Thanks To Us, We Are Rapidly Running Out of Earth Days!

‘Don’t Worry Though. The Planet Will Be Fine. It will   be here for a Long, Long Time. We’re Going Away’ – from a routine by the late George Carlin called ‘The Planet is Fine’

A Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted on Earth Day, April 22nd, 2019 on Niagara At Large

We all have those days in our lives where we will never forget where we were and what we were doing at the time.

One of mine was April 22nd, 1970 – the very first Earth Day observed anywhere around the world – and my high school principal in Welland, Ontario allowed me and about four or five of my classmates to hold a demonstration in front of a Union Carbide plant that was infamous for belching clouds of filth from this stacks that could be seen from one end of the Niagara region to another.

As we stood outside the chain-link fence of that plant – me wearing a gas mask I borrowed from my arts teacher, and holding a sign reading; “If You Aren’t Part of the SOLUTION, You are Part of the POLLUTION” – cars raced by with horn honks of support, and workers from the plant, out on their break, threw empty pop cans at the chain-link fence behind us and yelled; “Beat it. Go back to school.”

Our April 22nd, 1970 demonstration on the very first Earth Day, with the author of this post out front wearing a gas mask.

We remained undaunted.

We had been reading and to no small degree, we had been witnessing and experiencing the smog that was choking the air and the mats of rotting algae that were threatening to kill water bodies like Lake Erie in the Great Lakes. And then there were the petro-chemicals being dumped into the lakes and their tributaries, with one river on the U.S. side so saturated in oily effluent that it actually caught fire.

One thing I will never forget witnessing was a red-headed woodpecker, laying on the lawn of the home where I grew up in Welland, dying  after a truck from the city sprayed the trees around our yard with some sort of chemical to kill insects. The sight of that beautiful bird, on the grass, having convulsions, still haunts me and may be one of the reasons I became such pest as a reporter to the chemical industry. 

Margherita Howe, a Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario resident and leader of a group called Operation Clean Niagara, became known by citizens and governments on both both sides of the Canada/U.S. border in the 1980s for her anti-pollution campaign for the Great Lakes.

So there we were, demonstrating on that first Earth Day and hoping that what we were doing, in our own small way, would  “save the planet.”

We may not have realized it at the time, but saving the planet is not something that can be accomplished with a few demonstrations over a short period of time.

So there I was a decade later, in 1980, working full-time as an environment reporter at The St. Catharines Standard, writing stories about toxic chemicals in our Great Lakes and environmental groups on both sides of the border pressing for a clean-up, while officers from the Ontario Ministry of Environment were still working to get Union Carbide and other industries in our region to reduce the amount of pollution they were spewing into the air.

Then almost a decade after that, in January of 1989, the publishers of Time Magazine would do something rather unique and dramatic with the cover its magazine, normally for the first issue of a New Year for their pick of the “Person of the Year.”

That year the cover of Time read; “Planet of the Year,” with our planet depicted like a ball washed up on an oil-slicked, covered in clear plastic and tangled in fish net. A caption underneath read; ‘Endangered Earth”.

Inside that issue of the magazine – now 30 years old – we were being warned already that we humans may not have much time left to take real action to avert a tipping point where it may be too late to turn things around.

And yes, that magazine, as far back as 1989, was already warning about an impending climate crisis. Inside the issue, a younger, then Senator Al Gore was calling out for action to slash the carbon pollution that is hurling us closer to an all-out climate catastrophe, just as he continues to do now as a former U.S. vice-president who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for championing this important cause – just as he continues to do today despite all of the derision from climate deniers and those with vested interests in carbon-based energy corporations.

At first he was like one voice in the universe, but not any more. Al Gore has been calling for real action on climate change for more than 30 years.

“There are areas of uncertainty about the greenhouse effect and the dire nature of the ecological crisis we face, which are seized upon as excuses for inaction,” wrote Gore for a column posted in that 1989 issue of Time Magazine. “This is a psychological problem common to all humanity. If strong responses are needed and yet there is some residual uncertainty about whether you are going to have to make those responses, the natural psychological tendency is to magnify the uncertainty and say, ‘Well, maybe we won’t really have to face up to it.”

Thirty years later, any uncertainty that human actions that unleash massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere are responsible for ever more frequent and severe climate related disasters is the domain or device of those people who choose to display wilful ignorance for a host of reasons that have nothing to do with caring about the welfare of present and future generations, or the common good.

Within the past half year alone, we have been told in no uncertain terms by international teams of scientists and climate experts that we probably have a dozen years left to begin taking strong action on the climate issue now or face a future that few if any will enjoy living in.

Earlier this year, a major report prepared by Canadian government scientists showed evidence that, on average, Canada’s environment is showing the impact of climate-altering carbon pollution twice as fast as the rest of the world.

Alterta’s premier-elect Jason Kenney, left, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, have locked arms with Canada’s Tory federal leader in fighting any plan to put a price on carbon pollution.

Yet instead of having leaders that are willing to do something about it, we elect dangerous hacks for the carbon polluting industrial complex like Doug Ford in Ontario and Jason Kenney in Alberta and Andrew Scheer, who may be Canada’s prime minister before the end of this year, that would leave us circling the drain for a few cents less for a litre of gasoline.

We are running out of Earth Days folks.

We don’t have any time left for the dangerous kind of circle-the-drain games being played by the likes of Doug Ford, Andrew Scheer and their friend, Donald Trump, across the border.

There are less than a dozen Earth Days left to take the strong, uncompromising action we need to take now to stave off a full-fledged climate catastrophe.

And it is not about “saving the planet.” It is about saving humans as a species on this planet.

As one of my favourite cultural critics – the late George Carlin – once said: “The planet will survive us. … The planet will be fine, and it will still be here. We’re going away.”

Take a pledge this Earth day to join the green movement, and push the Fords and Scheers and Kenneys and Trumps out of the way, for the sake of a liveable future.

  • Doug Draper, veteran environment reporter, publisher, Niagara At Large

Earth Day activities are continuing in to the coming weekend in this region and others across the continent, and Niagara At Large will have more news and commentary on what we are doing to and for our planet throughout.

Stay Tuned.

To hear and watch George Carlin, delivering his ‘The Planet is Fine’ routine, click on the screen below. And remember that any obscene language in this often tongue in cheek routine is not nearly as obscene as the toxic garbage we are putting in our air and in our rivers, lakes and oceans  –


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“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

2 responses to “Thanks To Us, We Are Rapidly Running Out of Earth Days!

  1. Gary Screaton Page

    Thanks, Doug. Good to see you got an early start. Excellent your principal supported your passion and allowed time to protest: seems rather enlightened for a principal. Not like one of mine who raised hell, as did the Director, when I and another teacher dared to discuss in class the damage being done by a local company by one of their plants in another country. Apparently, the company was a generous supporter of the Board. Money talked then as it does not.
    Ah, Doug, you have not lost your passion.
    Thanks for Niagara At Large!


  2. Keep up the fight Doug. And thanks for sharing that picture – classic.


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