June 5 has always been a day of hectic activity, primarily for environmentalists, heads of governments, policy-makers and a few corporate bodies the worldover. However, the common wo/man's absence of participation in World Environment Day activities, especially in developing countries, is noticeable. A majority of people in less developed countries (LDCs) hardly know, or care, about these much-touted events. They are obsessed with topics like this year's Budget, the political situation and inflation. Not surprising, since nearly 40 per cent of this population lives below the poverty line. Even the media in the Asian continent makes a passing reference to this day.
Whatever the case be, one fact remains that `Life on Earth without water is simply unthinkable'. Three-fourths of the Earth is occupied by this `Universal Solvent'. Human beings are made up of about 70 per cent of water (is this why the full moon affects some of us?). Yet, water threatens to become the 21st century's most burning issue. Wars are expected to break out in the name of sharing of river and ocean waters, India being a case in point. Entrepreneurs such as the Canadian-based Nova group found itself in hot waters when it attempted to export 600 million litres of water from Lake Superior to some drought-stricken areas in Asia.
Whatever the case, waters always hold a fascination for human beings. And the ocean (seas), especially have been the theme for many blockbuster movies -- `Water World', `Doctor do Little', `The Titanic', `Free Willy' and `20000 Leagues under the Sea', to name a few. Conservationists down the decades have been cautioning us that polluting the seas and oceans will not only kill marine life and food, once considered to be an unlimited resource, but also deprive us of fresh water.
The ocean floor is a natural archive of information on how our planet works, and has worked for millions of years. The composition and structure of seafloor sediment and underlying basement crust yield important clues to the evolution of life, ocean-atmosphere dynamics, and the tectonic processes that shaped the Earth's continents and ocean basins as we know them today.
Earth is a dynamic system and understanding how it works helps us locate vital mineral resources, make better use of renewable ocean resources, predict climate change, plan for environmental impacts on society, and conversely be better stewards in minimizing adverse effects of society on the environment.
The Ocean is vital to life on earth. From the life-giving rain that nourishes crops, to life-saving medicines; from the fish that come from the ocean floor, to the goods that are transported on the sea's surface -- the ocean plays a role in your life in some way every day. In recognition of the importance of the marine environment, this year's theme of World Environment Day is `For Life on Earth: Save Our Seas'.
World Environment Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Another resolution, adopted by the General Assembly the same day, led to the creation of UNEP. While the theme of the 1974 World Environment Day was `Only one Earth', last year's theme was `For life on Earth'.
World Environment Day 1998 is special. Each year, UNEP, the agency responsible for coordinating World Environment Day activities, selects a city as the main venue for the international celebrations, and this year, for the first time since the inception of this event, the venue will be Moscow in Eastern Europe -- a region of dramatic change. "The rapid economic, social and political changes which have taken place in Eastern Europe over the past few years, have greatly influenced the lifestyle of the people in the region," said Mr. Klaus Topfer, UNEP Executive Director.
As the host of World Environment Day 1998, the City of Moscow and the Russian Federation have made a concerted effort to promote environmental awareness and action nationally, regionally and internationally, by organising a series of important events. The main event to be held on 5 June will culminate with the presentation of UNEP's Global 500 Awards to 23 individuals and organisations from 19 countries who have made outstanding contributions to the protection of the environment.
In many countries, this annual event is used to enhance political attention and action. Heads of state, prime ministers and ministers of environment deliver statements and commit themselves to care for the Earth. More serious pledges are made which lead to the establishment of permanent governmental structures dealing with environmental management and economic planning. This observance also provides an opportunity to sign or ratify international environmental conventions.
Points to ponder
As humanity moves toward the 21st century, we are left with no choice but to redefine the values and principles that underlie our relationship with the Earth. Clearly, a new approach is required.
Creating a Spiritual Culture: The industrial civilisation has brought about an abundance of goods and services to humankind, but also an obsession for materialism and a distortion of human values.
Achieving Environmental Equity: Planet Earth is the common home for all of us. We must all strive to share equitably the benefits and burdens resulting from the use of the environment.
Greening Science and Technology: Science and technology have played a critical role in the development of human history and will be one of the key determining factors in shaping a sustainable future. However, the impacts of technological development and their applications have also become so serious that they threaten the stability of the ecosystem and human society.
Sharing Responsibilities: All members of human society are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the environment as a Whole-Life-System. Individual efforts can be enhanced through building networks within and among all levels of civil society and government, industry and business, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Environmental Education: Education, especially at an early age, has a significant effect on how people form attitudes toward the environment, and is thus crucial. Educational programmes designed to enhance awareness of environmental issues and ethics must be developed and applied at all levels of society through all available and practical means.
International Cooperation: Nations share common responsibilities for preserving Earth's environment. This amounts to active involvement in regional and international cooperative efforts and joint implementation of environmentally-sound policies, while faithfully complying with established multilateral agreements.
Environmentally-Sound Lifestyle: All members of society must cultivate a lifestyle that accepts and is consistent with sufficiency rather than greed and excess. Bearing in mind that Earth's resources are limited, each person must avoid a culture of extravagant material consumption and pursue ways to preserve the planet by improving consumption patterns.
Active Involvement: Individuals are encouraged to participate both morally and politically in all levels in the decision-making process of environmental policies in order to improve the quality of decision-making, avoid corruption, and ensure that their interests can be properly represented.
Role of "Watchdog" and Liaison: NGOs must serve the role of "watchdog" and must be prepared to assess and evaluate policy decisions, and where necessary, propose alternative environmental and development policies.
Environmentally-Friendly Business Practices: The industrial sector must actively apply eco-efficiency principles in order to use less energy and materials for the same amount of output and to reduce emissions and waste. This requires the widespread adoption of environmentally-friendly production technologies, an increased use of recycled materials, and a greater emphasis on substituting goods with services. The financial and insurance sectors must also increasingly direct investment toward environmentally-sound projects.
Interdisciplinary Approach: Science and technology alone cannot resolve the impending environmental crisis. An interdisciplinary approach, which includes other branches of academic endeavors such as the humanities and social sciences, is needed to develop active research programs for a better understanding of the increasingly complicated environmental problems. The key is to recognise that humans and the natural environment are interdependent and part of a larger entity, the "Whole-Life-System."
(Excerpts from last year's World Environment Day -- Seoul Declaration)
Earth Day an everyday
World Environment Day