The origin of Earth Day dates back to April 22, 1970 when in the United States of America, Senator Gaylord Nelson, Congressman Pete McClosky and young activist Denis Hayes orchestrated a massive countrywide demonstration with like-minded individuals and activists to raise concern about environmental degradation due to natural and anthropogenic causes.
This event heralded the promulgation and creation of a series of Acts and agencies for environmental protection in the USA.
By 1992, the Earth Day movement went global and culminated in the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. On 2016, on Earth Day, the much coveted Paris Agreement was adopted by the United Nations.
A few days back, on April 9, 2021, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, visited Dhaka to extend an invitation to Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, to join the "Global Leaders' Summit on Climate Change" to be held virtually this year on April 22-23 with President Joe Biden at the helm.
The growing concern and actions for restoring earth is continuously rising and long overdue.
But why do we need to do so many things to restore our earth?
We, human beings as individuals, all have an immediate and lasting impact on the earth by our lifestyle, consumption behaviour and production practices, taxing on earth's resources. According to the Global Footprint Network, in 2016, the World's average ecological footprint was 2.75 global hectares per person, leading to a global ecological deficit of 1.1 global hectares per person.
This means we are overusing ecology by over extractive production and our consumption behaviours, compared to what can be replenished. The deficit, termed as the ecological overshoot, tells us that it takes the Earth 1.6 years to regenerate the amount we used and absorbed in terms of carbon emissions in a year.
Every country and every individual has an ecological footprint. Although there are some debates around this footprint calculation, its role in ensuring environmental justice for the populations suffering from the most disproportionate impacts of climate change and environmental degradation cannot be overlooked. It requires our collective effort to offset the overshoot and help our earth regain its natural pace of regeneration and be a sustainable abode for us.
There are many ways to do it from our individual levels. We can do so by reducing wastage and carbon emissions, minimising plastic and polythene pollution, practicing sustainable agriculture, using clean energy and water, maintaining good hygiene practices and healthy lifestyle.
One recent example is the one time usage and disposal of masks to tackle Covid-19 spread. Covid-19 pandemic has imposed a unique threat on humankind beyond health and economic shocks. Wearing a mask has now become an integral part of our fight against it and its disposal has created a littering problem for the ground and water bodies. It is high time we encouraged safe disposal of masks and alternative use of reusable masks.
There is a complex nexus between extreme poverty and environmental degradation, which puts strain on ecosystem services. Vulnerability of people living in marginalised communities increases their dependency on the natural resources for sustenance, livelihood and lifestyle, perpetuating the strain on the ecosystem. If we can apply the above-mentioned practices in a poverty context, it not only ensures a sustainable livelihood for the people living in poverty but also minimises the strain on the ecosystem.
It is possible through encouraging and educating people living with multifarious vulnerabilities to use clean energy, adopt context specific agriculture, avoid plastic and maintain good hygiene practice.
For example, BRAC's Ultra Poor Graduation (UPG) programme educates its women participants living in ultra-poverty to avoid plastic and related enterprises as their earning sources; encourages them to cultivate Napier grass in dry (northern) area, watery grass in water logging area, hydroponic grass in hoar (wetland) area and climate and region specific vegetable production through home gardening and tree plantation.
It is high time we all individually and collectively played our role in restoring the Earth and its ecosystem. In the process, it is also essential to reduce inequality and impacts of climate change among the people living in vulnerability and ultra-poverty. Everyone being able to enjoy the same safe, pristine and healthy environment and sustainable livelihood by combating climate change and environmental degradation is a basic human right that can no longer be ignored.
Syeda Sadia Hasan, Head, Resource Mobilisation, M&E and Learning, BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation programme