Tim Louis: Earth Day is no time for complacency

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      Earth Day is celebrated yearly on April 22 as a demonstration of support for the environment. First observed in 1970, primarily in the United States, the 50th anniversary celebration in 2020 mobilized over 100 million people around the world.

      On the face of it, there have been many significant environmentally progressive accomplishments since the first Earth Day was observed.

      A number of these very positive steps were discussed on CBC’s Early Edition by moderator Stephen Quinn with his climate change panel: family physician and president-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment Dr. Melissa Lem and UBC political science professor Kathryn Harrison.

      Unfortunately, in spite of the environmental accomplishments achieved over the last 52 years, not nearly enough has been done to prevent a complete collapse of the planet’s ecosystems, and with it the near-extinction of humankind.

      The climate crisis is just one of three existential threats facing humanity. The other two are species extinction and the acidification of our oceans.

      The climate crisis is getting worse by the day—not better.

      The 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate held out the expectation that the industrialized world should limit and then reduce carbon emissions, such that Earth’s climate would not increase in average temperature by more than 1.5° C above pre-industrial times.

      The world scientific community now believes that it is inevitable that we will surpass this very dangerous threshold.

      As a worse-case scenario, the Paris Agreement committed its signatories to a global warming of no more than 2° C, for fear that surpassing this limit would set in motion very powerful, irreversible negative feedback loops—including but not limited to the thawing of permafrost in the Arctic and releasing methane in such massive quantities that it would be game over.

      It is now feared that we are on the trajectory to exceed even 2° C.

      The planet’s species diversity is collapsing. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) estimates that more than 40,000 species are now threatened with extinction.

      Many of the species now at risk are necessary for the continued existence of humans on the planet. The climate crisis impact on insects is often overlooked. One such example is the threat to bees, whose pollination activities are critical to maintaining the planet’s food production.

      The above threats facing our world are so grave that another—the acidification of our oceans—is not getting the attention it desperately needs. Acidic water can dissolve shells and make it harder for new shells to form. Acidification is helping to destroy coral reefs. Oysters, mussels, urchins, starfish, and many other species of fish are under increasing threat.

      Most of us are unaware of the fact that most marine life will perish if/when the oceans become too acidic.

      Earth Day, April 22, can and should be a day to celebrate what has been achieved so far. But we must not let these achievements lull us into a false state of complacency. The situation we currently face is extremely dire.

      In the industrialized world—with the exception of those already living below the poverty level—individuals must immediately:

      • drastically reduce consumption;
      • move away from a meat-centered diet to a plant-centered diet;
      • reduce the purchase of new clothing to, at most, three pieces per year;
      • cease using vehicles powered by internal combustion;
      • and cease all use of air transportation,

      Only if we all work together will it be possible to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

      Daily atmospheric CO2 [Courtesy of CO2.Earth]

      Latest daily total (April 21, 2022): 420.47ppm

      One year ago (April 20, 2021): 417.12 pm

      Tim Louis is a Vancouver lawyer and former city councillor and park commissioner. This article first appeared on his blogThe Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.