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Simple Science: Celebrating Earth Day 2024

April 22, 2024 marks the 54th annual Earth Day. Students are rooted in the history of this celebration and continue to spearhead climate change.

But how do the flaws contribute to the deterioration of the planet and what can students do to save the future?

History of Earth Day

In the decades before the first Earth Day, the entire world watched as the environment disintegrated before its eyes. More than 150 years of ruthless and unyielding industrial development were beginning to show their cracks. Human health and the entire planet were at stake.

Then, in 1969, Americans watched as three million gallons of oil flowed through the Santa Barbara Canal into the Pacific Ocean. Thousands of birds, seals, sea lions and other aquatic life died. The nation was furious.

In the aftermath, Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, took action. He saw the power of student anti-war protests and knew it could be used to counter environmental inaction.

Senator Nelson recruited Denis Hayes, a young environmental advocate, to raise national awareness of ecological issues. Hayes led American students in classes, demonstrations and campus rallies. His work inspired students across the country and attracted national media attention.

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans (10% of the US population) protested in the streets. Since then, the celebrations have spread worldwide to include more than 190 countries and billions of participants.

The fatal flaws of overconsumption

Students are still at the forefront of environmental activism today, but we also have shortcomings. As students, many of us are guilty of overconsumption caused by rapidly evolving fashion trends.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is ‘Planet vs. Plastics’, which advocates the end of single-use plastics and fast fashion.

As Ohio University students, we have seen efforts to combat plastic pollution through initiatives such as bans on plastic bags, reusable cutlery, and thrift shopping. However, overconsumption has quickly undermined the effectiveness of these movements.

Regularly buying new versions of items you already have, such as tote bags and water bottles, promotes a culture in which even reusable items become temporary and disposable. The environmental consequences of overconsumption go beyond plastic pollution and contribute to pollution, waste production and resource depletion.

Ending single-use plastics requires an end to overconsumption, a habit that fast fashion also promotes.

Companies such as SHEIN, H&M, Zara and Forever 21 symbolize the negative impact of fast fashion, an industry in which clothing is seen as disposable. This practice is responsible for almost 10% of global CO2 emissions and the exploitation of millions of garment workers.

Generation Z embraces thrifting and vintage shopping, a testament to our ability to be sustainable. But the weakness for overconsumption and fast fashion threatens any progress made.

Our earth

Student-led demonstrations inspired the first Earth Day and continue to inspire celebrations around the world.

Many local groups in Southeast Ohio, such as the Sunday Creek Associates, the Athens Conservancy and the Raccoon Creek Partnership, have OU students helping to preserve the planet.

OU is a hub for sustainability and environmental awareness. Appalachia’s history of resource exploitation creates a tight-knit community of passionate environmentalists. For OU students, contributing to protecting the planet is as simple as getting involved in their local initiatives.

People worldwide are facing a critical moment when change must be implemented before the Earth suffers irreversible damage. For many, the first steps of necessary change are ending single-use plastics, overconsumption and fast fashion.

Companies and governments worldwide can start implementing environmental policies. Students can also lead a change by advocating for sustainable practices and lifestyles.

Earth Day serves as both a celebration and a call to action. The planet is our only home and for many the responsibility lies in protecting it.

@alexh0pkins

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