Welcome to Earth Month – a time to get people thinking about this beautiful planet, in the run-up to Earth Day. This year, the run-up is starting only a few days after Earth Hour, so people who downplay, or would rather ignore sustainability issues, might be finding all of this “Earth” stuff a bit much. But in my view, both events are valuable, and they’re aimed at different sides of an important coin. Earth Hour is a symbolic event that draws attention to our huge and growing appetite for energy. Earth Day and the weeks preceding it are rooted in the realities of spring (at least in this part of the world) and are mostly about fostering appreciation and celebrating renewal.
For almost a decade, the RSM has been running special family activities for Earth Day, which always falls on April 22. We have also marked it by planting trees on the Museum grounds, commemorating staff and colleagues who loved nature and worked to help others appreciate it. So far, we have trees dedicated to Bob Kreba, Stan Rowe, Fred Lahrman, Don Pingert, Les Goforth, and Ferne Johnston.
When I think back about these Earth Day events, I remember light, fun times and moments of mature reflection, and I think both types of experience are important. Everyone is likely to learn more and develop a deeper appreciation for the world, if they’re having fun. But at the same time, the state of the world has not improved much since the first Earth Day in 1970. In fact, many social, economic, and environmental problems have gotten worse.
For example, a 2014 report from Oxfam (http://www.oxfam.org/en/policy/working-for-the-few-economic-inequality) notes that the 85 richest people now have as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. That’s 85 people versus 3.5 billion! The RSM has been drawing attention to disparity problems for years with the “All For Some” display in The Human Factor exhibit, but this is still a shocking statistic, and the ramifications are sobering. In a recent webinar organized by the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series and CSRwire, Mark Anielski described how the global gap between rich and poor has been growing steadily since the 1960s. He also noted that once wealth is so concentrated, no civilization has ever found a way to redistribute it in an equitable and non-violent manner.
What does this mean for Earth Day? To me, it means that we need opportunities to celebrate and reflect more than ever. We need to be thinking and talking about where things are going and where we’d like them to go. We need to be creating positive and lasting memories, not just at the personal level, but as larger groups and communities. One way to do this is through carefully crafted events for kids, but we also need events that are aimed specifically at adults, since we’re the ones who make decisions with our dollars and our ballots.