By Ugonma Cokey
It’s the 52nd anniversary of Earth Day today, Every April 22, is a day to remember the reason for the proclamation of the first Earth Day in 1970, and create awareness on environmental protection and earth conservation.
Like today, before the first Earth Day, there were vast amounts of air pollutions from gas and smoke without concerns for the consequences on nature, the climate or human health.
In 1962, Rachel Carson’s publication raised public awareness and concern on the links between pollution and public health, and Senator Gaylord Nelson organised nationwide grassroots demonstration in 1969 to promote conservation involvement and awareness; choosing April 22, which soon expanded and became the official Earth Day in 1970.
That year and subsequent years’ in America, environmental legislations were enacted and in 1990, Earth Day became a global event. Since then, every year on April 22, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.
Earth day since then has motivated people worldwide to take action in favour of the environment and earth conservation.
The question however, is as the world and indeed, Nigeria marks Earth Day today, what special decisions and actions will be taken to help reduce the exploitation of the Earth? What environmental legislation will the country or countries push, or will this commemoration help in fulfilling past promises made on the clean-up of the environment, a resultant effect of explorations and exploitations of human resources?
Will it fast-track the pending Ogoni clean-up? Will it help reduce the exploitation of natural resources that had impoverished especially the Niger Delta people whose source of livelihood has been destroyed? Will those concerned sit down to do a re-examination of existing legislations to align with modern day needs and trend?
Every year the UN picks a theme to mark the day; this year’s theme is “Invest in our planet” This day is a good day to think sustainability and plan to give back to the earth instead of exploiting it. Will this day help institute legislations that will improve the livelihoods and give justice to people who have suffered as a result of exploitation?
Fishermen who lament the destruction of their waters and disappearance of fish and indeed all sea animals; farmers who wail over their destroyed farmlands by oil, will this Earth Day make any difference? Will those concerned follow the theme and invest time, money and resources to help conserve the Earth?
What effect will this day have on polluting factories and power plants and toxic dumps and indiscriminate dumpsites? Will it lead to the stoppage and cleaning of oil spills which has destroyed biodiversity, flora and fauna and led to extinction of wildlife?
Will today help those in authority to stop breaking their promises on gas flares and how to make it profitable to citizens and instead translate their words into action so as to reduce greenhouse emissions and increase the effect of climate change? Will today help give thought on the reduction of the destruction of our forests, address the protection of and proper management of our natural resources, and conserve nature?
April 22,1970 sparked national and media attention across America; following that movement, the Media, development workers and the UN have been raising and still raising public consciousness on the dire consequences of unsustainable environmental practices, by putting it on the front burner as a way to support environmental protection; what will Nigeria, Africa, and indeed the world do differently today, to spark local and national attention across the globe, leave a mark and make history tomorrow?
Denis Hayes major campaign for the planet in 1990 caused Earth Day to go global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage and giving Earth Day a huge boost helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honour given to civilians in the United States, for his role as Earth Day founder.
Today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behaviour and create global, national and local policy changes.
As the world marks this day, it is a good time for governments especially in Africa to take quick and decisive action on global warming and clean energy, forge a united effort to mitigate the effect of climate change especially on food security, it is a time for individual countries to look inwards and design strategies as part of national political agenda, that will best solve its nations problems and protect the planet’s natural resources.
According to Nelson, “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level”. Citizens should grab the opportunity provided by today’s commemoration to rise up to demand for greater action for the planet and its people especially as it relates to global warming.
Development workers should invest more in ensuring that the message gets to the grassroots. The media with its agenda setting role should raise awareness about environmental issues in a way that it will transform public attitude because there’s still so much at stake.
This earth day should not be another time of talks and empty promises from governments, but it should also be a time to take action, that will change attitudes because environmental health translates to human health. To make investment in the planet more sustainable, let’s make every day an Earth Day.