Exhibit One: The case for Earth Day ideals every day

Published Tuesday, April 15, 2014 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

When pieces of physical evidence are introduced in legal proceedings, they are called ‘exhibits’.  Legal exhibits are used to support a case, and are referenced repeatedly during proceedings.

I’m no lawyer, but with the approach of Earth Day, I wish to plead the case that the ideals we pause to reflect upon each April 22 must become part our thinking and actions the rest of the year too.  

In support of my case, I present Exhibit One.  It’s an image called ‘the Blue Marble’, taken on December 7, 1972 by the crew of Apollo 17.  

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

Of all the NASA moon missions, only Apollo 17 took place during new moon, the phase when the moon, in its monthly trip around our planet, is located between the Earth and the sun.  So as the astronauts sped moonward, this is what they saw dropping away behind them: the full face of Planet Earth illuminated like a giant, translucent marble.  Look closely, and you can see the outlineof Africa, Madagascar and the Middle East set against the coasts of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  You can see Antarctica, entombed in ice and surrounded by the clouds of weather systems swirling about the Southern Ocean.

Now, anyone who dares plead for Earth Day ideals all year round will find no shortage of sceptics and naysayers.  The first counterargument typically comes from those who don’t believe that mere humans could affect something as immense as a planet, therefore we don’t need to change how we live.

In response, I present Exhibit One.  Look closely, and be reminded that our planet functions not on the whims of what we may wish to believe, but on firm laws of science.  Earth’s atmosphere is so thin it can’t be seen in this image.  If you dump 90 million tonnes of heat-trapping gases into it every day (as we do now), you’re going to destabilize it and make things warmer.  If you use water as a repository for everything from industrial waste to municipal sewage to plastic, you’re going to poison it.

Examine Exhibit One further and you’ll find no trace of emotions.  We may soothingly call it Mother Earth, but the blunt truth is that our planet hasn’t really cared who’s been on board for the first 4.5 billion trips around the sun, and it doesn’t really care who’s on board for the next 4.5 billion.  It’s up to us to keep things liveable for ourselves, because we’re quite expendable. 

Another counterargument typically comes from those who believe that economic growth must come first, and that sustainability is a luxury we will only be able to afford once economic conditions improve.  (Does that ever really happen?)

In response, I again refer to Exhibit One.  If you examine it closely, you’ll see there is no economy.  Not a dollar to be seen anywhere.  There are no megaprojects, no stock portfolios, no dot coms and no limos.  Earth’s only currencies are hidden amid its blue hues: air and water, plus the diverse Eden of life they sustain.  Unlike manmade currencies, Earth’s currencies are finite: they cannot be increased simply by turning on a printing press.

Then comes fingerpointing about who is responsible for the planet’s problems and who should pay to fix them.

Yet again, I present Exhibit One.  Look closely – there are no borders.  There’s just one seamless continuum of land and sea, underlining the fact that we are all in this together.  There is no first world, new world or third world; there is only one world.  The notion of winners and losers on our interconnected, finite planet is an illusion.  If our problems are to be fixed, everyone must take part.

Take one last look at Exhibit One, the most widely viewed photograph in history.  It’s the only place we know in the universe where a million factors have coincided to create perfect conditions for life.

Surely it’s worth taking care of, on Earth Day and every day.  And so I rest my case.