in the sun since coronavirus reared its ugly head, you don’t need us to tell you that taking a flight to a far-flung land isn’t good for your carbon footprint either.
2. Human activity is responsible for the depletion of many of our species. We are reducing biodiversity through methods such as overfishing and pollution. We can help by engaging with groups such as wildlife refuges, aquariums, non-profit organisations and zoos to learn about endangered species and how to help protect them. Or simply encourage pollinators into your garden, by mowing your lawn less often to allow weeds to ‘flower’, provide water for pollinators and avoid using pesticides where possible.
3. Be mindful of your own carbon footprint. Go vegetarian, or better still vegan, either just for Earth Day or for more days a week for a bigger impact. Animal agriculture is responsible for 14-18%of global GHG emissions, according to the United Nations.
Going vegan can reduce your carbon footprint from food by as much as 73%. Moving towards a plant-based diet will help limit the damage caused by climate change as animal agriculture, which is responsible for 30% of biodiversity loss, takes up one-third of the Earth’s land surface.
4. Summer is on its way. Slapping on sunscreen and heading into the sea introduces thousands of tonnes of chemicals into our oceans over time. Either stay covered in the sea with a hat and t-shirt and apply sunscreen when back on dry land, or shop around for sunscreen that doesn’t harm the ocean (yes, they do exist!)
5. Think about the type of car you drive – is it a diesel vehicle that emits too many fumes? Electric vehicles (EV) are the future in terms of lowering emissions on the road. Or better still, cycle or walk wherever possible. Be mindful when your car is stationary for periods of time and turn off your engine.
Make sure you celebrate Earth Day 2021. Be a part of the solution, not the problem.