Earth Day Facts
Annually, April 22 is a day set aside to honor the Earth. But every day is Earth Day, and some of the things that will happen 365 times in a year are listed below. Not all of them can continue indefinitely.
- Earth will travel 1.6 million miles in its annual journey around the Sun, the 4.6-billionth such round-trip. It will rotate about its axis exactly once.
- The Sun will travel 13.5 million miles around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.
- The Sun will fuse 51.8 billion tons of hydrogen into 51.5 billion tons of helium. (Lest you worry, it will have the capacity to do this for another 5 billion years or so.) The other 0.3 billion tons will be released as energy (Einstein's E = mc2). The energy poured forth in all directions each day is 10 trillion trillion kilowatt-hours. The fraction of this energy that bathes the Earth powers nearly everything that lives there.
- The fraction of the sun's energy intercepted by the Earth at the top of its atmosphere is 6000 trillion kilowatt-hours, about 600,000 times the quantity Americans consume in a day.2
- The population of the world will grow by 211,000 people.3 A new Akron, Ohio will be added every day.
- 40,000 acres of land, an area about the size of Boise, Idaho will be converted to desert.4
- 200 million tons of topsoil will be lost through erosion from croplands.5
- 50,000 acres of forest will be eliminated.6
- Between 20 and 500 species will disappear from the planet forever.7 We know so little about the family of life to which we belong that we cannot quantify the damage we are inflicting upon it. We do know that extinctions are occurring 100 to 1,000 times faster than the normal background rate.8
- People will consume more than 3 billion gallons of oil.9
- Burning the oil and other fossil fuels will release 70 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, slowly but surely nudging the planet's temperature upward.10
- 3 million tons of iron ore, 575 thousand tons of tin, 330 thousand tons of bauxite (for aluminum), and 34 thousand tons of copper will be ripped from the Earth.11
- 800 million people will go to bed hungry and awake too weak to lead productive lives.12
- 18,000 children will die from chronic hunger, malnutrition, and related diseases.13
- The world will spend $3 billion on military expenditures, half by one country.14
- $2 billion will be invested in research and development.15 This will result in the publication of 1,900 science and engineering articles16 and granting of 150 patents.17
- 4000 books will be published.18
- 1.3 billion children will be educated in pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools.19
- 97 billion e-mail messages will be sent, more than 40 billion of which will be spam.20
One thing is certain: the world of today will be different tomorrow - and the day after that, and on and on ad infinitum. The question is not whether we must learn to live sustainably, but how fast we can do so.
1 The figures cited are rounded off to the nearest major number. Many have been calculated by dividing an annual total by the 365 days in a year. The actual value is not always the same every day. Not every annual statistic was available for the same year, but all years used were after 2002. Tons refers to the metric measure, which is 1,000 kilograms or 2,200 pounds (vs. the American ton, 2,000 pounds).
2 Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, January 22, 2007, pp. 34-40.
3 Joel E. Cohen, Science Magazine's State of the World 2006-2007, Donald Kennedy, ed., Washington, DC: Island Press (2006), pp. 13-21.
4 Paul Harrison and Fred Pearce, AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment, Berkeley: University of California Press (2000), pp. 131-134.
5 Bruce H. Wilkinson and Brandon J. McElroy, Geological Society of America Bull. 119, Jan./Feb. 2007, pp. 140-156.
6 Data from Mongabay.
7 Paul Harrison and Fred Pearce, AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment, Berkeley: University of California Press (2003), pp. 27-34.
8 W. Wayt Gibbs, Scientific American 285 (5), November 2001, pp. 40-49; Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (1992) and The Future of Life, New York: Alfred A. Knopf (2002).
9 BP website.
10 U.S. Energy Information Administration website.
11 Paul Harrison and Fred Pearce, AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment, Berkeley: University of California Press (2000), pp. 83-86.
12 Ismail Serageldin, Science 296, 5 April 2002, pp. 54-58.
13 UN World Food Program.
14 CIA website.
15 United Nations Development Program's 2006 Human Development Report.
16 National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators 2006, Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.
17 OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard, Paris: OECD (2005).
18 Jascha Hoffman, New York Times Book Review, April 15, 2007, p. 27
20 International Data Center website.
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