Today over one billion people around the world will take part in Earth Day celebrations. This year’s theme, Earth Day 2018: End Plastic Pollution, aims to eliminate single use plastics, promote alternatives to fossil fuel-based materials, promote 100% recycling of plastics, and change human behavior regarding our reliance upon plastics.
What we know about the health of our planet continues to evolve and there is positive and not so positive news to report:
1. The plastic problem is even worse than we thought. By 2050, there will more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight given that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastics make it into the oceans each year.
2. We lost the last male Northern white Rhino. Sudan’s passing earlier this year reminded us how many species have been lost forever and the importance of taking action to protect the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems.
3. A few species are recovering and new ones have been discovered. Global Wildlife Conservation reports some species previously classified as “critically endangered” have been reclassified as “least concern” in light of conservation successes and the California Academy of Sciences added 85 new species of plants and animals in 2017.
4. Ice is melting faster than we realized. The Earth is warming and the polar regions are warming twice as fast as the average rate of the planet—the Arctic lost ice faster in 2017 than in the past 1,500 years. Glaciers in Denali National Park melted 60 times faster than 150 years ago.
5. Seagrass is regrowing in the Chesapeake Bay. For years, the largest estuary in the U.S. was also the most polluted due in large part to agricultural runoff including nitrogen and phosphorus. The National Academy of Sciences reported last month that regulations are working and the most striking evidence is the regrowth of seagrass beds now covering more than 42,000 acres, the highest cover in the bay in almost 50 years.
6. We are woefully unprepared for disasters. Puerto Rico continues to remind us how vulnerable we are to extreme weather and climate change appears to intensify natural disasters. The U.S. experienced brutal natural disasters in 2017 including hurricanes, wildfires and flooding costing at least $306 billion in damages. Researchers believe that torrential rain, massive storms and expansive infernos will get worse as average temperatures continue to rise.
7. We may be closer to finding another Earth. As far as we know, Earth is the only planet with life in the universe and we need to safeguard and protect all of its natural resources. Since the launch of the Kepler Space Telescope in 2009, scientists have found more than 3,500 planets outside of our solar system. Researchers reported in 2017 that they found seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a dwarf star called Trappist-1, the largest batch of planets in the habitable zone of a star ever discovered and some may have water, a critical ingredient for life.
Since the first Earth Day was celebrated almost 50 years ago, there has been progress in protecting our environment and natural resources. Many challenges remain to protect the environment locally, nationally and globally. What will you do to celebrate Earth Day 2018?
(As reported by Umair Irfan and Eliza Barclay in 7 things we’ve learned about Earth since the last Earth Day via www.vox.com)