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Earth Day: reconsidering environmental values

April 22 commemorated the 39th anniversary of Earth Day. Observed in 175 countries, Earth Day is the “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a half billion people every year” (Earthdaynetwork.com). Internationally recognized, Earth Day emphasizes the importance of environmentalism and sustainability. It also reminds us that these issues are a universal concern.

There is little dispute over the fact that the humans should protect the Earth. Within the Carleton community, we are well aware that our consumerist lifestyles damage the environment irreversibly. Already, we understand the consequences of global warming—one of many visible aspects of an increasingly industrial and fuel reliant society.

As of 2005, the Bureau of Transportation reports an estimated 247,421,120 registered vehicles in the United States alone. This is a sobering statistic given that this is only one factor in the myriad of troubling unsustainable habits. This is to say that we can solve the problems plaguing the environment by reducing the number of cars in the U.S.—it does however reflect this nation’s overwhelming dependence on limited resources such as oil.

Limited resources extend beyond the realm of the environmental and into the social and political spheres. Sustainability becomes an issue of socioeconomic status.

As it stands, sustainability often comes at a price. Organic food for example often costs more to produce. Eartheasy, an online publication considers the “simple economics” of organic food. “Simple economics tells us that ongoing demand for organic foods should eventually drive prices down. So why aren’t they getting more affordable?” As we continue to work towards a sustainable standard of living, we must ensure that these methods—which are of course essential to the quality of our environment—become affordable. Making these methods affordable are perhaps the key in making these methods truly sustainable.

Unfortunately, though environmental issues affect everyone, not everyone makes the environment a priority. A recent study to be published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management reveals that China has surpassed the United States as the top carbon polluter in the world—as reported by the BBC April 14, 2008. The article importantly states, “The Chinese – and the UN – insist that rich countries with high per capita levels of pollution must cut emissions first, and help poorer countries to invest in clean technology.” Environmental issues often take precedent in developed countries—nations still concerned with rampant poverty and hunger have less incentive to prioritize international mandates such as carbon emission control.

Earth Day recognizes a collective and universal effort towards environmentalism and sustainable living. It is as important to recognize these issues at the global level; it is change in policy that ultimately ingrains these values into our social system. It is equally important, however, to address environmentalism and sustainability at a personal level. Since its inception, Earth Day has emphasized the importance of environmentalism—but what still eludes us is a viable and simple solution for the global community.

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