Today the world celebrates Earth Day for the 49th year. The holiday began April 22, 1970, to galvanize environmental activists following a massive oil spill off the coast of Southern California the previous year, when a drilling shortcut from Union Oil led to the largest oil blowout the United States had yet seen. The spill covered wildlife, beaches, and ocean in toxic oil, and inspired then-Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson to found Earth Day as a way to spread the environmental movement, which in the U.S. supported the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 and Endangered Species Act in 1973.

This year, the global Earth Day Network declared the holiday’s theme to be “protect our species,” to call attention to “the unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations” that are “directly linked to causes driven by human activity,” including climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution, and pesticides.

For Earth Day 2019, cartoonists have sketched and shared some of the greatest threats they see facing planet earth.

Climate change

A study published in the March issue of the Nature journal found a 99.9999 percent chance that humans are the cause of climate change.

Weapons

The use of nuclear weapons, which nine countries are known to have, is devastating for the earth. Even a limited nuclear war would cast enough soot into the atmosphere to block sunlight and lower global temperatures, 2017 research found.

Arcadio Esquivel illustrates the point that "weapons and earth are incompatible."
Arcadio Esquivel
Arcadio Esquivel illustrates the point that "weapons and earth are incompatible."

Overconsumption

Americans consume, and waste, materials and resources at especially high rates. It’s estimated that a child in the U.S. creates 13 times the amount of ecological damage across a lifetime than a child born in Brazil.

Plastics

Nearly 18 billion pounds of plastic are estimated to land in our oceans every year. The push to minimize plastic’s harmful environmental impact has prompted bans and surcharges around the globe to reduce single-use plastics, including bag bans in New Jersey and proposed bans for Philadelphia.

Arcadio Esquivel of Costa Rica illustrates on April 21 that "plastic bags choke the world."
Arcadio Esquivel
Arcadio Esquivel of Costa Rica illustrates on April 21 that "plastic bags choke the world."

Slow progress

The first Earth Day in 1970 helped usher in a wave of environmental protection laws to reduce pollution and contamination and promote conservation. But progress has not been consistent, nor constant. Since 1970, for example, the average vertebrate animal population has declined by a reported 60 percent.