Earth Day: the face of climate change

Today, Monday 22 April, is Earth Day, a day of worldwide activity around the theme of environmental protection. The idea for earth day was suggested by John McConnell at a UNESCO conference in 1969. His proposed date was 21 March, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. However, at the same time another Earth Day, focused on environmental education, was initiated by US Senator Gaylord Nelson, and held on 22 April 1970. This subsequently became the accepted date for the day. The famous American cartoonist Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip Pogo, created the promotional poster for the first Earth Day, featuring the message “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

We have met the enemy, and he is us. (© All Rights Reserved)
We have met the enemy, and he is us.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Initially a US only event, it was expanded to an international event on it’s 20th anniversary in 1990. Earth Day 1990 was celebrated in 141 countries, involving an estimated 200 million people, and was an important unifying event in the international environmental movement. Ten years later in 2000, Earth Day took another step forward, becoming the first Earth Day to be extensively organised via the Internet. A huge success, the day featured actor Leonardo DiCaprio as its official host, and involved participating events in a record 183 countries.

This year, a wide range of activities are again being planned around the world, with a focus on climate change. The effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent each year – while the concept may have felt remote, vague and theoretical not long ago, it has reached the point where we can no longer sit back and make it out to be a rumour or conspiracy theory, or a distant future generation’s problem.

To underline the fact that climate change affects us here and now, and that every person, as an individual, can take steps to do something about it, the Earth Day Network has initiated a campaign entitled “The Face of Climate Change”, with the premise that each of us represents a face of climate change, and it’s up to us to decide whether our faces will be those of the villains or heroes in the climate change picture.

As part of the campaign, they are organising a collaborative ‘global visual mosaic’ around the theme, with the idea being that people can upload photos illustrating aspects of climate change from around the world. Photos can illustrate effects, causes or solutions of climate change, and should ideally include a human face and a sign that reads “The Face of Climate Change”. To take part, and to show your role in the global climate change picture, upload your photo here.

To quote the Earth Day Network, “Together, we’ll highlight the solutions and showcase the collective power of individuals taking action across the world. In doing so, we hope to inspire our leaders to act and inspire ourselves to redouble our efforts in the fight against climate change.”

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Watching the weather to protect life and property

On 23 March each year, the worldwide meteorological community joins the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in celebrating World Meteorological Day. This commemorates the day in 1950 that the WMO was created, and also serves to create awareness around meteorology and the important role it plays in our daily lives. Every year has a special theme, this year being “Watching the weather to protect life and property”.

Given the loss of human life and destruction of property we’re witnessing internationally with increasing regularity, resulting from natural disasters such as droughts, floods and tornados, it is obvious that early awareness of potential extreme weather conditions is critical for the protection of life and property. And it is here that meteorology plays such a key role – it is the science that deals with the study of past weather patterns and trends, in order to predict what the weather holds in the future.

Knowing what the weather holds - a quest as old as mankind.(© All Rights Reserved)
Knowing what the weather holds – a quest as old as mankind.
(© All Rights Reserved)

To find out more about the meteorology and its role in protecting life and property, have a look at the WMO’s cry informative World Meteorology Day brochure. As the document points out, “weather and climate knows no national borders”, and so this is another of those domains where international cooperation and sharing of knowledge and resources is absolutely critical to benefit all of humankind. To this end, it is also pertinent that 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the World Weather Watch – a landmark in international cooperation. The World Weather Watch “combines observing systems, telecommunication facilities, and data-processing and forecasting centres in order to disseminate essential meteorological and related environmental information and services in all countries.”

As extreme weather conditions become more commonplace (due to global climate change), investment in new technologies to more accurately predict extreme events and natural disasters are becoming increasingly important. Investing in early warning technologies allowing us to be ready sooner – to prepare for, and even prevent, disasters – makes perfect sense. As an example of this, an international project known as THORPEX (THe Observing system Research and Predictability EXperiment) is working on new techniques and technologies to extend forecasts of high-impact weather events to two weeks (current state of the art systems can provide reliable predictions of between 5 and 10 days). THORPEX is an international collaborative project between ten leading forecasting centres.

To quote M Jarraud, Secretary-General of the WMO: “More than ever the world needs global cooperation to promote and coordinate the provision of better and longer-term weather and climate forecasts and early warnings to protect life and property. The 2013 World Meteorological Day offers an occasion to reinforce this message and to contribute to address- ing the challenges of the 21st century.”

Definitely a message worth supporting and sharing.

World Soil Day and the promotion of soil security

In 2002 the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) declared 5 December as World Soil Day. Soil may not be glamorous, but it is a key component of our natural system, and a critical contributor to food, water and energy security through its role in mitigating biodiversity loss and climate change.

Soil - a very undervalued resource.(© All Rights Reserved)
Soil – a very undervalued resource.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Soil is vital to grow our food, to keep our livestock alive, and to keep our forests growing, which in turn keeps our environment healthy. On a human time scale, soils is a non-renewable resource, so sound soil management is extremely important. Sadly, despite this, soil is not high on most environmental decision making agendas – it is not a topic that makes for striking news headlines or wins elections.

Another factor pushing soil further down the agenda is increased urbanisation – with an ever growing percentage of the world population living in cities, soil is becoming less and less of a reality to most people.

World Soil Day aims to address this situation, by trying to raise the profile of soil and make people aware of the role it plays in a range of ecosystems.

Secure soil is the basis of a secure environment. In the words of American novelist and conservationist Wendell Berry, “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought

It is one of those almost-impossible-to-believe facts, but it is claimed that each year, an area of land three times the size of Switzerland is lost to desertification. That is almost 12 million ha or land turning into desert annually!  (UNCCD, 2012)

To raise awareness about this shocking fact, and to promote ways of reversing the global growth in non-productive dryland, a World Day to Combat Desertification was introduced in 1995, to be celebrated annually on 17 June.

This year, the Day’s slogan is “Healthy soil sustains your life: Let’s go land-degradation neutral”. Not only is this a call to stress the severity of the situation, but also to reinforce the message that desertification needn’t be fatal, that solutions exist, and that it can be effectively tackled through strengthened community participation and cooperation at all levels.

Fertile soil is a critical non-renewable resource. Zero-net land degradation can be achieved when non-degraded soil is kept healthy and fertile, and degraded land is restored through reforestation, programmes to improve soil health etc. This is critical to help ensure international food security and alleviate rural poverty.

Drought and global desertification – it’s not someone else’s problem.
(© All Rights Reserved)

No matter where you are in the world, you can contribute to the fight against desertification.  Planting trees or building terraces to combat soil erosion, contributing to soil enrichment programmes, even just doing your bit to combat climate change by practicing healthy green practices like recycling and reuse.  It’s not someone else’s problem – your actions can make a real difference.

World Oceans Day

It’s World Oceans Day, our annual opportunity to honor the great oceans linking us all, to celebrate what the ocean provides humanity, and also to appreciate its intrinsic value.

World Ocean Day is a day for celebration, but also a day to start spreading the word on the importance of protecting the ocean for future generations
(© All Rights Reserved)

The theme for World Oceans Day 2012 is Youth: the Next Wave for Change, which firstly acknowledges the role the youth plays in the future of the ocean, and secondly reiterates the importance of everyone playing their part in securing the future of the world’s oceans for our youth.

One of the initiatives undertaken as part of this day is “Wear Blue, Tell Two“, an information sharing initiative where everyone is urged to dress in blue and to share with those around us two facts about the protection of the world’s oceans.

So, to do my bit (yes, I’m wearing blue jeans and a blue sweater, I promise!) herewith my two messages about our oceans:

1) The havoc caused by climate change
The ocean absorbs the majority of the heat added to the earth through climate change, resulting in a warmer ocean, which negatively impacts on the coral ecosystem and affects the life cycles of many fish species. This warmer water also decreases upwelling, which means that less nutrients reach the surface water, harming many marine ecosystems. Furthermore, the Poles are melting at an alarming rate, affecting polar marine environments and causing the ocean levels to rise, resulting in the loss of critical coastal habitats. It is also estimated that 10% of the global human population lives below 10m above sea level, which means about 700 million people are directly threatened by a significantly rising sea level. Not a pretty picture… And we haven’t even touched on the impact of the chemical changes in the oceans as a result of increased atmospheric greenhouse gases, or the changes in the ocean currents and the effects this is having on the earth’s climate.
(Source: Five Effects of Climate Change on the Ocean, http://www.conservation.org)

2) What we can do to help
Despite the doom and gloom of my first message, all is not irretrievably lost. Each of us can contribute our little bit to help the environment. By merely living more socially responsibly (recycling, reusing, limiting our carbon footprint) we can help slow global warming, which directly impacts on the wellbeing of our oceans. And there are numerous local and international initiatives we can get involved in. For example:

  • Conservation International runs an initiative called “Save a Mile” where you can make a donation to support initiatives focused on ocean conservation
  • The World Oceans Day website hosts the “Blue Planeteer” awareness drive, where you can volunteer to perform simple online tasks, such as tweeting about World Oceans Day or emailing a blog.

These are just two small online examples – if you live near the sea your local aquarium or nature centre may well have their own initiatives going, so ask around and get involved.

So spread the word on World Ocean Day – wear blue and tell two!