|This sign next to the Hudson River is a chilling reminder that the effect of pollution remains long into the future. |
It is up to us to be the change we wish to see.
"The Movement of the People"
Published in the Namib Times, 19 April 2013.
By Marcia Stanton
Peacefully rowing down the Cuyahoga River in your boat, you think all if fine until suddenly the river catches on fire. You go to the Hudson River to catch a fish, but there is a sign that says fishing is banned because the fish are so contaminated with toxins they cannot be safely eaten. You sit under a tree to listen to the birds but you hear none. You look up and there are no birds to be found. You find out that the culprit is the pesticide DDT and it is also being detected in human breast milk resulting in 15% of infant deaths. You decide to visit Storm King Mountain, a park renowned for its natural beauty, only to find that it is the proposed site for the largest power plant of its kind in the world.
You move to a new village called Love Canal. A few years later, people start reporting an alarming number of miscarriages, cancer cases and nervous disorders. Some 56% of children are born with a birth defect. Children playing in the rain puddles come back home with burns on their hands and faces from the water. A few years later you find out that your village had been built on top of 21,000 tons of toxic waste. Suddenly the government advises you to stop eating the fruits and vegetables you grow in your yard and to stop drinking the water. In fact, they advise you to move.
You then decide to relocate near the beautiful Susquehanna River, only to be greeted by an eerie siren and to find out that 150,000 litres of radioactive waste has just been released into the river from the local Nuclear Power Station. The consequence: a spike in infant and animal mortality, birth defects and thyroid cancer discovered only years later.
All of these real events happened in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s, along with many other similar events. On April 22, 1970, some 20 million people, over 12,000 high schools, 2,000 universities and thousands of community groups protested and called for environmental reform. They called it Earth Day- a grassroots movement of the people. As a result of this movement in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency and 8 critical environmental laws were passed to protect the people and the environment.
By 1990, the grassroots Earth Day movement included 200 million people in 141 countries. This facilitated the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit where several international environmental laws were passed. In 2009, the United Nations passed a resolution to designate April 22 as International Mother Earth Day. Now 43 years after the first Earth Day was formed by a grassroots movement of concerned people, over a billion people in 192 countries are raising environmental concerns on the same day making it the largest civic observance in the world.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”- Margaret Mead