International Mother Earth Day 2020: seeking harmony with nature
In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly announced 22 April as ‘International Mother Earth Day’, acknowledging humanity’s common interest in the protection of the planet and its environment, and the importance of achieving harmony with nature.
Without finding a way to work together with the Earth and its vital ecosystems, the economic, social and environmental needs of the present generation may not be met – and a sustainable planet for future generations may sadly be out of the question.
Now, some eleven years on from putting the protection of our ecosystems at the top of the environmental agenda, are we upholding our end of the deal?
The conclusion of the warmest decade ever recorded brought with it widespread and devastating wildfires across the Amazon, parts of Indonesia and the United States, Australia and even the Arctic Circle.
In Australia alone earlier this year, bushfires scorched more than 15 million acres of land, destroyed more than 2,000 homes, claimed the lives of tens of people and billions of animals. Experts further estimate that smoke from the intense fires, which traveled as far as Argentina, was responsible for a further 417 deaths[i].
As East Africa battles a second wave of one of its worst locust swarm events in memory, placing millions of vulnerable people at risk and threatening livelihoods, with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calling it “an unprecedented threat” to food security[ii].
These increasingly frequent and severe incidences are a stark warning from Mother Nature herself that our efforts to responsibly manage what are finite resources are insufficient and ineffective in the face of exploding human population growth, and that we are placing too many pressures on the natural world. It is now, surely, the time to re-balance this relationship.
Coinciding with 2020 being a ‘super year’ for biodiversity’[iii], the focus of this year’s International Mother Earth Day centers around the same theme, and the importance of protecting and preserving the ecosystems that are vital to keeping the planet in balance.
According to the United Nations:
“Specific linkages between health and biodiversity include impact in nutrition, health research or traditional medicine, new infectious diseases and influencing shifts in the distribution of plants, pathogens, animals, and even human settlements, most of them affected by climate change[iv].”
In 2016, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) noted a worldwide increase in zoonotic epidemics as an issue of concern. Specifically, it pointed out that 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic and that these zoonotic diseases are closely interlinked with the health of ecosystems. Today, the world is battling the latest of these, and the most severe pandemic in decades. According to Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UNEP, we can expect to see increasing epidemics in future unless we take urgent action to protect our planet:
“We are intimately interconnected with nature, whether we like it or not. If we don’t take care of nature, we can’t take care of ourselves.”
Yet, despite the critical importance of protecting our environment being understood and acknowledged by governments around the world – and with biodiversity directly linked to 9 out of the 17 agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – biodiversity loss is accelerating in all regions of the world.
Through the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), research programs are underway, dedicated to tackling climate change and striving for sustainability. These projects are exploring innovative new solutions and technologies to build resilience in the face of the climate crisis and environmental impact.
Joining the battle, the Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics (J-IDEA) at the Imperial College London is at the forefront of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Co-founded by Imperial College London and Community Jameel in 2019, J-IDEA has a mission to combat threats from disease worldwide.
In an uncertain world, there is at least one indisputable certainty: the time is now for the world to take action, and to stop biting the hand that feeds it.
[i] Source: Medical Journey of Australia, March 2020: https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2020/bushfire-smoke-responsible-over-400-excess-deaths