As I write this post a host of world leaders are signing the Paris Climate Agreement in New York. By signing the agreement they commit their country to work towards limiting temperature rises of a maximum of 2 degrees celsius, compared to 1990 levels, and their governments must submit detailed plans as to how they will go about achieving this. In the words of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Paris is the ‘strongest, most ambitious climate pact ever negotiated’. However, many environmentalists (as well as those living on low lying islands at risk of obliteration in the near future through sea level rise) wanted the agreement to go much further. Nonetheless, today is a key moment in climate change history.
Today, if you didn’t already know, is Earth Day, the anniversary of the supposed ‘birth of the environmental movement’ (according to the Earth Day website at any rate) which took place on April 22nd 1970, initiated by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Wilson. Wilson had experienced the significant oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969 and realised the need for a political movement for environmental protection. Environmental awareness had been around for several years previous to 1970 (indeed one can go as far back as one pleases depending on your definition of environmental concern), exemplified by the work of Rachel Carson and the publication of Silent Spring in 1962 but also the founding of the National Trust in Britain in 1895 and numerous other examples across time periods, geographies and cultures. However, April 22nd 1970 was the first time that millions of people across the United States had taken part in all sorts of events and protests dedicated to ‘environmental concern’ which is why it resonates as being ‘the beginning’ for many. Over 20 million people are estimated to have taken part. It led to the Environmental Protection Agency being founded in the United States later that year as well as reforming the Clean Air Act and establishing the Endangered Species Act (1973) and the Clean Water Act (1977). In 1990 Earth Day was lifted to a global stage and involved more than 200 million people from 141 different countries. Today, it stays true to its roots and works to keep many environmental issues in the spotlight, such as Climate Change, as we have seen today. The Earth Day Network claims that they have inspired 2,023,271,011 ‘acts of green’ – an incredible figure which highlights the importance that this day has for many people.
Whilst my writing and experience may sometimes stray into the realms of campaigning, fundamentally, as an environmental writer, I see my role as an observer whose role it is to comment and pick apart a myriad issues. Achieving and maintaining impartiality is not the aim of this blog, as it would be if I were writing a piece of academic research for example. Nonetheless, independence of thought and the ability to assert personal views as part of critical analysis is vital either way. Freedom of thought and freedom of expression are fundamental to the ethos of Earth Day. For large numbers of people to come together to celebrate what we have today as well as to lament what has been lost and raise concerns about what could yet come to pass, it is vital that we highlight the importance of freedom of thought and expression as well as the importance of maintaining a healthy biosphere.
Happy Earth Day to you all.