Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Just Another Day on Planet Earth…

I have a hair-trigger reaction that involves cringing whenever a “Day” is proclaimed. Whether it be International Women’s Day (March 8th—My birthday, Yeah!), Grandparent’s Day (September 7), National Teacher Day (May 6), American Recycles Day (November 15) or even Penguin Awareness Day (January 12) my first thought is what are they trying to sell me? My second is, does that mean the other 364 days of the year we don’t give a hoot about these things?

Speaking of giving a hoot—and special days—today is Earth Day. Even though the planet’s been around for 4.5 billion years, for the past 38 years Americans have noted April 22nd as Earth Day, complete with celebrations, conferences, and plenty of Earth-friendly products to consume. Back in 1992, I was on the planning committee of an Earth Day celebration at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) where I spent my time working at the Caltech Y: organizing events, checking out sleeping bags and watching Oprah. Even then we were worried about the amount of trash in landfills, air pollution (evidenced by the ride-share booth and tree planting) and a resource-lite diet (turkey dogs anyone?) but looking back on it, our concerns seemed so—well—academic.

Fast forward sixteen years and if food riots in Haiti, rice hoarding in the Philippines, American gas prices reaching all-time highs, and the environmental costs of the war in Iraq don’t get your attention, perhaps this will. A hundred years ago there were around 100,000 tigers living in the wilderness. Now there’s around 3000-4500 with the South Chinese Tiger numbering less than 20. Great, so every 5th grader at Arbor could get their own Chinese Tiger, but no one else. The South Chinese Tiger is doing marginally better than its Bali or Javanese cousins--they’re extinct.

Seems like part of the blame for the troubles has landed on China’s door. With a continually growing middle class, the Middle Kingdom is partaking in a few Western luxuries: more meat in their diet, more driving, and more consumption of natural resources with chilling results. But who are we to say that the Chinese can’t have our standard of living? In the brief time that we visited China we gained the strongest impressions of our entire trip. Dirt everywhere,

rudimentary plumbing, a whole nation driving their new cars like four-year-olds behind the wheel of a bumper car, extreme heat, and the people--god the people!

Let's just say a billion people is truly theoretical until you are pushed, pulled and body slammed by a few hundred while trying to get your order at a McDonald’s counter. Other countries--Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Egypt, Cambodia--are lifting themselves out of extreme poverty and they are heralded for their development. I have to say, if I were living in China and knew that I could have air conditioning, my own car, a bit more protein in my diet and even the luxury to travel within my country—I’d go for it. Can you blame them? They are doing what we’ve been doing in the West for years.

Aye, there’s the rub. We can’t really talk about population and consumption until we understand what and how much the population is consuming. So, rather than thinking only about American Priuses and biofuel consumption perhaps we should be thinking of global standards of living. It's going to take more than one day to figure this out--until then, instead of clinging to the American, or Chinese, or German way of life, we have to think about the surviving way of life. Whatever the case, barring a huge asteroid hitting it, the planet will survive. The question remains: how well will its residents fare in another sixteen years time?

For a truly excellent view of the glory of our planet, check out the Planet Earth series filmed by the BBC. We’ve netflixed the entire run and have watched it over the past couple of weeks. The recurring words out of our mouths are “awww,” “how’d they get that shot” and “that is amazing.”


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