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With our recent launch, we dropped the ball on a proper Earth Day post. But we don't feel too bad about it; technically we should live every day like it’s Earth Day.
It’s hard to imagine a time when people didn’t think about our planet. Serving as a catalyst for the modern environmental movement, Earth Day represents the first time the American government recognized the grassroots movement as more than just a discussion point. It transformed the public attitude and sparked the creation of critical environmental acts including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act — it even established the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Today, Earth Day itself marks an important time to reflect on the past year, and how the community came together to further our sustainability and ethical efforts. In this special edition, we’ll tackle how Earth Day originated, damage done in the past decade, and how our government, businesses, and local work addressed the world’s environmental issues.
“One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between [people] and nature shall not be broken.” —Leo Tolstoy
At a Glance
Let's start with the basics: the Earth is our only home and the only place in the known universe confirmed to host life like ours (or that we know of). Like a complex tech product, the Earth has many layers and many features.
It's atmospheric gases made up of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other gases. This blanket of gases absorbs heat, with the atmosphere preventing the Earth from reaching below 0 temperatures, being crusaded by meteorites, and blocking DNA damaging UV light from reaching us.
The ocean covers ⅔ of the planet and is responsible for 70% of the oxygen produced on the planet and regulating the temperatures on the planet to keep everything in balance. It is an essential source of food and jobs for a lot of people, and houses the greatest abundance of life on the planet.
And if you're not convinced, the Earth has some of the most beautiful flora and fauna, oceans, trees, clouds, rivers, mountains, valleys, and more. Earth and nature is healing as well: a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural setting, such as a forest or a nature park, were less likely to ruminate — a hallmark of depression and anxiety — and had lower activity in an area of the brain linked to depression than people who walked in an urban area.
There's a beauty about this planet that we don't really know how to put into words, and at the very least we hope that we've inspired you to look differently at breaths you take, the trees you see on your walks, or the water that you use to wash your fresh produce.
How Earth Day Got Started
This year, we celebrated the 51st Earth Day! As the largest secular observation day in the world, and it's a day to highlight environmental issues around the planet and show support for environmental protection.
Back in 1970, the year of the world's first Earth Day, Americans were consuming large amounts of leaded gas through automobiles. Industries belched out smoke with little regard to its consequences. TLDR: air pollution = prosperity. People were pretty unaware that air pollution can cause damage to one's health.
Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson helped pave the way for the first Earth Day in 1970, achieving political alignment from everyone across the aisle. Environmental leaders brought this phenomenon worldwide in 1990, sparking global recycling efforts in over 141 countries. Read more online about the fascinating history of Earth Day.
Our Relationship with the Earth
If you've read some of our articles, you'll know that just the production of one good can have massive environmental impact: how jean production causes water pollution in Xintang, China; cocoa bean harvesting causes deforestation in the Ivory Coast, or how many shampoo bottles are sent to the dumps every year. And for the last one, you might breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that you choose to recycle. But unfortunately, most of what we intend to recycle ends up in the trash anyways.
Over the past decade, here are some ways the world we live in has changed:
As humans have piled more cars on roads and burned more coal and natural gas for electricity, the amount of carbon dioxide has increased to 410 parts per million (ppm) from 325 in 1970. Because carbon dioxide can hang around in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, that stuff is here to stay for the rest of your lifetime, your kids' lifetime, and probably your kids' kids lifetimes.
Americans generate an average of 4.5 pounds of waste per day, compared to 3.25 pounds in 1970. Plastic waste makes a bigger percentage of what gets thrown out and that explains the explosion of plastic waste in landfills: 320 million tons today compared to 50 million tons in 1970.
Natural disasters such as fires and floods are more frequent and severe. Starting in the 2010s, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy pummeled the Northeast, Maria changed Puerto Rico, Florence wrecked North Carolina, and Harvey destroyed Houston. There's been record flooding in the midwest and destructive fires in the golden coast (don't forget the destruction in Australia).
Extinction is forever: the world lost 160 species, including the capricorn rabbit-rat, Guam reed-warbler, and the Santa Cruz pupfish, with around one million animal and plant species still threatened with extinction. Check out the full list here.
8 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean every year, so in a decade that's 80 million metric tons (note that this is an underestimate considering the rate of consumption increases every year). By 2050, experts estimate there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
The 40 “reference” glaciers lost about 4 ft. of water in 2018, with this rate only increasing every year, with many glaciologists concerned that they might disappear altogether.
More intense heat waves are occurring, with temperatures planned to rise by 5 degrees F by 2050, adding 20-30 more days of over 90 degrees F.
Over 8 million people die from the harmful impacts of air pollution every year.
The Long Run Impact
But what do all of these human effects mean for the Earth in the future? Let’s break it down into different resources we depend on and value.
With the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the overall temperature of the Earth begins to rise. The additional trapped heat disrupts all of the Earth’s ecosystems, leading to more habitat changes for wildlife and dramatically decreasing biodiversity.
There will also be extreme agricultural cycles for farmers, reducing crop variety and nutritional value. More heat stress will also increase the mosquito and tick populations, leading to a spike of diseases transmitted by insects and rodents.
The air will also become more difficult for us to breathe. More allergens, ground-level ozone, and harmful air pollutants are added into the air, decreasing air quality that lead to lung illnesses, genetic respiratory disease, and acute allergic reactions.
This isn’t specific to any region, but socioeconomically disadvantaged countries will feel a brunt of these effects as air pollution is not restricted to any one location.
Changes to water resources will also affect most people’s day-to-day lives. In some areas of the world, drought will be the major concern. With less snow accumulation, regions reliant on glaciers and mountaintops will obtain less water overall. For others, the temperature may cause less precipitation to occur or evaporation to happen quickly.
In many other regions, flooding and heavy downpour will be the trouble. The frequency of rainfall will dramatically increase, which would lead to more common injuries, water contamination and loss of basic community infrastructure.
We know that sea levels will rise due to thermal expansion, with the likelihood of displacement higher than ever before for cities along the coast and low-lying regions.
All of these problems will contribute to our need for increased energy supply to help combat against these changes, which will only lead to a cycle of more detrimental climate change. More electricity will be used for air conditioning and heating.
Infrastructure changes to the increased energy demand will be difficult to achieve at the current rate, not to mention the dependency on cooling water to help generate energy in power plants. All of the climate shifts to the environment, water levels and air quality will also affect the energy supply chain, disrupting the current implementation, making it harder for you to use electricity.
The World Today
With President Biden’s most recent climate summit and entrance back into the Paris Agreement, the world governments have set new milestones for what they want to achieve in the upcoming decades, with the U.S. committing to reducing its emissions by 50% in 2030.Other countries are enacting additional policies to protect the planet, with 127 already committed toward banning plastics and the EU committed to banning pesticides harmful to bees.
Groups like Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Catalyst are also committed to working with companies and businesses to support future environmental innovations. Many recent VC firms and startups are heavily focused on “Clean Tech,” with hundreds committed to tackling different parts of the problem, including transportation, energy, water, waste, etc. Future editions will dive deeper with specific tech companies.
These large commitments are difficult to accomplish, however, given the amount of infrastructure and supply chain overhaul required. Challenges to the decline in potential jobs, education required and massive coordination between communities are only a few of the concerns from environmental experts.
It’s hard to imagine that without a good plan in place, many of the policies required to meet these commitments can be overridden by other countries, large corporations, or political parties. Not too different from the other issues that arise when looking at the supply chain of common goods.
What the Future Holds
It's been really exciting to see the rise in people and companies raising awareness about the issues impacting the climate. We have a long way to go, but with the right policies and continued awareness we can make lots of progress to ensure that generations to come can enjoy the planet and what it has to offer like we've been able to now.
Now we may never be able to undo the damage, but we can mitigate it and slow it down. Some notable events and progress to celebrate:
Google recently released a new feature, Timelapse, that compiles 24M photos between 1984-2020 to show how human activity has changed the planet.
In 2020, Andrew Boyd and Gan Golan, assisted by others, redid “Metronome,” a public art project. Instead of measuring the time of day, it measures the time remaining to reduce emissions and prevent some effects of global warming from becoming irreversible (~7 years is the verdict)
Consumption habits are changing: The majority of GenZ (54 percent) state that they are willing to spend an incremental 10 percent or more on sustainable products, with 50 percent of Millennials saying the same.
Sustainable product sales are projected to increase from $107B in 2014 to $150B this year.
What You Can Do
Here are a motley of things you can do to help reduce your footprint. Small changes make a big difference over time!
💡 Turn your electrical items off completely when not in use — this saves energy and money!
💸 Invest in eco friendly technology or renewables such as:
LED lights/lamps which are efficient, last longer, and cost less (in the long run).
A good quality reusable water bottle.
🥩 Eat less meat — even going meatless one day a week makes a huge difference in reducing your carbon footprint
🍔 Avoid wasting food — not only does it waste food and money, food accumulating in landfills releases methane, a gas that is 30x more harmful that carbon dioxide
🗑️ Try to reduce your plastic consumption by using reusable straws or ziploc bags. There's also many consumer brands who opt in for sustainable/minimal packaging.
🚲 Consider using public transport, carpooling, riding a bike, or walking when you have the option to
🧴 Products that use harmful chemicals (hygiene, beauty, or cleaning products) have negative environmental impacts when created and disposed of — try opting for more nontoxic alternatives.
📝 Get involved in local activism! Check out local environmental groups to see how you can participate.
💰 Donate to nonprofits or invest in companies making changes in clean tech.