Observed on April 22 every year since 1970, the idea of Earth Day was first conceived by its founder Gaylord Nelson, then a US Senator from Wisconsin, after he witnessed the devastating oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media, to be observed on April 22, 1970.
Twenty million Americans came out on the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies.
Forty eight years later, in 2018, Earth Day is a global event with participations from at least 194 countries, and Earth Day Network (EDN), the organization that leads Earth Day worldwide, emerged as the “world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 50,000 partners...to build environmental democracy.”
Earth Day 2018 will focus on creating movements to ‘End Plastic Pollution’, “including creating support for a global effort to eliminate single use plastics along with uniform regulation for the disposal of plastics”. Weekend Tribune reached out over email to Kathleen Rogers, the current president of EDN to know more about this year’s campaign, the future of movements for climate justice, awareness about climate change and other relevant topics.
Is reusing plastic items enough for mitigating plastic pollution?
Reusing plastic is an important step in reducing the global plastic pollution footprint, but it is far from enough to solve the entire problem. Unless the reuse of the item in question is indefinite, the item will eventually need to be disposed of and replaced. In addition to reusing what plastic we do consume, we must also focus on finding alternatives to plastic to allow us to stop consuming certain plastic items altogether.
Is the reproduction of PET plastic (the kind of plastic widely used for making bottles) considered recycling? If so, why aren't companies recycling used items to produce new plastic? In general, what's preventing producers from reusing plastic items?
PET bottles can be recycled. The issue is that the process of recycling PET into a form of plastic that can be reused as another food grade container is complicated. Because of this, a high amount of recycled PET plastic is recycled as plastic fibers and other materials where structural integrity is less important, thus requiring the production of new plastic bottles from virgin materials. Plastic bottles can also be reused, turning them into other useful products after they are no longer needed as bottles. Some examples of this include sun water purifiers and building bricks.
Technological improvements to replace more plastic products and to more sustainably dispose of what plastic we must use is another important part of the equation
Can you give us an ideal picture of plastic consumption where environmental pollution will be minimal? In other words what will replace plastic use, and what other tools can be employed to mitigate pollution?
There are many items that can easily replace plastic products. Plastic has only been around for the last 100 years or so, and widespread use has been around for even less time. People got by without plastic then, so with all the new technology it should be possible for us to do so as well. There are many non-plastic alternatives to commonly used plastic products such as straws, bags, food wrapping/packaging, etc. In addition to this, more needs to be done to remove plastic that is already in the environment. Technological improvements to replace more plastic products and to more sustainably dispose of what plastic we must use is another important part of the equation.
What kind of increase in awareness have you seen about environment, particularly about climate change over the past five or 10 years?
The environmental movement has changed a lot in the last ten years. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in 2014 and successfully pushed for a stronger international treaty on climate change. Even despite the lack of support for environmental policy from the current administration, the environmental movement in America is only getting stronger and states and cities have pledged to uphold their parts of the Paris Climate Accord.
International governments that were once largely uncommitted to tackling climate change issues have stepped up their efforts for sustainability. While this is all very exciting, it is important to know that the time is running out. Serious and drastic changes need to be made on a global scale if we are going to avoid the worst possible outcomes of climate change. Momentum is building and that is encouraging, but much, much more needs to be done.
You have a strong presence in India. Tell us a little bit about that.
Earth Day India has an office in Kolkata where we oversee all of our operations in India. We have many ongoing programs in India including our ‘Trees for the Earth Campaign’ which has planted 667 million trees in India to date. We have coordinated with faith leaders from across India to encourage them to endorse our End Plastic Pollution campaign and to create plastic free zones in religious and academic sites. We are helping to organize Earth Day 2018 events around the country. More information can be found on our Earth Day India webpage.
Showing the people being displaced and facing hardship in Bangladesh due to climate change will show the world that this issue is already impacting real people’s lives
Bangladesh is within the immediate impact zones of sea level rise. What can a country like Bangladesh do to fight climate change, especially when it is not responsible for emission?
The most important thing you can do is to share your stories. Some of the issues behind recruiting more people to the environmental movement is that environmental problems, especially climate change, have impacts that are less tangible than other issues like poverty and malnutrition. Showing the people being displaced and facing hardship in Bangladesh due to climate change will show the world that this issue is already impacting real people’s lives.
In a country like Bangladesh, how can you make people care about climate change, given that most of the population is burdened with problems more apparent to them, like poverty and basic rights?
The issue of climate change is one that spills over into many other issues, exacerbating existing problems. Climate change disproportionately impacts marginalized individuals. Those suffering from poverty will bare the brunt of the worst impacts of climate change from forced migration to drought and extreme weather events. Working towards a fair and just solution to climate change rises all boats and improves the lives of everyone.
What kind of reach and influence does EDN have on changing policy internationally?
Earth Day Network is primarily a movement building organization. While we generally do not directly lobby governments to make policy changes, we do build public support for various policy ideas and proposals around the world. Policy is only enacted if it has the support of the people behind it, and that is what EDN works to promote.
How can people and organisations from Bangladesh get involved with EDN?
They can check out our website where they can join our mailing list, inquire about potential partnerships, and find a wealth of information on environmental issues, solutions, and the various campaigns and programs EDN has underway.