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Fork in the Road: Saving the Earth from ourselves

Student-led anti-war protests inspired Earth Day. Here's how Whistler is marking the occasion in 2022.
Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton 2019 Climate march
Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton embraces Jade Quinn-McDonald, then-president of Whistler Secondary School's Student Environmental Club, during a 2019 climate strike. Fingers crossed we'll see more demonstrations like this at future Earth Days.

So how are you hiding out from Earth Day this year?

Maybe you’ll be wearing the latest Dyson gizmo—headphones for your best tunes that simultaneously blow filtered, fresh, pollution- free air into your nostrils. Seriously.

Maybe you’ll be binge-reading-with-chocolate and sniggering over Benjamin Schwartz’s New Yorker cartoon of a Godzilla-shaped darkness hovering between skyscrapers while a terrified passer-by warns people, “Look out! It’s Everything That’s Been Going On Lately!”

I’m with you. There has been wa-a-a-y too much going on lately. And so it seems that even Earth Day this year—which is happening Friday, April 22 in case you’ve forgotten—has gotten overlooked, overwhelmed, and largely relegated to the sidelines, even at Whistler.

I wonder why, and I don’t wonder why.

Earth Day is 52 years old this year, and we’re still looking at millions of hectares of rainforests being hacked down annually, methane levels skyrocketing, extremes of 40 C above normal in our polar regions and so much plastic in our waterways there’s a meme floating around where the customer asks the vendor for a plastic bag for the whole fish they’ve bought. “It’s inside,” quips the vendor.

Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator and environmentalist from Wisconsin, first started talking about an Earth Day with JFK and Bobby Kennedy in 1962. Nelson wanted to harness the anti-Vietnam-War student movement into concern about environmental degradation—something totally absent from the political and social landscape of the day.

Nelson got his Earth Day but it wasn’t until 1970, when people wore those funky “negative heel” earth shoes to events.

Here we are, 52 years later, decked out in our Arc’teryx and North Face, still trying to save the Earth from ourselves. The silver bullet would be to all hold hands and jump off a bridge. But given the unlikelihood of that, the most viable option is to clean up our collective act.

I’m with the Katharine Hayhoes (Canadian climate scientist) of the world. I don’t want you getting all depressed and curling up in a ball. But come on, folks, we have to get over supposedly caring about the direction our planet and every ecosystem on it is going, then barely doing anything besides wringing our hands and yapping about it. (Carbon Brief reports that the number of editorials in the U.K. calling for more action to tackle climate change quadrupled from 2019 to 2021.)

We need to be as determined as those passionate protestors against the immoral war in Vietnam. These days, maybe, Russia’s immoral war in Ukraine could trigger some positive movement. Although it’s usually young people with their energy, imagination and clarity who lead civil society to change, they can’t be the only ones on the frontlines. Really, if there’s any kind of justice in the world, it should be us oldsters leading the way, starting with all the decrepit oil company executives who’ve run bullshit ads for decades.

“Oil pumps life.” “Lies they tell our children.” “Who told you the Earth was warming...” These are just some of the taglines in multi-billion-dollar ad campaigns run by the likes of ExxonMobil to confuse and mislead the public and politicians alike about the existential dangers of fossil fuels.

There’s an excellent exposé about it all in The Guardian by Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes—Harvard professor of the history of science and one of the most astute climate trackers on the planet.

To change the path we’re on, we must get active and engaged politically, socially, culturally. Vote, vote, vote. Run for office yourself. Support political parties with strong green agendas, and groups like the Whistler Centre for Sustainability or 350.org that push for policy change based on science.

Then add some solid consumer smarts. I nearly fell off my chair when I read that the latest IPCC report—released in April and prompting UN Secretary-General António Guterres to declare we’re on a “fast track to climate disaster”—actually mentioned changing consumer habits as a way to halve carbon emissions by 2030. After all, the wealthiest 10 per cent of households generate one third to 45 per cent of climate- changing emissions.

Stop eating meat as much as you can if you aren’t vegetarian or vegan already. Read your labels and just say “no” to palm oil. Use organic and eco-friendly products. And here’s a good one right from the IPCC: Buy less and buy things that last. How about only purchasing three new items of clothing a year? Try to live below your means.

And join your neighbours for one of the local Earth Day events, below.

As for substantive change and a reason to be hopeful, remember—it was President Nixon, old “Tricky Dicky,” who went on to become the greenest president in America’s history, bringing in the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Which goes to show you just never know...

THREE CHEERS FOR SEA TO SKY EARTH DAY EVENTS!

 DIVING IN ART TOUR OPENING, THUR. APR. 21: Join artist Michael Binkley, Henry Wang of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans and more from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Squamish Public Library to launch the Sea to Sky Arts Councils Alliance’s Diving In Art Tour that will hit Whistler and other communities later this year. Using trash cleaned from local waterways by divers like Henry, artists have created unique works to illustrate the challenge of marine waste. Everyone welcome.

• PITCH-IN DAY, SAT. APRIL 23: The RMOW is hosting PITCH-IN Day for its 32nd year— bravo! Join hundreds of volunteers to pick up litter from Emerald to Function Junction. Pick up garbage and recycling bags, vests and supplies from 8 to 9 a.m. at the Public Works Yard, 8020 Nesters Road. After, Whistler Fire Rescue Service invites volunteers to a free barbecue at Fire Hall No. 1, with donations from Nesters Market, Your Independent Grocer, the Whistler Grocery Store and Fresh Street Market.

• FOUNDRY FILM SERIES’ THE NATURAL IMPACT, SAT. APRIL 23: To mark Earth Day, this screening features two locally-based films about youth-based climate action and environmental stewardship: Sam and Me and Walking with Plants. 2 p.m. at Maury Young Arts Centre in Whistler Village

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who hoped some young ones would hang a banner or fill Village Square with noise this Earth Day.