Denis Hayes, founder of Earth Day in 1970, said recently on the subject of getting people motivated for positive environmental change, "The easy stuff environmentally is when something poses an immediate threat to you, to your children, to your neighborhood. When that's happening, it is not that hard to organize people and get them sufficiently incensed to demand change."
But huge global problems such as climate change, accelerating extinction rates, and the degradation of agricultural lands, are so large and complex that many people haven't any good idea of what to do. One familiar reaction to these extreme challenges is to deny they are real, as we see with President Trump; another is disengagement, in which despair adds its own power to the feedback loops of destruction; another is found in those who acknowledge the reality of the ecological crisis we have created, but maintain it should not be addressed because according to their math the ruin of our economy would be the inevitable result of our halting the ruin of our civilization.
Dr Rosie Trevelyan, of the Tropical Biology Association, speaks for many when she says that when people dwell on the negative, they will never learn what could work, and what they can do to help.
It is not easy to think positively about the complicated metastasis of climate change when all we are geared for in evolutionary terms is the fast fix; either that or running away. As author Bill McGuire writes, "Humans, as individuals, as groups, and together as a society, seem to be hard-wired to respond quickly and effectively to a sudden threat, but not to a menace that makes itself known stealthily and over an extended period of time."
Earth Day is in part a re-wiring of our crisis response capabilities, an awareness-upgrade to let us utilize our latent Promethean wisdom. Dr David Suzuki says, "Everyday should be Earth Day," maybe because mindfulness regarding our Earth is now our, and our co-inhabitants, best survival strategy.
In Ottawa on Saturday, volunteers with the Ottawa-Gatineau Local Group joined hundreds of others on Parliament Hill to celebrate the essential work of science and, to quote CBC's Andrew Foote, "... to rally for well-funded, trustworthy science and show solidarity for American scientists who feel stifled by the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump."
Katie Gibbs of Evidence for Democracy said at the rally, "...science matters for public policy, for our health, for our environment."
We all remember how during the Harper regime in Canada, scientific evidence was suppressed as part of a plan to facilitate the extraction and export of tar sands fossil hydrocarbons. The effect of this policy is we all lose, not only in Canada, but everyone, everywhere. We can say this with confidence because humanity's burning of fossil fuels has now resulted in an atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide of 410 parts per million, the highest in 3 million years, and likely to yield a global mean temperature rise of 2-3 degrees Celsius, as reported by the scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.
We don't know how much longer the researchers at Mauna Loa will be able to continue collecting data on anthropogenic greenhouse gases. We do know that without science we are lost. With objectively conducted science we know where we are and where we are likely headed. It is not all we need to secure the bright and green and equitable world we would like to see flourish everywhere, but it is the essential base we need to build on.
Photo image by Sara Whitteker