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Today is the day set aside to highlight the threats to our environment and the need for us to be good stewards of Mother Nature. World Environment Day (WED), as June 5 is dubbed, was set up by the United Nations in 1972 to bring awareness of the nexus of human interactions and the environment and the need for us to be prudent. The first official WED was in 1974 under the theme, ONLY ONE EARTH, and if we destroy it, we can kiss our very existence goodbye. Sadly, we have been profligate and callous, and we are now reaping a bitter harvest of increasingly ferocious hurricanes, coral whitening, habitat disappearances, rising sea levels, rising temperatures, population displacement due to floods and other weather disruptions. It is not a pretty picture.

Mind you, the environmental horror story is a twisted one in which small countries such as ours, with a negligible carbon footprint, bear the brunt of Mother Nature’s wrath. [See Hurricane Irma in Barbuda (2017), Hurricane Maria in Dominica (2017) and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas (2019)]. It is even more perverse that the world’s monetary institutions that benefitted from colonial exploitation of our countries during the Industrial Revolution (the source of much environmental damage) and the years after, make pledges of reconstruction assistance that are often not forthcoming, and they give reconstruction loans that are not on concessionary terms. They add insult to our injury. Sigh!

But all is not lost on this World Environment Day 2020. In recent times, notwithstanding the vague promises by China (polluter  to be more environmentally conscious and reduce their carbon intensity emissions per unit of GDP by 60 to 65% by 2030. (Too little, too late), and the unfortunate withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement on June 1, 2017, a number of countries and NGO’s around the world have become significantly more concerned about the environment, and have taken numerous and varied steps to mitigate the dreadful effects of our Capitalist wantonness and other destructive tendencies. For example, we cannot forget Greta Thunberg, all of seventeen years old, yet mature beyond those years, who went on a strike from school and captured the imagination of the world with her bold actions and dire warnings about the threats posed to the environment and our very existence by Climate Change.  Talk about, “A child shall lead them!”

Indeed, we submit that Greta’s actions resulted in heightened awareness about the earth in travail, and what we ought to be doing to mitigate Mother Nature’s pain, especially among young people. We were enormously proud of the young students here in our fair State who ditched their classrooms and engaged in boycotts and marches at the Botanical Gardens in support of robust environment action. We salute Maria Eldridge and students from the Island Academy who not only took part in those marches, but put in an appearance on our very own OBSERVER radio’s VOICE OF THE PEOPLE broadcast to electrify and inspire our listeners with their call to action. As Billy Joel would say, in not so many words, ‘they did not start the fire, but they will be damned if they do nothing to extinguish it!’   

The handsome trash receptacles that were put in place in the city of St. John’s by our Ministry of Health in April, 2019, is also a significant step towards the reduction of litter entering our waterway. So too is the banning of single-use plastics. The Ministry of Health must be commended for this trail-blasing effort. Seems, a number of other countries around the world are following in our footsteps. And yes, we’re on the map as an anti-pollution fighter as a result of the historic PLAY IT OUT TO PHASE IT OUT concert on June 1 of last year. Again, kudos!

Of course, we can do more. For example, we can make more use of solar energy (Are the solar farms at the Sir George Walter Highway and in Bethesda delivering an appreciable amount of energy?) and we can recycle more and pitch-in. It would certainly be interesting to know how many people have been ticketed by litter wardens in the past year for careless disposal of garbage. And yes, we can reduce our use of chemicals and pesticides.

Moreover, we must redouble our efforts to help the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) and the Walling’s Nature Reserve in the fantastic job that they are doing in restoring and protecting this blessed twin-island State, “Where land and sea make beauty.”

Having said that, we cannot help but note that there is another type of anti-environment pollution taking place in our fair State. We’re talking about the harmful gaseous emissions spewed into the atmosphere every time that the politicians of this administration open their mouths. It’s a surfeit of hot air.  Nothing is ever what they say it is, and it is proving enormously harmful to the body politic. So too is the mud-slinging and the coarse and vulgar broadsides on the men and women of goodwill who disagree with the policies of this administration. The invasive species that seem to have taken over large swarths of our economy are also doing significant harm to those of indigenous provenance. Not to mention the irreparable harm to the environment. The vicious destruction of the mangroves in the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA) is a crime against Mother Nature and humanity. The bankrupting of this country, even before Covid-19, is a carbon footprint that will be difficult to undo, many moons hence. Would to God that the ‘Big Business’ schemes, such as the recent plot by those in high places to shaft workers over severance pay, would stay buried in the ground, much like fossil fuels.  

On this World Environment Day 2020, let us be sincere and committed, the antithesis to the science-denier, US President Donald Trump, who is on record as saying of his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, “As someone who cares deeply about the environment, . . . which I do . . . the reality is that withdrawing is in America’s economic interest and won’t matter much to the climate . . .!” Sigh! Let us not sacrifice the environment on the altars of the economy and development.

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