Earth Day turns 50 today and not only did the first march result in a wave of coast-to-coast demonstrations but in 1970 it shifted the global conversation, leading to landmark legislation like the Clean Air Act and helped shape the modern global environmental movement.
Since then, air and water pollution have plummeted in the United States. The bald eagle is no longer endangered, and environmental laws steered by America have set a model for nations around the world.
Unfortunately, other threats have grown, including climate change, tropical deforestation, a massive loss of global biodiversity, new laws roll back carbon emissions, and now the COVID 19 global pandemic.
However, hope among conservationists is not lost. The Koalition spoke to National Geographic explorer and photographer Brian Skerry about the changes that the average person can do to make the next 50 years even better.
While this year’s Earth Day looks and feels a little different, we can still spend this time celebrating and learning at home in various ways.
“We are in uncharted waters. My expertise as a storyteller and explorer lies within creating stories about the ocean. A lot of my work is about looking at solutions. One of my solutions is about being an informed consumer. Now is a good time to learn about the things we consume and the things we eat. Some of us live very busy lives and we don’t have the spare time to learn about sustainable sources.”
“One of the greatest things we can do in the spirit of Earth Day is to change some of our habits about what we consume: what we eat and what we buy. Now that we’re inside, we have a little bit more time. You can search the web and go to websites like National Geographic to learn more about what you can do as a consumer.”
“Eliminating plastics in your life; particularly single-use plastic which is a huge problem in the ocean. How you can reduce your carbon footprint which is also devastating to the ocean and climate in general. What you choose to eat is very important. You might realize some of the foods you’ve been consuming aren’t sustainable and there are other things to eat or reduce the amount of meat we eat so our carbon footprint is smaller. Those might be some things we can do to give back to the planet.”
“One of the best things we can do to help the planet is to be more informed consumers and more informed citizens.” We can emerge on the other side realizing that we are connected to everything on this planet. We are not above nature or apart from it. We can be a little wiser on the other side.”
On April 22nd, National Geographic celebrates the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with the premiere of the television event, Born Wild: The Next Generation, a revealing journey to fascinating, breathtaking environments that witness the splendor of charismatic baby animals, their families, and habitats, all of which face daunting environmental changes.
Since 1998, Skerry is a contributing photographer for National Geographic magazine. In 2014, he was named a National Geographic Society Fellow, and in 2017 he was named the Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year.
For National Geographic magazine, Skerry has covered a range of stories. From the harp seal’s struggle to survive in frozen waters to the alarming decrease in the world’s fisheries to dolphin intelligence, all of which were cover stories. A fourth cover story, in February 2017, focused on protecting special underwater ecosystems.
“In my world, I would love that day to be every day. Every time I go outside, I can’t help but marvel at the wonder around me, the pattern on a tree, or a leaf. I literally get excited about nature everywhere I go. There is value to drawing our attention to this planet.”
“Because it’s the 50th anniversary, it is a pivotal moment to examine where we’ve come in 50 years and what it would look like 50 years from now or 10 years from now even. We are at this juncture in time where we can go down two paths and the decisions that we make today are going to determine our future [and] with Born Wild, we’re examining the same thing.”
On March 31st, the Trump administration finalized its rollback of a major Obama-era climate policy, weakening auto emissions standards in a move it says will mean cheaper cars for consumers.
Sadly, this move will impact the oceans directly and in a devastating way. The auto-manufacturing industry has largely retooled to do things better, to be more carbon-efficient. To rollback those regulations now is a huge step backwards.”“The ocean is the greatest carbon sink on the planet. It takes in carbon and it gives us back oxygen, the ocean does it even more. Every other breath or more we take comes from the ocean, more than 60%, some say as high as 70% or 80% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean. The ocean is filled with coral reefs and plankton and they absorbs carbon which gives us back oxygen.”
“But right now the ocean is saturated. It is like a sponge that can take on no more water; and in this case, it can take on very little more carbon. So the chemistry of the ocean is changing, it is becoming acidic, it’s turning to acid, so anything that has calcium in it so coral reefs or seashells, krill, they are being eroded. The acid in the ocean now because of carbon is eroding and killing all of these things. So it will be a domino effect and you will see the death of so many species because the chemistry in the ocean is changing and that is a direct result of carbon in our atmosphere.”
“At a time when companies are actually going the other way to improve standards, if our government is rolling back standards to make cars that make billions and tons of more carbon to the atmosphere that is reckless, and it will ultimately affect all of us. Our lives are directly tied to that.”
“Earth Day is a time to celebrate the Earth and the planet but it’s also a time to look hard at these issues to say ‘what are we doing and what we can do better.'”
Born Wild: The Next Generation premieres on National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild on Wednesday, April 22nd at 8 p.m.
To learn more about Skerry’s conservation efforts, how to celebrate Earth Day every day, how COVID 19 affects the planet, and more, check out our full interview below.