International Day of Earth (2018)

It is inculcated in the nature of man that wherever he lives, he love that place beyond all the hardships over there. Thinking on the broader sense, this beautiful earth is a big home to all of us and it also deserves to be loved besides our homes. A special day assigned to think about it, one of the most celebrated Day- Earth day has a history behind it. To know about it, we have to go back to 1960s. That was the decade when United States was involved in Vietnam war in fact the right word is overseas war. Wars are generally the compact form of destruction that includes human loss, economic loss and environmental loss. So as the Vietnam War was also creating a lot of environmental disasters over there, such as deforestation, destruction of crops, soil erosion, and loss of animals, plants and humans too. The damage was not accidental but it was planned.  72.4 million liters of herbicides were sprayed on South Vietnam as a result of which 70% of coconut grooves and 60% of rubber plantation was destroyed. 110,000 hectares of forests and 150,000 hectares of mangroves was destroyed along with the crops which had potential to support 2 million people. Forests were deliberately set to fire by napalm and phosphorous bomb. These chemicals had adverse effects on wildlife and marine life as well and their number declined greatly. All these brutal happenings along with many others, raised the wave of awareness in American people and they started protesting against it. In the meantime the environmental circumstances in US were also not good which also added much to these protests. The country was facing cutting of plants and air pollution was greatly increasing.

Though the steps for betterment were being taken by the real agitation was created after the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller “Silent Spring” in 1962. This book spread a huge wave of awareness about environmental concerns, living organisms and link between pollution and public health. It became so famous that 5 lac copies were sold in 24 countries of the world. During this time period, in January-February 1969 a massive oil spill incident in Santa Barbara, California, happened. It was the largest oil spill incident in US waters at that time and now it is ranked third largest oil spill but still it is the largest oil spill incident in California. The effects of oil spill were worst on marine life, 3,500 sea birds were dead along with countless dolphins, sea lions and elephant seals. It made people extremely furious and this public outrage had prominent media coverage in US. After that many legislations regarding environment were made.

But in 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson noticed that there is a large difference in these environmental policies which the government made and what the public wants to have regarding environment. He wanted these policies to change and he was the leading fighter against environmental degradation. Before this, in 1962 after his selection in Senate, he explored that Washington had no policies for environmental safety. He struggled for years to promote interests for environment and finally he proposed a day “Earth Day”, to speak out about the environmental crisis faced by people. The assigned day was 22 April, 1970 and it was the first earth day. On that day, around 20 million people attended the earth related events to speak out the challenges faced by cities, states, ecosystems and the planet earth which put a pressure on Washington DC to make some legislations for environment. As a result of this struggle the environmental issues became the part of politics forever. In 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom for being the founder of Earth Day. This is the highest honor given to civilians in the United States.

From 1970 to till now, every year we celebrate the earth day on 22 April, though there is a debate that first it was on March 21 but the official date is 22 April of each year. This day is specially celebrated to create awareness in people so that they can feel that what are those challenges and threats which are faced by our planet earth just because of our activities. Scientists are warning since long that earth is going to be engulfed by massive threats of global warming, pollution, biodiversity loss, ecosystem disturbance, deforestation, water scarcity, water pollution and glaciers melting. All these threats are genuine and we can see the consequences around, many species which were abundant small time ago are now going to be extinct, like tigers, snow leopard, polar bears, giant pandas, Asian elephant, vaqcuita, red tuna, mountain gorillas, river dolphin, turtles, penguins, rhinos, zebras, peacocks, humming bird and many others. The list is so extensive to discuss. Forests are cut extensively and each year world loses 7 billion trees which are cut for different reasons without replantation. There are a lot of other challenges, hot weathers, floods, hurricanes and storms, our planet earth is in extreme danger and it is at tipping point, if it crosses this point of destruction, the loss will be irreversible. To know and speak out such issues, world earth day is celebrated across all the countries of world with a same theme that “Save Earth”.

Each year, Earth day has a different theme to raise awareness about top challenges faced by the environment. The theme of earth day 2018 is “Plastic Pollution” and the theme of 2017 was ““Environmental and Climate Literacy.” The theme of this year is very interesting and very serious to know and very difficult to tackle. We can see in our lives that our life seems to be hijacked by plastic. Everywhere plastic and everything made by plastic be it our cell phones, computers, hospital bags, helmets, utensils in kitchen, bottles, packing material, trash bags, toys, pipes and the things like planes, cars and space ships too. Everywhere we go, we find one thing common that is plastic waste, be it in the form of bottles or wrappers. Land is filled with plastic, oceans are filled with plastic, and it seems that soon this earth is going to be a plastic planet. Plastic is durable and easy to use but its durability proves to be a serious problem when it is thrown after its usage.

Each year, 8.3 billion metric ton plastic is made and the worrying fact is that only 9% of this plastic is recycled and 91% goes as non-recycled causing pollution in land and water. By 2050, the oceans in world will have more plastic than fish. Around the world, in each minute million bottles are bought and of course they are thrown as trash without proper recycling. This number will be 20% more by the year 2021. The shocking thing is that even the uninhabited islands are badly filled with the plastic waste such as a tiny island Henderson in South Pacific was found covered by 18 tons of plastic by marine scientists in 2017. This small area is the most plastic polluted area on the globe.

We cannot think that a small plastic bottle has extreme drastic effects on environment. This plastic has become one of the biggest problems which is now polluting every corner of the world. It is made by petroleum and natural gas which pass through a series of steps like drilling, transportation and processing. The effects are bad as the burning of these fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide in air which in turn causes global warming. Other toxic chemicals are also released during its manufacturing which are vinyl chloride (in PVC), dioxins (in PVC), benzene (in polystyrene), phthalates and other plasticizers (in PVC and others), formaldehyde, and bisphenol-A, or BPA (in polycarbonate). These are organic pollutants and are some of the most damaging toxins in the environment.

When after usage it is thrown on land without recycling, it continues releasing the chemicals which gets mixed with water and pollutes it. When dumped in landfills, in contact with water, plastic produces dangerous chemicals which effect the fertility of soil. Toxic and foul gases continue to emit from it creating environmental pollution and major health issues in humans and animals as well. Sometimes drainage systems become blocked with plastic bags causing flooding. Some land birds and animals have been found who had engulfed plastic items. Actually it does not degrade easily and it needs 500-1000 years to break into small particles as it does not degrade completely. When the plastic breaks into smaller particles, these particles take new physical and chemical properties and their risk of toxicity on organism increases.

The real threat of plastic pollution is in waters of the world which is greatly filled with plastic pollution. Annually 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of plastic is added into the oceans of the world and it is equivalent of putting a truck full of trash into ocean per second and approximately 50-90% of sea waste consists of plastic material. More than 80% of plastic in ocean comes from land through wind and river. If the trend goes on, the amount of plastic in oceans will be increased ten folds. Its debris in the oceans breaks own into smaller pieces due to effect of sunlight, weathering and wave action and as a consequence the oceans are transformed into micro plastic or plastic soup. This debris floating on sea absorbs dangerous pollutants and these toxins are also released form the plastic and all forms of life in sea takes these particles mistakenly. As a result of this, sea life gets toxins and their body and plastic enters into the food chain.

Marine life is facing great challenges of survival because of plastic pollution. If we talk about fish only, 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year is ingested by fish. This fish when eaten by humans, becomes a source of introduction of harmful chemicals to the human body. I am just wondering that we throw plastic without recycling and it returns to us in even worst form. Sea turtles mistakenly take this plastic and it blocks their gut and they face deaths. Thousands of sea birds ingest plastic and it is estimated that nearly each sea bird is ingesting plastic. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, 100,000 marine mammals are killed by plastic debris per year and millions of birds and species are also killed by plastic.

Such a horrifying threat of plastic I feel, but I must say that plastic is not inherently bad, it is we who have made it bad because we cannot use it properly and we do not recycle it properly. It has benefits as it is easy to carry and durable but the benefit is incomplete when we do not recycle it. There are a number of ways in which this plastic can be useful, in some countries like US, Netherlands etc. they are making plastic roads with plastic waste and these roads are durable as compared to normal roads. The other way to reduce the waste is that there should be a policy that every customer should return his plastic bottle for recycling. The similar scheme is adopted in Nigeria where customers have to pay some extra when they buy plastic bottles. This extra money is returned back to them when they return the bottle for recycling. With this technique around 80-90% plastic got recycled.This year, the earth day is themed to spread the awareness about this challenge of tackling the plastic pollution. Traditionally, on this day variety of programs, activities and seminars are designed to make people interested in earthly matters. This year I too have a plan to celebrate earth day by adopting the ways which can reduce plastic around us. Let’s join hands and make a pledge on this earth day that we will love our earth, we will keep it safe and clean like we keep our houses. Let’s make a pledge that we all will burn the candle of our part in the best way we can. Let’s join hands and make this planet more worthy for life!

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