United Nations World Environment Day

Published on 5 June 2021

Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible nature, unaware that this nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshipping.

Hubert Reeves, Canadian astrophysicist

Ecosystem Restoration is the theme for this year’s United Nations World Environment Day on June 5, 2021.

But why does our ecosystem need restoration?

Because the world’s average surface temperature has risen by one degree Celsius compared to preindustrial times.  Climate change is linked to heat-related mortality.  Prolonged heat waves and warmer oceans are disrupting life cycles.  Ice sheet loss, changes in ocean salinity, and rising water levels are threatening the islands and coastal areas of the world.  The marine food web is being altered, as fish are migrating elsewhere and sea birds that forage for fish on the surface are now going in search of food from one hemisphere to another.  The productivity of the upper part of the ocean is rapidly changing.  There is human pressure on the marine ecosystem with overfishing, oil spills,  and pollution.  Extreme weather events are accelerating coral bleaching.

Man-animal conflicts are on the rise, as fertile land is being swallowed up for agriculture and invasive weeds are taking over the native grasslands.  Traditional feeding grounds of the elephants are altered so much that they are forced to cross treacherous slopes in search of food.  Some slip and fall to their death, just like the walruses crossing the steep cliffs in the Arctic, as the ice sheets melt. Glaciers are retreating.  Floods and droughts are devastating.  Food security and livelihood are under threat.  For the first time in 40 years, a starving, tired and sick polar bear left its melting sea-ice habitat and entered the industrial city of Norilsk, Russia, probably searching for food.  Such instances of animals entering villages and cities looking for their next meal are increasing in number.  There is colony collapse of emperor penguins in the Halley Bay in Antarctica as the sea ice breaks up.  With no sustenance, the reindeer population has decreased from 5 million to 2.1 million in two decades.  Mass deaths of fish are becoming commonplace.

Raging wildfires are wiping out large swathes of forests.  Nine out of 10 people worldwide are breathing polluted air.  According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Living Planet Report 2020, wildlife has declined by two-thirds in less than 50 years. To be more precise, Feeling The Heat (2021) report states that the Atlantic puffin, mountain hare, snow leopard, leatherback turtle, black-headed squirrel monkey, Darwin’s frog, emperor penguins, hippopotamus, bumblebee, bluebells, corals and coffee are threatened with extinction.  If no action is taken, populations of non-human mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects and fish will continue to fall and will in turn threaten the integrity of the human environment.

According to The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review (February 2021), nature is our most precious asset and we are all its asset managers.  Nature provides air, water, fish stocks, rocks and minerals, fertile soil, insects to pollinate crops, and life-enriching recreational outlets.  But we have mismanaged it to a point that to maintain humanity’s current way of life, 1.6 Earths are needed!  The review indicates that the economic health of nations can no longer be based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as it does not take into account the degradation of the biosphere.

Our mangled ecosystem needs to be restored.

It begins with the understanding that everything is interconnected and only the collective action of every single human can avert this global ecological disaster (when there is still time).

Don’t waste electricity, don’t waste paper, don’t waste food – live the way you want to live, but just don’t waste.

Sir David Attenborough

A Checklist for #GenerationRestoration:

  • Support nature’s climate warriors.
  • Work with indigenous communities to strengthen forests, guard biodiversity hot spots, and curb illegal logging and poaching.
  • Do not support products that are unethically sourced and cause deforestation.
  • Do not adopt non-native animals as pets, as they can endanger the local ecosystem and bring parasitic diseases to vulnerable populations.
  • Use technology in ecosystem restoration; satellite imagery, drones, genome sequencing to study how animals and plants are adapting to extreme weather.
  • Boost standing-forest bioeconomy; the Amazon forest products like Cacao, Açai berries, and Brazil nuts have a higher economic value than clearing forests for cattle ranch and crops, as per World Economic Forum (WEF).
  • Put down action plan for animal welfare and increasing tree cover.
  • Support ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Support krill fishery, coral reefs and seagrass restoration that play a central role in marine food web.
  • Ensure proper disposal of wastes and raw sewage.
  • Instead of managing wastes, companies must completely remove waste generation.
  • Protect elephants, their habitats and corridors.
  • Introduce nature education as early as possible to enable changes.
  • New jobs can be created by adopting a circular economy to reuse resources and reduce emissions.
  • Transform finance to build inclusive wealth.
  • Public money should be spent on a cleaner and greener future for all.
  • Adopt a less-is-more lifestyle and redistribute the surplus to the needy.
  • Halt destruction of the natural world and overexploitation of resources.
  • Value nature’s every little contribution and waste nothing.

Just as humans, animals too are capable of experiencing emotions like happiness, sadness, jealously, grief and empathy.  In Blue Planet II, an act of grieving was evident in the mother pilot whale carrying around her dead calf.  In a recent rampage in a banana plantation in South India, a herd of wild elephants left one banana plant standing, as it housed the nest of newly hatched sparrows.  Monkeys redistribute food when they feel one of their pack has received an unequal share.  It’s not just man alone, but animals are sentient beings too.

Staunchly support nature-based solutions that benefit people and biodiversity.

We are learning the hard way how selfishly altering the land and having an utter disregard for animal life can backfire, impacting us through antibiotic resistance, viral pandemic, and economic collapse.  COVID-19 is a wake-up call to be the judge and jury of our own actions.

If we care about our common future and the common future of our descendants, we should all in part be naturalists.

Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta

Image Source: Pexels

Books to Read:

  1. A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future 

2. The Future We Choose

3. Unearthed – An Environmental History of Independent India

4. More From Less

5. Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know

6. The Waste-Free World

7. Land – How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World

8. The Power of Ethics – How to Make Good Choices in a Complicated World

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