April 22 is Earth Day. What does that even mean? Is it just a whole load of greenies going out and hugging trees? Well no, actually, Earth Day is a bit like Mothers Day. So, why do we need an Earth Day anyway? The answer is that, just like mothers, the Earth is always there for us, providing vital services and support that we don’t even think about. We go about our daily lives depending entirely on these services and support, but rarely do we think about or appreciate them.
What sort of support and services does the Earth provide? What doesn’t the Earth provide? If you need specifics here are some examples.
The Earth is a great big cleaning machine. It cleans our water system. We might think that in this mountain town our water is brand-new, but think again. Every drink of water you have ever drunk has, at least in part, already passed through the bodies of countless other creatures. Fortunately for us, when that water passes out of the body of the previous user, the Earth cleans it up, via either evaporation, or filtration through soil particles and microbes. When we carelessly pollute our waterways, the river carries it away downstream where it is eventually purified.
The Earth also cleans our air. The pollutants produced even in Revelstoke are extensive enough that, if the wind did not blow it all away, it would eventually become dangerous just to go outside, as does happen in some cities. Yet the Earth cleans up even this pollution, thanks to special molecules found in the atmosphere that actively seek out toxic chemicals and purify them.
Soils are also cleaned up by the Earth. Both soil microbes and some plants can actively seek out and destroy many of the pollutants we carelessly allow to leach into the soils. In addition, soil nutrients are recycled throughout our environment regenerating soil fertility. The rain even washes away and recycles all the dog poop which emerges from the melting snow in the springtime.
Without this massive clean-up going on 24-7 we would soon be living in, to put it mildly, a muck-hole. Many people have tried to put a dollar value on the cleaning provided by the Earth, but I have a hard time figuring just how that value could be calculated. If we could achieve all that cleaning ourselves, then yes, you could figure the cost. But in reality humankind, even with all our technology, is simply unable to accomplish such a large-scale mop-up.
Earth also provides us with all our food. Not just the substrate in which we grow our crops and graze our stock animals, but the complex web of living organisms which allow sunlight to be transformed into edible produce. Many of us try to eat local and having a vegetable garden in Revelstoke is fast becoming the trendy option. Fortunately for us the Earth has provided us with wonderful soils, plenty of summer sun and even enough water to grow an excellent selection of food in our own backyards.
But there are some foods that require a bit more of the earth’s resources. Consider the complexity and vastness of the system that provides you with a tuna sandwich. Tuna is a top predator and requires clean oceans with effective global circulatory systems and vast areas of energy capturing phytoplankton. The captured energy is passed through a complex web of many living creatures until it finally reaches a tuna, which converts it into protein for your sandwich. And that is not even considering the network of microbes, insects, weather systems, and nutrient cycling systems that go into making the bread, butter, mayo, salt, and pepper.
Our Earth provides an almost limitless supply of new ideas and new substances. Just over 100 years ago nobody knew about penicillin or other antibiotics, making even minor illnesses or wounds often fatal. Since the discovery of penicillin, many other incredibly useful substances have been found within the tissues of wild organisms. Scientists are still finding large numbers of previously unknown organisms and testing them for unknown and possibly useful compounds. Who knows what fabulous substances are still waiting to be discovered?
So those are just a few examples of what the Earth does for us on a daily basis. Like a parent, the Earth is always there, picking up after us, providing us with the necessities of life, and generally taking care of us. The Earth can be thought of as a living creature with each individual organism representing a single cell.
As a whole this creature functions well and can mend a certain amount of damage. But even the Earth has its limits to healing and our actions are causing plenty of damage. So, this Earth Day, treat the Earth like a respected parent and pamper it by being as eco-friendly as possible. In fact, why not give the Earth a break every day from now on?
For more information on how to pamper the Earth, visit the North Columbia Environmental Society’s website at northcolumbia.org.
Sue Davies is contributing a four-part series on behalf of the NCES.