Earth Day is celebrated every year on 22 April and aims to encourage people across the globe to be more environmentally aware.

The day is observed through festivals, parades and rallies in at least 192 countries to demonstrate support for environmental protection. The day has its own flag, which features a dark-blue field charged with an artistic image of the globe from a viewpoint in outer space.

Earth Day aims to:

  • Educate people about the accelerating rate of extinction and raise an awareness of what is causing it
  • Create change via policies that protect broad groups of species, as well as individual species and their habitats
  • Build a global movement that embraces nature
  • Encourage the alteration of individual habits, such as developing plant-based diets and eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides.

According to the Earth Day Network, the unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides, to name a few. The impacts are far reaching.

Conscious individual efforts towards environmental change and conservation can be as simple and minimal as recycling and buying sustainable products, volunteering for a local green project or eating a plant-based diet and as intensive as installing solar panels in regularly used buildings.

Here are some ways to mark Earth Day:

  • Pledge to stop using pesticides, which would save pollinators.
  • Use safer sunscreens to protect coral.
  • Organise a clean up of your community to prevent litter from ending up in waterways.
  • Use the Earth Day Network’s plastic calculator to track, then reduce your plastic waste.
  • Plant a tree.
  • Calculate your carbon footprint and work out how to offset it.

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Global warming is real and is rapidly gaining momentum. It is triggering a rise in ocean levels, causing thousands to flee their homes as refugees from environmental disasters such as tsunamis, wildfires and hurricanes. Climate refugees are growing at unprecedented rates and the world does not seem ready to manage this new subset of environmental migrants.

Protect the Species

Earth Day helps us take stock of new information and the ways in which we are collectively responding to crises. Research shows that habitat destruction, climate change and exploitation are driving the loss of 50% of the earth’s wild animal population.

“The good news is that the rate of extinctions can still be slowed,” says Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network. “Many of our declining, threatened and endangered species can still recover if we work together now to build a united global movement of consumers, voters, educators, faith leaders and scientists to demand immediate action.”

Many of our declining, threatened and endangered species can still recover if we work together.

Despite such optimism the losses are irrefutable. Among species that vanished from the planet forever in 2018 were three types of birds: the Cryptic tree hunter (Cichlocolaptes mazarbarnetti) and Alagoas foliage-gleaner (Philydor novaesi), both from north-eastern Brazil, and Hawaii’s Po’ouli (Melamprosops phaeosoma), according to global conservation group BirdLife International.

Another devastating loss in March last year was the death of the last male northern white rhinoceros in Kenya, leaving only two living females of the species.

‘“Protecting our species’ became our 2019 theme because we see the ambivalence that we human beings have towards other species and people’s refusal to understand their responsibility as the chief predator to actually be equitable, fair and thoughtful, and also to recognise the rights of nature,” Kathleen Rogers told AccuWeather.

“Animals have rights, just like we do. We need to push that idea and help people understand that this is not radical; it’s just uncomfortable,” Rogers said.

Animals have rights, just like we do.

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The following statistics were released to coincide with this year’s Earth Day to highlight the decline of species:

  • Insect populations have decreased by more than 75% in Germany over the last 28 years, which is “alarming” because 80% of wild plants rely on bees and other insects for pollination, while 60% of bird species rely on insects for food.
  • Primates are under “extraordinary threat”, with close to 60% of the world’s 504 primate species under threat of extinction and 80% in “severe population decline”.
  • In the past 20 years, by-catch from global fishing operations has affected 75% of all toothed whale species, such as dolphins and porpoises, 65% of baleen whale species, such as humpback and blue whales, and 65% of pinniped species, such as sea lions.
  • In addition, 40% of the world’s bird population is in decline, with 1 in 8 species threatened with global extinction.
  • Big cats, such as leopards, tigers and cheetahs, are in “critical decline”, and many will become extinct in the next 10 years. They are often exploited for their body parts and skins, and China retains the biggest market for these items.
  • Lizard populations are “especially vulnerable” to climate change, according to the organisation. If the current decline continues, 40% of lizards will become extinct by 2080.
  • The American bison, which one roamed from Alaska to New Mexico in the millions, now occupy less than 1% of their original habitat. The species is now being compared to herded cattle due to its “small and tightly controlled” habitat.

Given such troubling trends, Earth Day is obviously not a one-day initiative but a reminder of what must now be year-long activities. Our current trajectory puts the planet on course to warm by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, creating a world that will be devastated by disasters, droughts, disease and food shortages. Many of the young people under the age of 18 today may be around to see and experience the repercussions of our complacency.