Millions of people concerned about our planet launched Earth Day 51 years ago when environmentalism was about a cleaner world, not the matter of human survival that it is today. But has anything really changed? For Decafnation, Earth Day 2021 marks the start of a new direction.
Earth Day 2021 — It’s time to wake up and smell the flowers | George Le Masurier photo
Our Earth Day announcement: forgoing journalism to spend more time with family, nature
Today is Earth Day. It’s a fitting time to explain the recent absence of new journalism projects on Decafnation and what to expect in the future.
For the past two months, I’ve been planting trees — 50 of them to be exact. Most are Cypress Leylandii that will provide a border of sorts for a small, natural forested area on our property that we’re trying to keep intact. But the list also includes apple and pear trees and other coniferous varieties, some bamboo and evergreen shrubs.
I’ve found this work pleasantly satisfying on many levels, and it has not left room for journalism. Doing the research for an in-depth series of articles is time-consuming and I never aspired for Decafnation to become a full-time endeavour. But the need for quality reporting here has been that dire.
Since 2016, Decafnation has tried to add some depth to the paper-thin reporting in the local Comox Valley newspaper and radio stations. We’ve focused our attention on stories like the seriously flawed 2014-15 plan to patch the sewer pipes serving mainly Courtenay and Comox and how local governments have and are still failing to address the negative effects of dumping toxic stormwater into our waterways.
We uncovered the botched planning of the new Comox Valley Hospital and the ongoing travesty of the Vancouver Island Health Authority’s myopic plan to reduce onsite health care services in the North Island.
We shone a bright light on the out-of-control Economic Development Society.
We went deep during the 2018 local government elections and endorsed progressive candidates that brought noticeable change to Courtenay, the regional district and Cumberland, but not to Comox.
We have championed a call for the Town of Comox to reconcile its moral and legal obligations to their trust agreement with Hamilton Mack Laing. We explored the need for improved sexual health education in District 71 schools. And we’ve written about interesting people such as Father Charles Brandt, Dr Jonathan Page and more.
But we won’t be doing those types of stories any more.
During this last year, we’ve abided by the provincial health orders to stay home and that has meant not seeing our children or grandchildren. This has created not just a longing for family, but also the realization that being well into the seventh decade of life, our time is short. How to use what’s left of it has become a priority.
We will still publish commentary on important issues and plan to play an active role in the 2022 local government elections. And we’ll try to accommodate people and organizations who want to submit articles for publication here, so you will still see an email newsletter from us every so often.
But for now, the woodpecker working on the fallen tree in our mini-forest is calling me back outside.
DO WE STILL NEED EARTH DAY?
Millions of people participated in a first-ever annual grassroots demonstration 51 years ago on April 22 to raise awareness about environmental concerns. They called it Earth Day.
At the time, in 1970, the message focused on saving the whales and cleaning the trash out of rivers. The public service announcements of the era featured an American Indian saddened to find garbage in a once-pristine river full of fish and a cute owl that said, “Give a hoot – don’t pollute.”
Then everyone went home and squirted chlorofluorocarbons inside their ovens and into their hair, which eventually ate holes in our atmosphere’s ozone layer. We turned on electrical lights powered by coal. We clear cut forests. We dumped the toxic rainwater washing over polluted streets and parking lots into our waterways that killed the fish and, we now know, is also killing the whales.
The sorry list goes on and on. There was so much we didn’t know then about how we were degrading the Earth.
The popular adage “Reuse-Recycle-Reduce” that every elementary student knows so well today was a foreign concept when Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, was considered a radical. Nelson’s genius was to capture the youthful anti-Vietnam War energy and shift it to environmental causes.
Today, our knowledge of how human activity has pushed irreversible climate change to the brink and threatens our own existence has increased a thousand-fold since 1970. So do we still need an Earth Day?
Unfortunately, yes, we do more than ever.
Even though we have made great strides toward reducing some of the ways humans harm Earth’s life-sustaining ecosystem, the really hard work lies ahead. Reducing the number of carbon emissions necessary to head off a catastrophic future of unbearable heat and diminished clean water will require a global effort and a common purpose.
But here we are, a half-century since Gaylord Nelson rang the environmental alarm bell, and considering the big picture, not much has changed. Humankind has not united and acted with urgency. Our economic system based on everlasting growth won’t allow it.
Some experts believe it is too late to reverse the effects of climate change and that humans must now learn to adapt in order to survive.
In his review of a new book, Earth 2020: An insider’s guide to a rapidly changing planet, Dr. Loys Maingon, a Comox Valley naturalist and biologist, writes:
“This is not a really optimistic book. Nor should it be. The realism laid out by climatologist Tapio Schneider in his essay “Climate 1970-2020” is exemplary. He pulls no punches and makes it clear to the reader that there will be none of the quick fixes that politicians promise, or have been promising for the past four decades.
“Schneider makes the case that we have shut doors and burnt bridges. We have reached a turning point from which there is now no going back. We will need to adapt. As Schneider point out, “Mitigation was the focus of 1992.” 28 years on, the mitigation bridge is burnt down.
“We need to confront severe changes, because “limiting global warming to 2C above industrial levels will be extremely challenging, if not impossible.”
So, yes, we still need a day to celebrate the progress we have made and to create awareness of the unimaginable challenges that lie ahead. And, by the way, the whales are still in danger.
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