It’s Earth Day again, that special day when billions of people around the world join together in spirit, participating in projects to increase awareness and to support the ecological health of our planet. What could possibly be wrong with that? According to the Earth Day Network, there have been more than 2 billion “acts of green”, projects designed to save our planet from the destructive forces unleashed by our own thoughtless behaviours. We encourage each other to push back against global warming, reduce our own carbon imprint, buy local produce, recycle e-waste, stop using recyclable plastic and bottled water, etc. This year, the theme of Earth Day is the lofty goal of planting 7.8 billion trees over the next five years, one tree for every person on the planet. We need to replenish our common home, to ensure that it is still a safe place to live for our children.
Back in the 90s, I was invited to give a talk at a professional development day for teachers about the adverse effects of indoor air quality on learning. I arrived early at the school where the event was taking place and wandered the halls to kill time. All the walls were decorated with Earth Day bristol board projects made by the students, portraying the ecology topics of that era, such as saving the whales, acid rain, and the obviously time-honoured subject of deforestation. I remember wondering why there was not one project among the hundreds I looked at that made any mention of the fact that the human animal was also being poisoned by the environment.
I love Earth Day. I love the concept. It’s a wonderful testimony to the human spirit. But 20 years after my bristol board school experience, I have yet to see projects created specifically to protect today’s newborn babies from a life of disability, the prevalence of which keeps increasing due to the relentless, daily exposures we all have to pollutants in our air, food and water. The effect of the environment on human health is still not a part of our education curriculum – not in elementary or high school. And very little is taught to up and coming doctors in medical schools.
Maybe we should pay more attention to the name given to this day by the United Nations and World Health Organization – Mother Earth Day.