Every Day Must Be Earth Day

Last week was Earth Day, commemorating the beginning of the American environmental movement in the 1970s with a demonstration of demand for action to clean up the air, land, and water of the United States. Millions demonstrated and then supported the enactment of a revolutionary legislation: the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clear Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and myriad other initiatives that declared that the American public would no longer accept the degradation of land and sea by indiscriminate pollutants and polluters with no concern for anything but the cheapest, most irresponsible means to profit. Public concern and public health be damned.

We at the World Ocean Observatory did not address Earth Day last week, deliberately. We decided to wait to speak out about the substance and importance of what the day represents. Every day on earth is a miracle and a gift. If by singling out one day, do we diminish all the rest?

The situation is particularly dire this year. The American president and his minions are engaged in a subversive, accelerated deconstruction of the environmental achievements of the past 45 years. They are abrogating regulation with regard to clean air and water by executive order. They are opening pristine coastal waters to drilling for oil and gas. They are locating areas for license to political allies who wish to perpetuate our dependence on fossil fuels regardless of spills, resultant emissions, and other negative contributions to national and international health. They are opening national parks and public lands to comparable exploitation. They are maintaining a system of perverse subsidies that supports all this private initiative with public funds, and they are transferring the wealth inherent in natural resources from the taxpayers to the shareholders, from the owners to the profiteers.

The irony of celebration on Earth Day under such circumstances is particularly painful.

Earth Day is not a single day of celebration; it is an everyday call to arms, a clarion signal to every responsible citizen, every parent, each and every one of us on earth who will not stand by, who will join together to stop this regressive conspiracy in its tracks. March for Climate. March for the Ocean. March for Human Rights. Call. Write. Petition your congressional and local representatives every day in a constant stream of vocal opposition and resistance to their participation, overtly or by silent acquiescence, in this sudden, unacceptable, insidious taking of our future. Speak up. Stand tall. Participate directly in campaigns to run against the enablers. Above all vote, at every level of government, for candidates that will stop this foolishness, this denial not just of climate, but of history. It is irrational and motivated by what? Greed? Vested interest? Fear of change?

There was urgency before this Earth Day: the accelerated increase in the experiences associated with climate change. Those who deny are only denying the assignment of responsibility. They too are otherwise experiencing the provocative consequence of changing climate in the forms of extreme weather, coastal inundation, drought, fire and so much more – that affect every place on earth. Deny if you will, but you are not immune.

Forgive me for this telling, but Earth Day is not a day for accomplishment and complacency. Earth Day is a day for anger and for collective resolve not to let the good Earth be taken from us. We must protect and preserve Nature from selfishness and ignorance for the benefit of us all, as natural capital, equity, and justice sustainable over time. If we fail in this necessary global engagement, then we will all be bereft together, a sad world of climate refugees with no prospect.

We must hold fast. We must lean forward. We must act now.

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PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory and is author of “The Once and Future Ocean: Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society.” He is also the host of World Ocean Radio, a weekly podcast addressing ocean issues, upon which this blog is inspired.