The Science of Sustainability

Celebrating Earth Day in the Age of Man

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Earth in our hands for the future / Credit: Royalty-free image from Corbis

How did you celebrate Earth Day?  This year an estimated 1 billion people participated in Earth Day events world-wide around  April 22.  For the last 42 years, this international day of awareness-raising and festivities has provided a needed focus on the health of local ecosystems and our planet.  While a lot of good has come from the first Earth Day begun by Senator Nelson and his “teach-in” on the mall in Washington D.C. in 1970, much remains to be done.

Humanity’s impact on the Earth is accelerating at an unprecedented rate.  Some scientists at Stanford are taking a new look at geologic time and are proposing we’ve entered into a new geologic era: the Anthropocene.  Most scientists recognize the Holocene, our current era, in the grand scale of geologic time.  The Holocene is also called the Anthropogene, meaning the “Age of Man”. This geologic era spans from the last major Ice Age and includes ancient civilizations as well as our current time. There are fascinating interviews on the Anthropocene Generation website with professors and researchers from multiple disciplines exploring the question of when the era began. They're also trying to determine what’s been affected by our activities; evidently, there remains very little that we haven't impacted in some way.  Aldo Leopold had a saying that you shouldn’t throw away any of the parts if you “tinker” with natural systems. Predictions forecast that a stunning 20% of the world’s species will go extinct in the next 25 years, a serious loss of parts.

With our fingerprints present in every part of the earth — far-flung seas, the highest mountains and from pole to pole — we need to consider our sheer numbers and the impacts of our lifestyles. 

Blue Marble in the Balance by Tanner Embry

There’s hope when there are people concerned about the environment who take action.  President Obama said in 2010, "The true story of the environmental movement is not about the laws that have been passed.  It’s about the citizens who have come together time and time again to demand cleaner air, healthier drinking water and safer food -– and who have demanded that their representatives in government hold polluters accountable."  (Voice of America News)

So help keep the Earth Day spirit going: organize a beach or neighborhood cleanup, plant a tree or native plant garden, choose to live more lightly on the Earth (and here's a quiz that will help you find your environmental footprint). Keep encouraging our kids to get outdoors and help them connect with nature so they will also value our irreplaceable home planet.  Celebrate Earth Day every day, keep it alive and well for everyone’s sake.

Additonal Links:
Photos of Earth Day 2012 from around the Bay Area

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Category: Blog, Environment

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Sharol Nelson-Embry

About the Author ()

Sharol Nelson-Embry is the Supervising Naturalist at the Crab Cove Visitor Center & Aquarium on San Francisco Bay in Alameda. Crab Cove is part of the East Bay Regional Park District, one of the largest and oldest regional park agencies in the nation. She graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Natural Resources Management and an epiphany that connecting kids with nature was her destiny. She's been rooted in the Bay Area since 1991 after working at nature centers and outdoor science schools around our fair state. She loves the great variety of habitats stretching from the Bay shoreline to the redwoods, lakes, and hills. Sharol enjoys connecting people to nature with articles in local newspapers and online forums. Read her previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.