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    Is Earth Day Off Its Axis?

    Earth Day is celebrated each year on April 22nd.

    According to the Earth Day Network, it is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world, with a mission to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide. But while it is celebrated around the world by an estimated 1 billion people in 192 countries, would the founder of Earth Day be happy at the current state of this worldwide day of recognition?

    The goal of Earth Day 2018 is to mobilize the world to “End Plastic Pollution.” The National Geographic Society estimates there are over 5 TRILLION pieces of plastic floating around our oceans. That’s 10 times more than all the stars in our galaxy. In addition to the plastic toys, chairs, and other objects we purchase, an average American consumes over his or her lifetime an estimated 44,300 plastic, glass, and aluminum cans and bottles of water, soda, juices, milk and various other beverages.

    Many of these containers don’t make it into landfills and end up on our roads and in our rivers. Obviously, plastic pollution is an enormous problem for our environment, but does this specific focus ignore one of the overarching principles Earth Day’s founder was trying to emphasize by establishing this annual day of recognition?

    The founder of Earth Day, the late U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), was one of the great environmental heroes of America. Nelson brought the environment to the forefront of Washington politics in the 1960’s, which signified the beginning of an era of bold federal legislation, including the Environmental Protection Act, and the growth of the modern environmental movement. As part of his campaign to create a national environmental agenda, he made the case for the inextricable link between the global population and the health and wellness of our planet. Nelson understood that no matter how much we may try to lessen the impact we have on nature, through recycling, conservation or lowering our consumption of resources, each one of us alters the environment in which we live.

    On the first “Earth Day” in 1970, Nelson declared:

    “No matter what your commitment of resources to resolving this problem [of pollution], if the population continues to grow at the current accelerating rate, so that we reach 300 million People in this country 30 years from now and six and one-half to seven billion people on the earth 30 years from now, you can write finé to the environment. The United States is over populated now by any environmental standard of measurement. If we cannot look to what we have done in the last 30 years to the watersheds of this country and to the air, if you look at that and realize that we could not inhabit, preserve the integrity of the environment with 200 million people, what will it be like with 300 million?”

    The current population of the United States of America is 326,235,787 as of Monday, April 9, 2018, based on the latest United Nations estimates, and we can now see what Nelson meant as we experience a seemingly endless onslaught of pressing environmental challenges in the greater-Philadelphia region, including: dangerous air pollution brought on by gridlock traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway and smog-spewing refineries; trash-strewn streets of local neighborhoods like Point Breeze; and blood vials, shotgun shells, diapers, and other debris washed up on New Jersey beaches.

    In a March 2000 speech, Nelson warned, “Will there be any wilderness left?” Nelson asked rhetorically. “Any quiet place? Any habitat for songbirds? Waterfalls? Other wild creatures? Not much.”

    Will we ultimately fail in addressing what Gaylord Nelson believed was the real crux of the matter? Or, will the Green movement that now celebrates Earth Day heed his wisdom and foresight and reignite an honest and forthright dialogue on the fundamental cause of all of our environmental crises? Overpopulation.

    Philadelphia native Terry Spahr’s first feature film, 8 Billion Angels, addresses the topic of overpopulation as the primary driver of all of our environmental crises. 

    Terry Spahr

    About Terry Spahr

    Philadelphia native Terry Spahr is an ecologist, lecturer and documentary filmmaker. His first feature film, 8 Billion Angels, addresses the topic of overpopulation as the primary driver of all of our environmental crises.

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