April 22 marked the 47th time mankind celebrated Earth Day, our greatest and truest holiday. But the truth is, Earth Day must be every day. Every day is a day that everyone in the world — regardless of religion, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender or any other division — can celebrate and aid the one thing that brings us all together, that we all have in common: We all live here.
Here, on this planet, on this Earth, with its vast and mysterious oceans, beautiful mountain ranges, lush forests, bountiful farmlands, important minerals, diverse wildlife and complicated ecosystems. We live here.
No matter who we are, where we are from, what our troubles are, what our dreams are: This is our home. It is the backdrop to every memory we’ve ever had, the mother to every person we’ve ever loved, the foundation for every step we’ve ever taken. We all have a stake in this holiday, a pony in this race. It’s all we got right now. We need it, and we need to maintain it. We need to improve it. We need to cherish it.
Sometimes I think we forget that. We think our food comes from stores and our gasoline comes from stations and our water from a faucet. No, no and no. We take it for granted, we believe it will fix itself. We think it’s not our job, it’s not our expertise. We pay attention only to the piece that’s right in front of us and don’t notice parts that are suffering. We think things will be better tomorrow, but the only day that will ever exist is today.
Earth needs to be celebrated, but even more so, it needs to be aided. There are now 7.4 billion people on this planet; at the current population growth rate, there will be 8 billion of us by 2024 — 75 million babies born a year. Together, we are responsible for the destruction of 48 football fields worth of forest every single minute — more than 46,000 square miles each year, or 15 billion trees. That’s devastating, especially when it takes 96 trees to absorb one person’s yearly CO2 output; the loss of 15 billion trees is the equivalent to more than 156 million additional people. The increasing CO2 in our atmosphere is already making our planet warmer and our weather more and more erratic, extreme and destructive. To make up for the population growth and deforestation and save the Earth for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, we should be planting 22 billion trees each year. Thats billion, with a B.
Thanks to habitat loss, pollution, illegal poaching and other factors, the planet is also losing its wildlife at stunning rates. Historically, Earth has lost just 2 out of 10,000 vertebrate species every 100 years. But in the last 116 years, Earth has lost 69 mammal species and 400 other vertebrate species. That’s out of 64,000 vertebrate species— meaning we should have lost somewhere between 9 and 13 vertebrate species in that time period. Not 469.
Without our intervention, the Earth almost seems like it’s trying to save itself — to our detriment. Between 1994 and 2013, natural disasters affected an average of 218 million people across the world each year. More than 1 million people — 68,000 per year — died as a result of 6,873 natural disasters. More and more of those disasters are climate-related. Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and drought have affected more than 25 percent of the global population in the last 20 years. If we haven’t felt the affects of these disasters ourselves, we know many others who have.
The good news is that the Earth is still stunning. America has 59 national parks for us all to enjoy, and they encompass more than 47 million acres of protected land. It’s a soulful journey to look through the rock formations of Arches National Park and see the millions of years of evolution and erosion, of wind and water, that have shaped the area, or to visit the unique and colorful geothermal features of Yellowstone National Park, or to see the thousands and thousands of stars visible in Big Bend National Park. There are more than 700 significant botanical gardens and arboretums across the United States. Our gardens and arboretums aren’t just places for inspiration and retreat; they are the love letters we write to Earth.
The other good news is that we are understanding the Earth and its resources in new and exciting ways. We are combining infrastructure and nature to offset damage from natural disasters, creating cleaner and more efficient energy production methods, and reconnecting our health with our environment. Our industry is central to this new understanding and its uses in creating happier living and working spaces. We’re proud to work in an industry that works to improve and green our cities, public spaces, commercial districts, businesses, neighborhoods and homes.
So that brings us back to how to celebrate Earth Day every day — including today. What can you do? Bike or walk to work. Clean up a park. Plan a locally-sourced vegetarian dinner. Donate to an environmental cause. Upcycle your neighbor’s unwanted furniture. Xeriscape a section of your yard. Plant some vegetables. Purchase that solar-powered charging device. Attend an Earth Day festival or lecture. Collect unwanted materials for a community craft project. Write a letter to your local representative. Share a photo and story of your favorite place. Visit a botanical garden. The possibiities and opportunties for celebrating the Earth are nearly endless.