Earth Day

With the theme of “Restore Our Earth™“, Earth Day 2021 aspires to rally the people of the world to “prevent the coming disasters of climate change and environmental destruction.” However, given the events of recent history and current events, it might be prudent to reword that ambition statement to “adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change and environmental destruction.” We are no longer in the realm of preventing; the impacts of climate change and environmental destruction are visible and tangible both globally and locally.

In the United States (U.S.) alone, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information, “The U.S. has sustained 291 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including CPI[1] adjustment to 2021). The total cost of these 291 events exceeds $1.900 trillion.”[2] The NOAA highlights 2021, stating “In 2021 (as of April 8), there has been 1 weather/climate disaster event with losses exceeding $1 billion to affect the United States. This was 1 winter storm event. This event resulted in the deaths of 138 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted. The 1980–2020 annual average is 7.1 events (CPI-adjusted); the annual average for the most recent 5 years (2016–2020) is 16.2 events (CPI-adjusted).”[3] Folks in Texas know firsthand what this winter storm did.

[1] CPI – Consumer Price Index

[2] NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2021). https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/, DOI: 10.25921/stkw-7w73 <Accessed April 14, 2021>

[3] Ibid.

Figure 1: U.S. 2020 Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters [Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2021). https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/, DOI: 10.25921/stkw-7w73]

On a global scale, the UN News reports that “The first 20 years of this century have seen a ‘staggering’ rise in climate disasters, UN researchers said on Monday, while also maintaining that ‘almost all nations’ have failed to prevent a ‘wave of death and illness’ caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”[1]  In a 2020 report, the UN documented that:

  • There were 7,348 recorded disaster events worldwide, during the last two decades
  • Approximately 1.23 million people died – approximately 60,000 per year – with more than four billion affected in total; many more than once
  • These two decades of disaster also caused $2.97 trillion in losses to the global economy

Beyond the obvious damage to infrastructure and human life, the links between climate change, environmental destruction, and human health have become pellucid and incontrovertible. The COVID-19 pandemic was most likely the result of, and exacerbated by, risks driven by factors such as: “poverty, climate change, air pollution, population growth in dangerous locations, uncontrolled urbanization and the loss of biodiversity.”[2] Add to these drivers our insatiable appetite for animal protein that created concentrated animal feeding operations and propelled global trade in exotic wild animals for consumption, which astronomically increase the opportunities for zoonotic disease transmission (from animal to human), and it should be easy to recognize that the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was merely our chickens coming home to roost (pun intended). COVID-19 will certainly not be the last zoonotic disease and may not be the worst to affect us.

How do we “restore our Earth” at this stage? When it seems that Mother Nature herself is acting against humans in defense of all other life forms and of the very ecosystems and ecosystem services that sustain human life on Earth, what do we do to get back in her good graces? Despite the doom and gloom purveyors, convinced that humankind is destined to self-extinction, we will most likely not go extinct; however, there will be a sharply defined line between a very small percentage that have a good quality of life and the majority who will be eking out an existence with tremendous challenges to find habitable locations, shelter, fresh water, clean air, and sufficient food. Think of every post-apocalyptic scenario in movies or books that you know of and our future reality will likely be an amalgam of them all.

But is this future inevitable? Are we doing the right things to alter the current trajectory of our patterns of production and consumption? No and no. We can alter the future but not by doing the things we currently do and have been doing for decades, because they simply have not worked. We have talked about sustainability for over a century, with much greater emphasis since 1987 and the publication of the Brundtland Commission’s Report “Our Common Future”. Thirty-four years ago, Gro Harlem Brundtland wrote:

Scientists bring to our attention urgent but complex problems bearing on our very survival: a warming globe, threats to the Earth’s ozone layer, deserts consuming agricultural land. We respond by demanding more details, and by assigning the problems to institutions ill-equipped to cope with them. Environmental degradation, first seen as mainly a problem of the rich nations and a side effect of industrial wealth, has become a survival issue for developing nations…If we do not succeed in putting our message of urgency through to today’s parents and decision makers, we risk undermining our children’s fundamental right to a healthy, life-enhancing environment. Unless we are able to translate our words into a language that can reach the minds and hearts of people young and old, we shall not be able to undertake the extensive social changes needed to correct the course of development.

Written 34 years ago, it all sounds so very familiar as it essentially remains the same rhetoric that we hear today, and are likely to hear 34 years from now, with no appreciable improvement or change in how we use Earth’s natural systems.

Despite the multitude of Conferences of the Parties to all the Multilateral Environmental Agreements, Trade Agreements, Labor and Industrial Agreements, Economic Treaties, etc., we appear to be no closer to finding that unifying theory, that mutually-agreeable position that all humankind can adopt and implement for the sake of all humankind, not for selfish motives. Let’s face it; those who have achieved levels of comfort through technology and financial rewards will never give them up, and those who have not yet achieved those things all aspire and diligently work towards having them.  Therein lies the rub; we constantly strive to emulate the richest among us, which ironically engages us all in a race to the bottom.

At the heart of our dilemma lies the one thing that makes it virtually impossible to mount a comprehensive, coherent, defense against apocalyptic events – Human Nature. As human beings we appear to be incapable of working together for prolonged periods towards a common goal; our nature encourages competition, which invariably leads to collapse of any cooperative approaches. Tracing our development from the first Agricultural Revolution (Neolithic times) to now, we can see how societies and economies developed and evolved into what we know today. Going from hunter-gatherers to settled agriculture, leading to exploration for conquest and/or trade, with accompanying economic development and separation of the haves from the have-nots, with us desiring and becoming increasingly capable of altering Nature to suit ourselves, we seemed destined to be at the stage we now find ourselves. Some of us are happy with the Status Quo; some are not.

The truth is that to “restore our Earth” may require us returning to lifestyles more similar to 10,000 BCE than they are in 2021 CE. In those pre-industrial days we didn’t rely on resources that weren’t found locally; we didn’t change the vegetation or crops that could be grown in the geographical locations to which we were confined; we didn’t rely on fossil, non-renewable energy; we had no abundance of synthetic chemicals for fertilization, disinfection, etc.; and we ate a mostly plant-based diet. In today’s world, we are already accustomed to, dependent on, and desirous of all the advances of modern science, technology and industry. Absent some planetary catastrophe that consigns us all back to the stone age, there’s simply no putting that genie back into that bottle.

We must see beyond our own domains, where our self-interests predominate, out into the global space where others reside. Earth is not a homogenous habitat; some have plenty while others go without. Earth does not have the resources to have each of us live beyond its means, but we certainly can, and must, find a way to live within the planetary boundaries[3] without disenfranchising any of us. According to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (the Mahatma), “I suggest that we are thieves in a way. If I take anything that I do not need for my own immediate use and keep it I thieve it from somebody else. I venture to suggest that it is the fundamental law of Nature, without exception, that Nature produces enough for our wants from day to day, and if only everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world, there would be no more dying of starvation in this world. But so long as we have got this inequality, so long we are thieving.”[4]

How do we overcome our nature, our self-interest, our constant desire for more, in favor of seeking the welfare of every human being on Earth? We must hold the plight of the least among us as paramount to the greatest among us and seek to elevate all to some dignified state of living, with access to all basic human necessities. If we find the way to do this then perhaps we have a chance to “restore our Earth”.

[1] https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/10/1075142 (C) United Nations <Accessed April 14, 2021>

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_boundaries <Accessed April 14, 2021>

[4] https://www.mkgandhi.org/faq/q5.htm <Accessed April 14, 2021>

Figure 2: Planetary boundaries according to the paper by Rockström et al. published in Nature in 2009. The red areas represent the estimated current state with the inner green circle being the estimated boundaries. [by Felix Mueller] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_boundaries#/media/File:Planetary_Boundaries.png

Author:  David Ramjohn, CEO of AlgEternal Technologies
Source: The Fayette County Record
Date: April 23, 2021

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