It is never too late to get started on the right path
-By Prof Amitav Mallik
“The theme for Earth Day 2021 is very aptly chosen as “Restoring the Earth” and there is increasing realization that if we continue to exploit the Earth eco-system and continue to burn fossil fuels for economic progress, there is no escape for the next generations because there is no planet B.”
Earth Day was first celebrated on 22 April 1970, soon after the release of the picture of the blue-planet Earth from space by the Apollo-8 spacecraft orbiting the Earth in 1968. It was a stark realization that in all of the Cosmos, this beautiful blue planet was the only place with a serene environment where human habitat and many other life-forms could survive and thrive. Hence it was considered most obvious that humanity should strive to preserve the Earth Eco-system always so that future generations of life should thrive on this planet. But alas, that was not to be!
In the past five decades, human activities and their impacts on Earth have increased exponentially both in terms of quantity and severity. With the global population edging towards 10 Billion, humanity’s average per-capita energy consumption increased by over 25 times in the last 5 decades, and since most of it came from fossil-fuel burning, carbon emissions have sky-rocketed to levels never before in human history. Since the start of the Industrial revolution some 250 years ago, we have added 35 to 50 billion tons of Green House Gases (GHG) to Earth atmosphere every year, causing global warming to increase. While visible pollutions are already killing millions every year, invisible GHG emissions can destroy our ecosystem and kill many more millions per year in the near future.
While the average Earth temperature is up by just over 1 degree Celsius, some parts of the Earth near the equator are obviously much warmer and this has already disturbed the thin layer of atmosphere around the earth. The changes in its upper-air flows are leading to more frequent cyclones, extreme rains and floods in some areas, while in some other areas we are experiencing long droughts, frequent forest fires, causing acute food and water short. Meanwhile, ice sheets at polar regions are melting faster with a warmer Earth and that is threatening unusual sea-level rise, some of which is already evident at Sundarbans in India or on the Miami beachfront in the USA.
Humans have been attempting unlimited economic growth from limited resources of the planet, destroying natural eco-diversity and degrading ecological resources. By recent estimates 50 to 70 per cent of the landmass on Earth has been affected by human habitat or related activities, thus shrinking the space for other animals who are as much part of the Eco-system as humans. The effects of undesired human-animal contacts are increasing and the latest Covid pandemic is living proof of how vulnerable humans can be to forces of nature even at a microscopic level.
It is well established that toxic pollutants in the air are not only killing millions but are also sharply reducing our resilience to pathogens and toxicity in the atmosphere. Very soon heat and humidity may combine to make normal productive life very difficult even for healthy humans. Future may soon require ‘Bottled Oxygen Gas’ to supplement normal urban air, much like the 20th-century introduction of ‘bottled water’ as a commercial commodity. This created a new commence but compounded the plastic pollution all over the earth and even under-sea, affecting marine life!
The theme for Earth Day 2021 is very aptly chosen as “Restoring the Earth” and there is increasing realization that if we continue to exploit the Earth eco-system and continue to burn fossil fuels for economic progress, there is no escape for the next generations because there is no planet B.
This year 2021 must mark a real turn-around from this normal ‘way of life to a very different new way that must be more resilient to future disruptions because we have already disturbed the balance in nature and disruptions are bound to be frequent until Earth returns to some kind of normalcy. Hence our total attention will have to focus more on restoring environmental health and stability rather than chasing GDP numbers! Economic progress must factor in the Earth assets being utilized for making life livable, safe and comfortable. Then alone it can be sustainable.
Historically, the eastern cultures attached higher value for human welfare, both physical and mental. But the modern education systems have neglected these core values in preference to monetary riches. Can Earth Day 2021 remind us about the true values for humanity and help us restore not just the mother Earth, but also rekindle our own search for inner peace that got distorted with greed for wealth and benefits? Without such a fundamental rethinking, would it be possible to establish an Earth that can support a 10 Billion population to live in peace and security in future?
Answers are not easy and some hardship is inevitable, but should this Earth Day not be used as an opportunity to really restore our Earth? Can we afford to continue to make the same mistakes of the past decades that brought us to this situation today? Fortunately, solutions to most large problems often start with small individual steps which then combine to build the required momentum. We need environmentally friendly ways of life that use only renewable energy and reduce fossil fuel use to zero. We have to reduce our extravagant needs and enhance the efficiency in the use of all Earth resources. We need to stop ecological destructions with technological innovations and human ingenuity for saving our own future.
It is never too late to get started on the right path for our own good which now coincides with what is good for Mother Earth. The changes that are required do not ask for any major sacrifice because now Environment and Economics have become two sides of the same coin. Both can indeed thrive together if only we humans can truly care for the future of our children and grandchildren. That should be the new recognition on this Earth Day and several win-win solutions already exist. It is only a matter of changing the mindsets and a final global resolve to usher in a new Earth restoration era.