Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Earth Day’s Evolution

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday,  April 19 / 09

Zack Gross

Earth Day, formally incorporated in Canada as a registered charity in 1990, will be celebrated this coming Wednesday, April 22nd. 

To some extent, the environmental issues that challenge our world have changed with time, but the need to confront those issues has become more urgent. 

Particularly as a way of encouraging young people’s participation in the life of our planet, Earth Day is an important educational tool and popular movement.

In Earth Day’s early days, the focus was on understanding the earth’s fragility and cleaning up garbage in communities.  In Brandon, students and the wider community got together for day-long events that included learning, the arts, fun and local action.  Even in the smallest communities of our province, unheralded action took place.  Our tiny hamlet of Beresford, between Brandon and Souris, used the day to clean up all the refuse that accumulated over the winter and then revealed itself when the snow disappeared.

Today, our youth are more sophisticated and are seen by teachers as change agents who can take environmental concerns back to their families, their places of worship and their clubs. 

Jed Goldberg, president of Earth Day Canada, says that the celebratory nature of April 22nd has been replaced with a day of practical actions to minimize human impact on nature. 

Even corporations, once and still at times seen as environmental bad-guys, have gotten on board.  Suncor Energy Foundation sponsors tree-planting events around Earth Day. Toyota has established regional Earth Day scholarships for Canadian Grade 12 students who have been leaders in community action on the environment.  University groups use Earth Day to push for government and corporate policy change.

Earth Day Canada recently launched a new campaign, “Save Trees Not Paper”, designed to help Canadians go paperless by using new software technology in their computers.  It was once thought that computers would cut down on the amount of paper used in our world, but the opposite is what has happened!  Says Goldberg: “The impact of the massive amounts of paper consumed in our day to day lives is staggering”.

Software made available at a discount by Earth Day Canada and Org-Matters Solutions Inc. will “highlight the impact that some minor behaviour changes by consumers can create in the environment”.  As examples, and appropriate for this time of year, if every North American tax payer saved their income tax return as a PDF and e-filed with the government, we would avoid using five billion sheets of paper!

As other examples raised by Earth Day, if every e-bay shopper saved their purchase receipt electronically instead of printing it, we would save one billions sheets of paper.  Finally, if every North American home paid their bills and dealt with their financial institutions electronically, the saving would be 275 billion pieces of paper. 

Of course, these figures can overwhelm the average consumer or citizen wanting to make a difference.  In simple terms, Earth Day Canada suggests a small number of everyday actions that individuals and families can take.  These include:
•    Frequenting garage sales and buying second hand
•    Undertaking small retrofits to your home – compact fluorescent bulbs for the regular, incandescent light bulbs, aerators on faucets and shower heads, weather stripping on windows and doors
•    Walking, car pooling, public transportation, cycling
•    Choosing organic and local foods, less meat
•    Reducing home heating in the winter, using ceiling fans
•    Considering the environment when making vacation plans and employment decisions (less commuting)
•    Taking short showers instead of baths and closing water taps when brushing your teeth
•    Recycling and composting

While Earth Day is a celebratory time, there is no question that our country and its citizens continue to damage the planet’s ecosystem. 

Canada’s policy on the Kyoto Accord has shifted in recent years, so that we are criticized rather than congratulated at international meetings for our environmental stance.  Recent supportive pronouncements by our Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition on our heavy oil projects in northern Alberta, had one humourous critic predict that Earth Day would soon be renamed Tar Sands Day.

As well, in this “funny” article disseminated by as an April Fool’s Day teaser, the melting of the polar ice cap was celebrated as the next step in establishing an ice-free Northwest Passage, and a new marketing opportunity for bottled water exports to drought-ridden countries.  Cynical and outlandish as these may seem, how far are they, really, from the truth?

As we mark Earth Day this coming Wednesday, Manitobans should celebrate the initiatives we’ve taken but be vigilant that there is yet much to be done.  Major challenges in climate change face us and the world in general. 

We need to take individual action in our own lives, but also champion the environment in the public sphere, as educators and active citizens.

Zack Gross coordinates a provincial fair trade outreach program for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of 38 international development organizations.
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