Today, April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the founding of the modern environmental movement back in 1970.
It was formed by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (Wis.), along with an enthusiastic graduate student named Denis Hayes and some 20 million Americans who organized across the country to rally around the cause of environmentalism. Earth Day is meant to be a call to action for all of us to both change our own environmentally harmful behaviors and to help bring about policy changes to curb abuses of the natural world.
In recognition of Earth Day, we’d like to share just a few articles written this year from environmental journalists who we believe are sharing important and compelling news.
If you’ve recently read a environment-related article/book/film/etc. that you’ve found particularly worthwhile, let us know in the comments!
Written by Hiroko Tabuchi, an award-winning investigative climate reporter for the New York Times, this article dives into the resurgence of coal in Japan, an anomaly among the developed countries of the world.
As effects of rising temperatures continue to appear in heat-wave deaths and marine life depletion, and as agreements on coal reduction are being made across the globe, the decision to open 22 new power plants that would “emit almost as much carbon dioxide annually as all the passenger cars sold each year in the United States” calls for explanations.
Tabuchi helps put this move into context, discussing the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the struggle of Japan, an energy-poor country, to maintain independence from reliance on foreign oil — all while facing criticism from climate experts, activists, and local residents where the power plants will be operated.
Odds are, by now you’ve seen one of those graphics with images comparing light pollution or carbon emissions before and after the coronavirus led to global quarantining. Those drastic differences between early 2020 and the same time a year ago make one wonder what the real impact of those emissions decreases is.
Here, Martha Henriques, a science and environment journalist based in London, explores the environmental impact of COVID-19 for the BBC.
Through some pretty interesting studies and input from experts in fields of sustainability and epidemiology, Henriques is able to put this pandemic into historical context. While research shows that the drop in emissions might not be as pronounced as even the financial crisis of 2008, there is evidence that some environmentally friendly human behaviors brought on by the coronavirus could turn into lasting habits.
Of course, no positive environmental effect of this pandemic could ever be viewed as a win in the face of the staggering loss of life caused by it. Yet, as shown by the way people have come together to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save the infected, it’s clear that community action has incredible potential, which is a positive sign for the future of the planet.
This is an incredibly interesting little story from Elspeth Hay, published in the online magazine Heated, which focuses on food and its connection to, as the editor puts it, “just about everything else.”
In this case, the focus is on sustainable farming.
Hay explains how the typical cereals like corn and rice, the most popular crops in the world, require the clearing of massive amounts of land, which means drastic deforestation and pollution from the land use. The article goes from there to ask the question: Why not put more stock into farming that doesn’t require wreaking environmental havoc, and turn instead to nut-producing trees and shrubs? Unlike the grains most farmed today, they have the benefit of not being annuals, dying and having to be regrown every year, and actually restoring habitats instead of razing them.
Hay points readers to cultures around the world that have thrived on sustenance from trees and introduces two individuals who have put this idea to work. One has started a business saving oak tree populations by processing acorns into flour, and another has converted former grain fields into landscapes of thousands of shrubs and trees planted in rows to cultivate chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, apples, and elderberries.
Hay admits that these ideas are not taken seriously by commercial farming at this point. However, it’s discussions of ideas such as these that are necessary for taking steps to make our agricultural systems better for our environment.
This recent article from National Geographic writer Alejandra Borunda looks into the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Looking back after 10 years, this story does the important journalistic work of bringing to light what the lasting consequences of the oil spill have been, and what actions were (or weren’t) taken by those responsible for preventing such disasters.
Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the efforts made in response to the BP oil spill, as well as past ones such as the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989, do not seem to be holding up. Borunda reports that while the new Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, formed in response to the disaster, did implement new regulations and rules, they were not broad and safety practices have weakened throughout the decade.
An important message from the story is a cautionary one about the impact of climate change. While we might be more prepared for the type of failures that caused the BP oil spill, the next oil rig disaster could end up being caused by the increasing number of intense hurricanes brought on by climate change.
Finally, it’s worth sharing a very compelling story from New York Times writer John Schwartz about Denis Hayes, the man who worked with Senator Gaylord Nelson to found Earth Day 50 years ago. This up-close biographical account of Hayes takes a look at the motivations behind this movement, from experiencing completely unchecked pollution in his hometown as a child, to inspiring and organizing the first Earth Day, which sought to bring about “fundamental changes in the nature of the American economy.”
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Louis Eyerman is a Customer Content Specialist in PR Newswire’s editorial department. Outside of proofreading press releases, he can be found writing music and playing drums, or rambling about Cleveland sports.