The campaign for Earth Day 2017, on April 22, 2017, is environmental and climate literacy. The environment is a complex issue, facing influences and pressures from a variety of sources. In all, the planet’s nature is a system within which we and all living things inhabit, and any action we take will generate some kind of impact. As stated in ISO 14001:2015 – Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use, environmental concerns deriving from anthropogenic sources include “pollution, inefficient use of resources, improper waste management, climate change, degradation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity”. However, to even begin to confront these issues, basic comprehension is a necessity.
Unfortunately, different studies demonstrate the tenuous grasp that the public holds on environmental understanding, particularly in the United States. For example, two-thirds of the American public fail a basic environmental quiz and an overwhelming 88 percent fail a basic energy quiz. There is a clear environmental literacy gap.
While this may hold some influence on the public’s perception on environmental issues, it cannot change the facts. Human activity wages its toll on the environment. Resources for food, industrial activities, the generation of electricity, and other processes in society are procured from nature, and, if such actions are carried out unsustainably, as they often have been for much of the time following the Industrial Revolution, the environment, which serves as both a source of these materials and a sink for their waste, is likely to suffer.
To improve environmental literacy rates, those involved with Earth Day 2017 are promoting environmental education at the place where it can make the greatest difference: the schools. This agenda strives to not only educate students in ideas pertinent to the environment, which have been shown to heighten knowledge in associated subjects like biology, chemistry, and physics, in addition to honing critical thinking skills, but also to encourage green activities in the facilities where education takes place.
The agenda also identifies a specific environmental issue: the Earth’s climate. Human-driven climate change has been the biggest environmental concern for some time now, as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere, through the burning of fossil fuels for electricity generation and other means, work to trap in heat by preventing it from escaping into outer space. The effects of this are numerous, including warming of the planet’s climate, shrinking of the polar ice caps, rising sea levels, alterations in flowering patterns, and shifts in animal and plant ranges. In addition, these changes can introduce new pressures into human society, such as disputes over water if local supplies become limited in certain regions of the world.
According to multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, there is a near universal consensus by climate scientists that “climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” In addition, a majority of people believe that climate change is a serious problem, and about 54 percent believe it to be a very serious problem. However, many people still deny its existence, and significant forces prevent certain actions from being taken.
In addition to environmental and climate literacy, the Earth Day Network is involved with Trees for the Earth, a campaign with the goal of planting 7.8 billion trees worldwide by the year 2020. These reforestation efforts can be beneficial in addressing multiple environmental problems, as planting trees replaces those that have been chopped down, restoring essential components to degraded ecosystems, as well as providing a means for carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas in the air, to be removed from the atmosphere.
Advocacy through Earth Day has often resulted in success. In the early days of the secular observance, Earth Day demonstrations led to the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. In addition, in the years after the holiday became a global event in 1990, environmental consciousness found its way into standardization. This culminated with the initial publication of ISO 14001 in 1996.
In the standards community, knowledge is the greatest resource, as standard documents are written and developed with the involvement of experts, being periodically updated to maintain relevancy. Currently, ISO has produced over 570 environment-related standards, including ISO 14001:2015 for establishing an environmental management system in organizations and the ISO 14064 standards for quantifying, monitoring, and reporting greenhouse gas emission reductions, effectively granting organizations the means to limit their contributions to anthropogenic climate change. Furthermore, ANSI offers an accreditation program for organizations providing third-party validation/verification services for the reduction and removal of greenhouse gases (GHG).
The existence and status of these international standards allows environmental sustainability to permeate throughout the industrial world. Activities like these are the ultimate goal of green ambitions, but they must all begin with the foundation of basic environmental literacy.
As noted in the very first sentence of the introduction of ISO 14001:2015:
“Achieving a balance between the environment, society and the economy is considered essential to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
The pursuit of these goals in sustainability can assure success if instilled into the youngest generation, the members of which have the most to lose from any detriment to the environment.
If you’d like to learn more about Earth Day, please refer to: http://www.earthday.org/