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National Geographic CEO’s Earth Day Talk Focuses On Population, Consumption

April 25, 2009 – Georgetown marked the 39th Earth Day by welcoming National Geographic’s president and chief executive officer, John Fahey, to talk about the importance of sustaining natural resources. 

Nearly 100 people gathered in Copley Formal Lounge for the April 22 event, sponsored by the Lecture Fund, the Office of the Senior Vice President, Center for the Environment, EcoAction and The Corp.

Earth Day Then and Now

Fahey and Georgetown President John J. DeGioia both recalled their introductions to Earth Day. Fahey was a student at Manhattan College while DeGioia was in junior high school. 

“I was my seventh-grade class’ co-chair for Earth Day,” DeGioia said recalling the inaugural celebration on April 22, 1970. 

He attributed the success of that day to the wide appeal and grassroots efforts made by people of all walks of life. “They came together to show their concern and care for the environment,” he said. “Twenty years later, Earth Day had grown into an international phenomenon.” 

Today, groups and organizations such as National Geographic continue to draw awareness to what’s impacting the planet. Whether through magazine stories about sea-ice shrinkage in the Artic Circle, TV programs about unlocking the mystery of the pyramids in Egypt or feature films documenting penguins in Antarctica as they trek inland to breed, National Geographic hasn’t strayed far from the mission adopted by the society, which was founded in 1888. 

“Everyday is Earth Day at National Geographic,” Fahey said. “Our mission is to inspire people to care about the planet.” 

Fahey: Humans Straining the Environment

By 2050, the world’s population could reach more than 9 billion people, according to the United Nations. Fahey said the growth, mostly in developing countries, could further strain the preservation of natural resources, dry up water sources and drive development that destroys forests or slow the dynamics of a healthy economy

Fahey used logging in the Congo as an example. “The Pygmies couldn’t wait until the loggers came to their area,” he said. “They thought they would make some money … and do things that they hadn’t been exposed to before.”

But with those development opportunities came the dilemma of losing trees and plant life that they had lived with for centuries. Studies show that logging devours about 3,000 square miles of forestry each year.

Something Has to Give

Fahey said the “American ideal” of development and access has rubbed off on countries around the world. 

“We’re coming from the idea that you have to own lots of things,” Fahey explained, “and we’ve exported our American dream to the world. It’s time we dial down consumption before it becomes a problem.” 

Jimalyn Yao (SFS’10) said she was glad to hear the CEO talk about the importance of preserving the air, soil and, especially, water. 

“Water is used for so many things and required of so many people,” said Yao, who is taking a course on water in the environment. “It’s important to have waste water management in place to ensure drinkability.”

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