Celebrating Earth

Celebrating Earth on Earth Day (April 22 every year) is a wonderful time to acknowledge, honour and give thanks for the gift of life and the that the Earth provides. It is also a time to acknowledge our impact on Earth and consider ways that we can take take better care of our one shared planet.

In the beginning

About 4.5 billion years ago, Earth formed when gas and dust coalesced from the force of gravity and became a satellite of the star we call the Sun.

Earth is composed of four main layers, starting in the centre with an inner core, surrounded by the outer core, mantle, and crust. Of course we don’t really see any of this, just the very surface. The inner core is mostly solid iron and nickel, whilst the outer core is mostly fluid iron and nickel. The mantle is molten rock and the crust is mostly solid rock.

The non-living surface of Earth might be inanimate but it is still constantly changing. The crust and upper mantle is divided into huge plates that are constantly moving. Earthquakes and volcanic activity that we see and feel on the surface are related to these plates moving underneath us. In places where a plate rides up on another, mountain ranges are formed such as the Himalayas.

These mountains are eroded by the action of water, ice and in some places wind. Erosion creates the peaks and valleys that are awe-inspiring. Yet the biggest mountains and the most volcanoes are under the surface of the sea hidden from us like the deepest depths of the planet.

Earth is unique among the rocky planets in the Solar System in having oceans of liquid water on its surface. Water covers approximately 71% of Earth’s surface. There is conjecture about where the water came from, one hypothesis is that it was delivered after Earth form by planetisimals (like asteroids) made of ice.

The world’s oceans play an important role in keeping our planet warm. The majority of radiation from the Sun is absorbed by the ocean, particularly in tropical waters around the equator, where the ocean acts like a massive, heat-retaining solar hot-water panel.

A living earth

Earth sits in the habital zone (or Goldilocks zone) of our solar system where it is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right for liquid water to exist, and for life to flourish. With liquid water over most of its surface and with the availability of carbon and a mix of other chemicals, Earth provided the necessary conditions that life could evolve, starting about 3.8 billion years ago.

As life first started to evolve, the interactions between it and the inanimate world began to create what has become known as Gaia. Whilst hypothetical, there is compelling evidence that life and the conditions for life, particularly the atmosphere and the hydrosphere, have coevolved as if they are one massive living system.

It seems miraculous that animals breath out CO2, and breath in O2, and plants breath out O2, and breath in CO2, but it’s just natural order. Earth is the home we share will all other people (the Econation) and with all other life. Earth is the home-maker and life-giver to us and to all life, no-wonder people throughout the ages have called her the Earth Mother.

Ecosystem services connect people and nature

As well as giving us life, there are many other reasons we should be celebrating Earth. The health of the ecosystems around us links directly to human welfare and well-being. We are dependent on ecosystems for our very survival. These natural services include things like food, water purification, flood control, carbon sequestration, pollination, soil stabilisation, recreation and cultural amenity, and many others. The value of such benefits has become more apparent as human populations grow and average consumption per person increases. The multiplication of these two factors means that the demand for resources is also growing which puts enormous pressure on the natural environment. There is a conflict because whilst people need to use natural resources for their welfare, ecosystems need to maintain their integrity to remain healthy and productive. Nevertheless, if we look after them properly, ecosystems can provide for human needs now and into the future. However, as Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘the earth can provide for every persons’ needs but not every persons’ greed.’

One Earth

We only have one planet Earth but we use it as if we have spare. It seems ridiculous that Elon Musk seriously wants to inhabit Mars. Even if he could make it happen surely with the way of thinking we currently have, we would ruin Mars as well. Our natural environment is extremely giving but it can’t afford to keep this up, we need to reduce what we take to sustainable levels. To do that, and to survive as a species and not ruin nature, we need to learn how to control ourselves and consume much less.

Celebrating Earth

Use Earth Day as a celebration of the Earth, and the life-giver she is.