Earth Day 2006

Thoughts for a pristine world in this millennium

 A.H. Jaffor Ullah

Published on April 21, 2006

In 1970, a group of ecologists and earth-lovers in America decided to set aside a day for our Mother Earth. I was in America then as a graduate student in Ohio. In college campuses small groups of people celebrated the day without much fanfare. Even though it was an uneventful day, it engendered some thoughts among eco-friendly people � how to save our one and only earth?

In 1960s, the Vietnam War was raging in Southeast Asia where the U.S. Army sprayed noxious chemicals to defoliate plants to gain some tactical advantage over Viet Cong guerrillas. In upstate New York near Niagara Falls, industries were dumping so much industrial waste into Love Canal that fish could live no longer in waterways. There were telltale signs everywhere that earth�s fragile ecology was degrading fast but not quite noticeable to laymen�s eyes. For some thoughts on that, a handful of people mostly in college campuses gathered to protest the degradation of earth�s ecology. They urged everyone to set aside a day to talk about our earth�s environmental problems. That is the way Earth Day was engendered. For the last 36 years, the western world had been celebrating this day and its popularity is increasing year-after-year.

Unfortunately, in big urban metropolis, where environment is taking a big toll due to loss of forest to accommodate more people, we do not hear much about Earth Day celebration. This however is not true for college campuses and smaller towns. In the last year I moved from a big urban sprawl to a smaller community in upstate New York. One thing I noticed right away. Here, people are more eco-friendly. It hardly comes as a surprise knowing the education level of people in Cornell campus. There are far too many parks in Ithaca considering it is such a small town. The parks are kept in pristine condition, no dog excrement or discarded coke bottles lying anywhere in the ground. The city collects recyclable materials on alternate weekend. All in all, I was impressed. This is the way a city ought to look like and conduct its affair � in an eco-friendly way.

New York City is only 4-5 hours drive from Ithaca. I visited the city once about two months ago and what a contrast! Coke bottles and other waste materials from fast food places had strewn the roads in Queens; the same goes for other Burroughs of the Big Apple (the other moniker of NY City). Look what overcrowding has done to American cities. The big city folks would never know what they are missing. The quality of life in small towns is so much better that I wonder whether it is worth the while to live in an urban sprawl.

I almost forgot about this year�s Earth Day celebration had I not receive e-mail from a friend. The mail had enough info about the day�s program, which gave me a pretty good description of what will be going on here on that celebratory day. Please keep it in mind that in college campuses people tend to be more conscious about environs as compared to city folks. In America, many eco-friendly folks won�t even take a higher paying job in cities. Therefore, on Earth Day you tend to see folks from rural areas and college campuses becoming proactive and joining the celebration. In Ithaca, people will gather in a farmers� market that is located at the south end of Cayuga Lake where all-daylong activities are planned.

A cynic might say, �What is the point in celebrating the Earth Day when mankind had all but ruined the environs!� This is an a-OK statement but how could we, the earthlings, be so insensible. All is not lost as far as our ecology is concerned.

The industries in West were ruining our earth�s ecosystem in the last 225 years. The world ushered in Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century and the cities became the hub of the factories. Soon, European cities started to grow a la mushroom. The same thing happened in America and Asia.

Please look at what happened to sleepy town of Dhaka and Bangkok. Dhaka�s population was half a million in 1950s. In the last 55 years it grew to about 8-10 million. The city could not cope up with the population growth; consequently, heap of garbage lays everywhere and the traffic hardly ever moves in the main arteries. The pollution causing exhaust gas emanating from automobiles� tail pipe is horrendous. People must be suffering from lung-related ailments by inhaling noxious gases and chemicals such as benzene, carbon monoxide, etc.

One may say that the Third World folks do not have the luxury to clean up their air. Development must go on and it is a small price tag to pay for higher per capita income. The environmental degradation in Bangladesh had caught the attention of many professionals; thus, quite a few environmental NGOs are now operating in the country and expatriate Bangalees are supporting the operational cost of such NGOs.

The other thought that I have on this day is the population growth in certain countries. The world of ours is teeming with about 6.25 billion people. In countries such as Bangladesh the population is bursting at the seam. Only in 1950s there used to be 50 million people living in this tiny land. The population has tripled in the last half a century. At this rate, this nation, which is as big as Wisconsin, will have 200 million people by 2024 and 300 million by 2046. Unfortunately, the land will not have the capacity to sustain that many people. Ideally, Bangladesh should not have more than 40-45 million people by Asian standard and 20-25 million people by western standard. The quality of life there won�t improve substantially as long as the nation boasts having 100 million or so. Migration of people to other countries is a distinct possibility. Many people have left Bangladesh in search of greener pasture, speaking metaphorically, of course.

In summary, the Earth Day will be celebrated on April 22 this year. Through this short article I tried my best to give the readers a sense of history about this important day. Many people in the West now lament noting the environmental degradation that took place in the last few decades. Many city-dwellers are now living in the suburbs for various reasons but environmental factors being one of the prime reasons. The folks who are living in small towns are very lucky because these places are eco-friendly. For developing nations, the criteria for being a pristine environment are different. There, the population is bursting at the seam. Much environmental decay in those nations stems from overcrowding. How could a nation like Bangladesh check its population? Maybe a competent demographer has the ready answer. Humans should be optimists. Let us hope that through sound eco-friendly legislations humankind could improve the quality of air, water, and land. With these optimistic notes, let me end this article. Have a happy Earth Day!

Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from Ithaca, NY