As a life sciences intern at Fernbank Museum, I’ve been given a wonderful opportunity in the form of helping plan the Museum’s 2015 Earth Day activities. As a budding ecologist and longtime outdoors enthusiast, Earth Day has always held a certain significance for me. The lessons instilled on this unique holiday helped strengthen the connection with nature I have felt from a young age—a connection that has taken me from the vast, open wetlands of Brazil to the dark, dense rainforests of Borneo. From childhood hikes with my family to learning about composting and recycling in school, each Earth Day serves as a reminder; a window into a forgotten era of holism before man considered himself separate from nature. Yet, perhaps this is a naïve perspective. Though it remains essential for lessons of the past to be incorporated into our collective memory, we as a species should be looking to the future. The future is where our children and our children’s children will live and learn, and it's up to us to decide how the world will provide for and teach them.
Now let’s (briefly) talk numbers. Big numbers. For 4.54 billion years (that’s 4,540,000,000!), this planet has revolved faithfully around the yellow dwarf star at the center of our solar system, known affectionately to us as the “sun.” For about 99.9956% of this total time, modern humans were not around. In the mere 0.0044% of the earth’s existence since the evolution ofHomo sapiens, our species has managed to rack up a current population of nearly 7.3 billion people. According to these figures, the number of people living on Earth right now is far greater than the number of years the planet has even existed! For me, that’s quite a reality check.
“With great population size comes great responsibility.” Well, maybe that’s not exactly how the original quote went, but this version certainly has some truth to it. The human population has reached enormous proportions within the last few centuries. Consequently, many of the earth’s natural systems are struggling to maintain their functions in the face of our exponential expansion and the widespread pollution, deforestation, and oil/mineral extraction that comes with it. In the 1960’s, recognition of these environmental issues began to surface, and on April 22, 1970, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson and a strong-willed following of professors, students, and activists organized the first Earth Day (for those who were enjoying the numbers, that means we have been celebrating Earth Day for a measly 0.00000077% of the Earth’s existence!).
Originally planned as a nationwide teach-in on the environment, the first Earth Day saw over 20 million Americans take a stand for environmental reform. Every year since, a growing number of people and nations have celebrated our planet by organizing festivals, fundraisers, and all types of events aimed at drawing attention to both the beauty and fragility of Earth’s ecosystems. Last year’s Earth Day saw over 1 billion people from 192 different countries pay homage to our Pale Blue Dot, and this year we expect nothing less.
For this reason, I am proud to help carry Senator Nelson’s torch this year by engaging the public, and specifically the youth, about Earth Day and its never-diminishing relevance.
I invite you to join the Museum on Sunday, April 19 for a variety of Earth Day-themed programs including guided tours of Fernbank Forest and a special presentation from Save Georgia’s Hemlocks.
—Alex Terry, Life Sciences Intern
You might also be interested in Public Programs in Fernbank Forest, Current Restoration Work, Sustainability at Fernbank Museum.