Rootin’ for the Earth

Earth Day 2018: End Plastic Pollution

Editor’s Note: We thought you might appreciate a different perspective on Earth Day this year. So we asked Sugarfoot, our new M-PASS contributor, to share her thoughts about the importance of Earth Day 2018.

Hi, I’m Sugarfoot.

I’m pleased to root up information and share my views for the team at M-PASS, weighing in today on Earth Day and what people are doing to our environment. My qualifications for the job? Well, after all, animals also have a stake in the future of the planet and it seems more often than not nobody much listens to us.

Yes, the photo is right. I’m a pig – a female Juliana pig – also known as the Miniature Painted Pig – a breed that probably originated in Europe. As a strong-willed female I’m proud to be from Jefferson, Georgia, where I was born in October of 2017. I’m very different from the pigs you see on traditional farms – I like to hang out with people, I appreciate creature comforts, and I don’t have to work hard or worry about the heat or the cold. And while my breed has a different lifestyle from other pigs, we all share similar interests and concerns about our changing environment.

You might be asking why a pig for this job? Sir Winston Churchill said it better than I ever could:

“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
–Sir Winston Churchill (he loved pigs)

Since I’m going to be joining the MP team around M-PASS for a while, I want to let you in on a few pig facts:

  • Pigs aren’t dirty animals. We’re actually quite clean but have the dirty reputation because we like to roll around in mud to cool off. Since I live in a cool, covered home, I stay very clean (though I have to admit, rolling around in the mud looks like fun).
  • Pigs are among the smartest of all domesticated animals. Tests show that some of us are smarter than dogs and some of us show an IQ close to that of a three-year-old child.
  • Pigs are good communicators and are very social and peaceful animals.
  • While we have poor eyesight we have a great sense of smell. Our snouts were made to search – or root – for food, which connects us directly to the earth.

I am qualified to talk about Earth Day because pigs, like many animals, contribute to the sustainability of our environment, though we rarely get much credit for it. Like people, we depend on good air, water, soil, along with the additional components that make up our delicate balance of life.

Pigs play an important role in managing ecosystems and maintaining biodiversity. When we root around, we’re constantly stirring up the soil, creating areas for new plant colonization and spreading plants by dispersing seeds as we go along. The environment is gravely important to us: according to Dr. Alex Stolba at The Humane Farming Association, pigs living in a natural environment spend 31% of the day grazing and 21% of the day rooting and 23% of the day interacting with the environment in other ways. So what may look like playing around and randomly digging is us really working.

Okay, that’s enough about me and pigs. Got to stay on topic … Earth Day 2018.

I would imagine that it’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t heard of Earth Day in the 48 years since it began. Today, Earth Day has become an annual global event with a reported more than one billion participants in 192 countries. (So far, pigs aren’t included in this count; but with this gig I have with M-PASS, maybe someday we’ll all be counted).

Earth Day Beginnings:
While everyone’s probably heard of Earth Day, I wanted to do some research so I could tell you how it all got started.

Believe it or not, it started with a politician. Gaylord Nelson, then Senator from Wisconsin, is widely credited with the concept of a day to celebrate the Earth and reflect on the effect people’s actions have on our planet. According to the Earth Day Network, Nelson was inspired after seeing the effects of a massive 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. His aim was to combine the energy of growing student activism with the increasing public consciousness about air and water pollution into a wave of support for the environment.

In fact, the public consciousness had been increasing since the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring. Carson’s writing raised awareness about the threats to our planet’s living things (she included animals), and the environment. Her work showed distinct links between pollution and health. (How Silent Spring Ignited the Environmental Movement, the New York Times, September 21, 1992).

On April 22, 1970, over twenty million Americans participated in massive coast-to-coast rallies demonstrating for a healthy and sustainable environment. The large numbers who turned out helped put environmental protection on the national political agenda.

That first Earth Day achieved a rare alignment, with people coming together from all ideals and walks of life. (Now, why can’t you people do this more often?). Supporters from both the Republican and Democratic Parties joined in the effort, along with diverse economic groups, city folks and farmers, business owners and labor leaders. By the end of that year, this unified action had energized efforts to establish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

Earth Day has continued to grow, going global in 1990, and mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries. That year put environmental issues onto the world stage and gave a huge boost to worldwide recycling efforts.

Earth Day 2018
Earth Day continues to address the most pressing environmental issues with the 2018 theme “End Plastic Pollution.” This year’s focus is on mobilizing the world to end plastic pollution and “… is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to fundamentally change human attitude and behavior about plastics.”

The timing this year couldn’t be better. We are in a period of exponential growth of plastics usage and waste and that growth is a threat to the health – and survival – of our planet. Th Effects of this growth have intensified over the last few years as it has become harder to find ways to recycle plastic waste. For example, when China started enforcing new regulations on the import of recyclable materials, they left recycling companies around the world scrambling for alternatives. (“China’s ‘Green Fence’ is having a dramatic economic impact on the plastics recycling market,” M-PASS, August 18, 2017; “Blue Sky 2018: China Continues to Impact the World,” M-PASS, April 5, 2018).

We’re starting to see more images in the news of “islands” of floating plastic materials, scuba divers having to dodge plastic bottles as they dive, and mountains of plastic bottles – making us more aware of the problem. (While we pigs will eat a lot of things, we’re not known for eating plastic, so we can’t help with this).

Earth Day 2018 comes at a time when increasing numbers of individuals and companies are starting to pay attention to the issue. And not only paying attention – they are all looking for innovative ways to decrease the amount of traditional plastics we use. Imagine how the huge numbers of Earth Day participants will further spread this awareness around the world.

I am excited to join M-PASS to help create awareness from the animal population – you’ll be hearing more from us.

On behalf of animals (and people) everywhere, here are a few ways you can become part of the movement. It’s not that hard to make a difference.

  • Calculate your plastic consumption with the Earth Day plastic calculator.
  • Continue to decrease the amount of single-use plastics you use: for example, take your own bag to the grocery, reduce your amount of bottled water.
  • Continue to improve your recycling habits, including paper, glass and electronics – it’s not just about plastic.
  • Join an event this weekend with your family, your pets, and others you care about. These events can be fun as well as educational.
  • Learn more about the Earth Day Network (EDN) and read about some of their successful initiatives here. EDN continues to lead and grow this movement while also providing educational programs in schools, reforestation and more.

While most of the events are probably mostly for people (and dogs – they get to go everywhere), here are a few articles that include all us animals.

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