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Not the usual Earth Day, but message remains just as clear

Normally, April would bring with it a host of Earth Day-related activities, the likes of community cleanups and tree-planting events. This is not a normal April, so all such things are on hold.

Earth Day is still set for next Wednesday (April 22) of course, but those marking it will have to improvise somewhat. Earth Day organizers have a host of suggestions for doing so while adhering to social-distancing norms, from gardening to curling up with a good book. There are many ways in which you can mark the day, though the spirit of the event is meant to raise our environmental consciousness all year round.

Given that many of us have more time on our hands – not voluntarily in most cases – and considerably more time for home-based activities, this year is an ideal time to be more contemplative of Earth Day matters. And despite the cancellation of many of the usual outlets for marking the day, the underlying issues are still very much with us, if overshadowed by the COVID-19 crisis just now.

There is some irony in the fact that the shutdown of much of the global economy is proving a boon, however temporary, for the planet’s ecosystem. Much of what ails the biosphere is due to human activity, such that human inactivity pays dividends.

In particular, we’re seeing something of a timeout where the factors contributing to climate change are concerned.

The disregard for the consequences of the changes – consciously ignored in order to focus on unsustainable consumption – is problematic whether or not you believe what man does is having any impact on the climate. Extreme weather, flooding, landslides and forest fires will wreak havoc nonetheless. The same principle applies to all forms of pollution, loss of fresh water, habitat destruction, degradation of arable land and a host of other someday-catastrophic ills that we’d rather not dwell on just now.

The fact is, however, that we’d be well advised to take steps to combat climate change, and ramp up the precautionary measures in those places likely to be hardest hit – rising water levels, droughts and violent weather seem like certitudes, so some planning would be in order.

Does going on and on about climate change help or hinder the cause?

I think people have tuned out. Our attention spans being what they are, we’ve moved on. Oh, we occasionally take passing note of some conference or summit, where politicians make nice speeches about the fate of our planet and what needs to be done. As with many other issues, we suppose that all the talk leads to action, assuming the inevitable decline in news coverage means the problem has gone away.

And, as is always the case, short-term thinking will dominate. Politicians worried about re-election won’t do anything that seems expensive or puts national interests at an apparent disadvantage.

Nations will look after their own interests first. China and India – the two largest polluters going forward – will claim their status as developing economies exempt them from any controls, even as China brings on stream dozens of new coal-burning plants. Every country will want to protect their industries, no matter how energy intensive or polluting.

Canada is no different. The government is beholden to large resource companies, increasingly foreign-owned. The average Canadian, while a low priority individually, still warrants some consideration as part of the voting mass. And Canadians have grown tired of the debate, and will not support one dime travelling out of the country on some ill-fated cap-and-trade, carbon offsets or environmental reparations scheme cooked up by an unaccountable international group.

The need for each of us to tread more lightly on the earth is the real take-away message this month, regardless of the coronavirus.

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