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Earth Day: do we have another 40 years? 

The first Earth Day was celebrated April 22, 1970. Four decades later, we assess the state of Earth Day, the state of the Earth itself and look at humanity’s chances of survival for another four decades.

click to enlarge PAUL HAMMOND
If the growth in our consumption and resource use continues at its present rate, we’ll need two-and-a-third planets by 2051. Most likely, though, Mother Nature won’t let us get there without kicking our upright hairless asses.

We won’t change the way we are, the things we do, until we fundamentally change the way we think about ourselves, about other living beings, about our relationships with them and the planet that hosts us. To the extent that Earth Day helps us do that, it’s a good thing.

But at the pace we’re going, Earth Day 2051 may see the survivors on their hands and knees begging forgiveness like the ancient ancestors we love to deride.

All across Canada, including in Halifax, folks say they really care about the environment. In National Geographic’s annual “Greendex” survey, Canadians are among the only people in the world who identify the environment as a higher priority than the economy, unprompted. In multiple other public opinion polls we rate it as one of our most important public policy goals.

Yet Canada ranks second-to-last among the Greendex nations in the environmental impact of our housing, transportation, food consumption and general purchasing behaviour. We like our stuff big, fast, imported, convenient, meaty and abundant.

And so, Earth Day has become like the Christian Lent, an unofficial repentance of sorts, when we appease an angry Mother Earth by combing a few plastic bags from out between her trees. Overworked, under-funded and under-publicized environmental groups pour what little resources they have into a desperate frenzy of event organization, coordinating hundreds of corporate volunteers who find themselves forced outside for a chilly April afternoon to plant trees and smile for the cameras, logo prominently displayed.

All in the hopes that our multiple environmental crises will gain 15 seconds of fame on the nightly news. “The emphasis on Earth Day has typically been on action,” says veteran environmental activist Satya Ramen. “Get out there and do something to save the planet, resulting in countless tree planting and garbage clean-up events instead of meaningful action---voting for politicians that make the environment a priority.”

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