Earth Day and Trump

This year, there appears to be a little more significance for Earth Day on April 22 due to the comments of United States President Donald Trump, who said: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He has also promised to take the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement — Canada is a signator — which aims to cut CO2 emissions in order to reduce the pace that the planet is warming. And, by presidential executive order, he has overturned former President Barack Obama’s regulations that would have reduced U.S. dependency on coal.

Trump, of course, is playing to the  base that elected him. In the process of keeping his base happy, Trump’s remarks and actions show him to be the leader of climate change deniers.

He even appointed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the head of the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt has questioned the science behind climate change, and is the frontman for Trump’s desire to eliminate the agency and remove environmental regulations.

All the above has prompted a March for Science on Earth Day. Thousands are expected to march in Washington on April 22, and other support marchs have been announced for Winnipeg and around the world on Earth Day.

“If the Americans don’t follow through on their climate change commitments, (and) are not following the good science and evidence-based policy, their policy will impact Canada and the rest of the world,” said Winnipeg organizer and Director Science First Nathan Zahn, who called the appointment of a climate change denier as head of the EPA, a “giant red flag.”

Earth Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1970. Events in more than 193 countries are now co-ordinated globally by the Earth Day Network.

In 1969, at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honour the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be celebrated on March 21, 1970. A month later a separate Earth Day was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in and first held on April 22, 1970.

The first Canadian Earth Day was held on September 11, 1980, and was organized by Paul D. Tinari, a graduate student in Engineering Physics/Solar Engineering at Queen’s University. Flora MacDonald, who was then an MP and had been the former Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, officially opened Earth Day Week on September 6, 1980. Today, Canada and the world celebrates Earth Day on April 22.

Earth Day Canada (EDC), a national environmental charity founded in 1990, provides Canadians with practical knowledge, tools and simple easy-to-accomplish actions to support a healthier environment. EDC has organized EarthPLAY for Earth Day 2017, which is encouraging children to go outdoors and engage in creative play to cultivate the next generation of environmental leaders. “Play is science in action,” according to the EDC.

Trump joins other Americans who have over the years fostered false conspiracies about environmental causes. For example, the date designated for the first Earth Day was by coincidence the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin. Time magazine reported that some suspected it was not a coincidence, but “a Communist trick.” A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution said, “subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them.” J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, allegedly ordered the FBI to conduct surveillances of the 1970 demonstrations to determine whether they were Marxist inspired. The idea that the date was chosen to celebrate Lenin’s centenary still persists in the minds of some.

A book was published 55 years ago that changed the way people thought about the environment. When Rachel Carson’s ground-breaking book, Silent Spring, was published in 1962, few had any idea that pesticides had a detrimental effect on their health and the world around them. Essentially, she was responsible for the founding of today’s environmental movement — bringing it out from the “perceived” realm of the crackpot to mainstream acceptance.

Out of her musings on the destruction of nature by synthetic chemicals emerged Earth Day. The message she conveyed began to resonate with so many people that her book became an international best-seller. It was one of those books that could be said to have “made a difference.” The book had a seemingly innocent beginning with the asking of a single question. Carson was told the story of a woman who had noted a “strange stillness. The birds, for example — where had they gone?” It was a question she resolved to investigate, and resulted in her finding out that all was not well with the world.

Although a scientist, her book transcended academia by tying together chemical abuses and environmental impact into a highly readable format. It was a gripping tale of misadventure with diasterous consequences.

However, Carson didn’t then realize the effect her book would have on people. “It would be unrealistic to believe that one book could bring about complete change,” she wrote to a friend prior to the release of Silent Spring. Yet, her book did bring about environmental awareness and did lead to sweeping changes.

Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading misinformation about the pesticides they produced and said that government was complicit by being uncritical about the industry’s products. Not unexpectedly, the chemical industry attacked Carson and her findings. The chemical industry’s giants began to refer to her as that “hysterical woman.” 

To some editorial writers, who accepted the industry’s message, Carson was an “alarmist” for spreading the belief that the “world was being poisoned.” She was accused of “exaggeration and sensationalism.” What the chemical industry didn’t mention was that Carson was not asking for a complete ban on pesticides, but for their use in moderation and in a way less harmful to the environment.

In the wake of the uproar created by the publication of the book, U.S. President John F. Kennedy directed the Science Advisory Committee to investigate the accusations made by Carson. The investigation vindicated Carson and lead to new regulations on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border, including the banning of the use of DDT in both nations.

With so much now known about mankind’s impact on the environment, thanks to individuals such as Carson, it’s quite extraordinary that people hold onto discredited beliefs that are not backed by fact-based science. It’s also extraordinary that a U.S. president has become the leader of the climate change denial pack.