Every year on April 22, the global community sets aside a day to celebrate the big blue sphere we call home. Amidst the all the festivities we are also asked to reflect on our impact on Earth, which grows increasingly harmful with each passing year. Since the first Earth Day 46 years ago in 1970, the global population has doubled and demand for food, energy, and natural resources has continued to take a devastating toll on the planet that we rely on to sustain us.
While the real takeaway on any Earth Day is the well-worn adage that 'every day is Earth Day' and that we should be proactively reducing our planetary footprint at all times, there are some unique features to Earth Day 2016. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are just coincidence.
First, the coincidence: Friday also happens to be the first day of the Jewish festival of Passover, an eight-day affair primarily commemorating the freedom of the Jews from slavery, but also the arrival of spring and the role of the agricultural cycle. Even in biblical times, nature was to be respected and honored. We all need reminders of the importance of the things we come to take for granted.
During the Passover Seder, Jews recite the Four Questions, which all start with "Why is this night different from all other nights?" These questions act as a reminder of the meaning behind the Passover rituals.
Secondly, big things related to the health of the planet are actually happening on Earth Day this year. At least 155 nations will gather in New York on Friday to sign the historic Paris Agreement on climate change reached last December—including the two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the United States and China. The Paris Agreement is the first time in history that all nations have reached an agreement to take action on climate change. While it's not a perfect treaty, it is a bold step in the right direction and the more people pushing for future action and making sure that promises are upheld, the more impact it will have in the long-run.
According to the U.N. press release, the event will represent the most signatories ever on the opening day signing of an international agreement.
Third, the planet is REALLY REALLY hurting this year. The combination of El Niño and climate change has created the perfect heat wave, and for the last 11 months the world has been baking like never before on record. Last year was by far the hottest ever recorded, and carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise unabated. While the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may not always appear to have palpable effects, fear not—or actually fear a lot—they are there. For example, right now the Great Barrier Reef is bleaching in such an extensive fashion that scientists are freaking out and tearing up with emotion.
As climate change continues to worsen, extreme weather in every manifestation will make each subsequent Earth Day seem even more dire, with the call to action even more urgent. Every effort to mitigate emissions now and adapt to anticipated changes will make future adjustments that much less painful.
As Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said in a statement, "this Earth Day can go down in history as the day we declared our independence from fossil fuels."
Judging by the number of press releases I've gotten regarding Earth Day action and awareness, the atmosphere for change is as charged as ever. According to Earth Day Network, every year more than one billion people participate in Earth Day—making it the largest single-minded observance in the world. One day we might wake up and realize this is not the beautiful planet that we wanted. Earth Day is an annual reminder to take heed of all the warning signs around us and, more importantly, to take action.