Value of our planet merits more than feel-good holiday

Benroy Chan

We rely on the Earth to grow food, breathe air and simply exist for 365 days a year. So why do we dedicate only one day a year to learn about how we’re destroying it?

On April 22, people from all over the world celebrate Earth Day. Ironically, many of these same people take part in unsustainable behaviors that contradict this appreciation for our planet, whether they know it or not. As our future looks increasingly bleak due to climate change and more, we all must realize sustainability requires years-long effort beyond a single “feel-good” holiday.

The United States created Earth Day in 1970 to raise awareness of environmental issues, and for the most part, it has been successful. Throughout that decade, legislation such as the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act and the Endangered Species Act were passed, and the Environmental Protection Agency was formed. All of these signified a growing desire to defend the natural world, but they all share one problematic trait — they deal with only immediate problems.

These problems were easy to draw attention to because their effects were obvious. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire due to a high presence of flammable pollutants in the water. Common sense dictates that water should not combust, and this event rightfully spurred the desire for environmental protection.

Now, seemingly invisible effects from human-induced climate change pose problems that remain inadequately addressed. While a landmark carbon reduction agreement was made in Paris last year, critics speculate it might not be enough. In the coming years, global temperatures rising only a few degrees may increase the intensity of natural disasters and precipitation and further raise sea levels. As our friends in the Houston flood will tell you, these effects can be deadly.

Ultimately, climate change is an issue we do not prioritize because the effects remain unnoticed or too distant. Most people in the United States have access to relatively clean water and air, and when we begin to take these for granted, we forget their importance. But in order to protect the natural world and its resources for future generations, we cannot just disregard it.

The media portrays sustainability as tree-hugging and recycling, but this oversimplifies a complicated issue. Sustainability is more than just appreciating nature and not littering, because every single action a person carries out has an environmental impact. From the transportation we pick to the food we eat, each person must pick an option with the lowest environmental harm.

Undeniably, the Earth is something worth protecting and preserving. Our individual decisions can add up to produce devastating effects, and as a result, we must all be aware of these issues beyond a single holiday.

Chan is a journalism and environmental science freshman from Sugar Land. Follow him on Twitter @Benroychan.