The Europeans may be ahead of the US in terms of accommodating climate change as a BIG issue, but it was a US Senator who brought about an awareness day forty years ago – Earth Day. Whilst we are trying to save the world one recyclable, reusable bag and low-watt light bulb at a time, it is interesting to note how the different nations of the world think about climate change and how differently they are planning their future energy needs…
Earth Day was founded in April 22, 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson. According to the senator the idea for Earth Day started in 1962, after being tired of the environment being a non-issue in the political world. In 1962, he decided to persuade President John F Kennedy “to give visibility to this issue by going on a national conservation tour”. Earth Day took eight more years to become recognized. In the first one, 20 million Americans participated making it the single largest national demonstration in US history.
Publisher and peace activist John McConnell penned
an Earth Day proclamation. McConnell believed this day of balance was a harmonic convergence, a sacred day to cast aside cultural differences and work together to protect the planet’s precious resources. McConnell’s proclamation was signed into law by the United Nations in February 1971. Since then, the annual peal of the Peace Bell, a gift from the children of Japan, marks the moment Earth Day occurs all over the world.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the overarching threat of global climate change would supercede all other issues and mandates collective action at an international level. However, although Earth Day may be recognised and ‘celebrated’ in many countries of the world, our approaches to Climate Change couldn’t be greater. Whilst Europe mobilises its political might to make the world a greener place, the USA remains sceptical. The US, on the other hand, is pushing for emissions trading while the Europeans remain sceptical. The Nordic countries are pursuing nuclear power as their primary energy source of the future, while the Brits are very anti and are joining the Dutch in looking to wind turbines. Is it any wonder that emerging nations have no role model to follow?
Without doubt, the peoples of this earth continue to live in territorial states disparate in resources, wealth and power, still seeking mostly their own interests. It is in the context of this fractionalised and variegated setting that we need to realise that culture should be viewed as both a cause of climate change (e.g. consumerist culture) and as something that will be affected by climate change. Culture underlies the ways in which we understand climate change and the measures we are prepared and able to undertake to address the issue. Our world views (hierarchic, individualistic, egalitarian and fatalistic) all predicate our cultural belief systems around environmental issues and colours our defintions of what is natural, fair and right. Research has found that the distribution of power and influence between domestic institutions is the most central element for explaining why different countries chose different levels of pro-activeness in their climate change policies.
Watch the magnificent slide show that NASA has put together to celebrate the forty year anniversary of Earth Day
In a special edition of Discovery on the BBC World Service, a good friend of mine – Carina Fearnley – is joined with other of the world’s leading authorities on volcanoes to discuss the scientific impact of the eruption of Eyjafjallajoekull in Iceland. She also talks about the problems of assessing the dangers to the aviation industry. Listen to the BBC here.