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article imageThe environmental problems still afflicting North America Special

By Khalid Magram     Apr 14, 2010 in Politics
Toronto - It has been 40 years since the Earth Day became cause célèbre in North America. We have come a long way and still have a long way to go, according to activists.
Activists, educators and scientists have provided the public considerable amount of information about the environmental challenges facing our planet ever since.
“Lacking, is any sort of a longer view of the decisions taken every day on the environment,” says Simran Sethi, an award-winning eco–journalist.
“The continued extraction of fossil fuel when we clearly know it is a finite resource is quite shortsighted,” Sethi says.
Sethi cites the recent act by the Obama administration for allowing offshore drilling in the U.S. and the Alberta tar sands sites as two examples of imprudent decisions that blackn the eye the four decades of environmental advancement.
On the offshore drilling list is the Arctic's Chukchi and Beaufort seas which are of concern to environmentalists and others because they provide important habitat for polar bears, whales, and other marine life.
Likewise, environmental groups have for years scrutinize the tar sands in Western Canada. They say tar sands mining produces a product activists call 'dirty oil,' and is having a disastrous effect on the land, water, wildlife and to communities of northern Alberta.
As of late, images of oil-soaked birds from Alberta tar sands sites has became a banner for environmentalists all over North America and Europe.
As the Earth Day 2010 approaches, research shows despite the four decades of the awareness, eagerness to be environmentally friendly, North Americans are concerned yet conflicted, confused, cynical, and sometimes discouraged about going green.
According to the union of concerned scientists this is because besides recycling, no clear consent has come forth on what else North Americans should do to protect the environment.
However, environmental awareness has been making fair amount of headway with the public and some governments.
It is evident in increasing participation in Earth Hour and municipal recycling program. In some jurisdictions, green legislations on monitoring air pollution, protecting natural landscapes and on energy conservation have been enacted.
But, experts will also tell you going green is complex, much messy and friendship with the environment won’t be cemented with '10 Easy Steps.'
"Small changes are an essential first move and I applaud all who make them. However, we don't get to check the Earth off the list after we've bought the hybrid and recycled," Sethi says.
Sethi, lauded by Vanity Fair as "The Green Messenger," says the environment awareness message also has to be framed in a way so it connects with the concerns of the ordinary folks.
For example, if parents, healthcare providers and children's advocates concerns are about the alarming rates of babies born with asthma. The environmental message should encourage these groups for lobbying governments to enact legislation not to allow car idling when picking up kids at schools.
"The shift to green economy needs a much stronger government push," says Dr. Ijaz Rauf, a nanotechnology expert.
He says Europe, Germany and Spain took the lead at the right time to take action and many other European countries followed. Green trends like solar and wind technology for generating energy emerged there at a time when world economies were much better off.
“Unfortunately, North Americans ignored those developments when they should not have because of their economic interests in the fossil fuels,” Rauf says.
The Green Energy Act in Ontario was passed in the effort to make Ontario a leading green economy in North America.
However, Rauf says the cost of green sources is extremely high, fossil fuels prices are extremely low compared to green sources.
"People just can’t do much even if they want to take advantage of many green energy incentives, majority of people simply can’t," he says.
The global environmental awareness day was first celebrated on April 22, 1970. It was in response to signs of widespread environmental degradation.
Ever since, environmental groups have vowed to make Earth Day into a day of action to try and change societal behavior towards nature and provoke green legislations from governments around the world.
There's no knowing yet whether North American society will change its course in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Sethi is cautiously optimistic.
"I really hope so," she says."The recent acts in particular are really step backward though."
More about Earth day, Simran sethi, Tar sands, Offshore drilling
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