Thursday, June 5, 2014

World Environment Day 2014

We're all in this together.  This is an underlying message of World Environment Day, which is being recognized in hundreds of countries around the globe today. The United Nations created World Environment Day to call attention to environmental issues and to inspire action.  This year, the event is focusing on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), calling for people around the world to join in solidarity with these small countries as climate change and rising sea levels threaten their homelands.

Irene Olson photo

Climate change is becoming an ever more present reality in our daily lives, especially for those living on island nations who are slowly watching the seas reclaim more and more territory, and who are facing the reality of their entire nation being displaced by rising sea levels. Such a situation is already being played out in the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean which nearly 400,000 people call home. The highest point in the entire nation is less than 10 feet above sea level, and the average elevation is about 3 feet above sea level. The IPCC's most recent assessment report estimated that in the worst-case scenario, sea levels may rise by nearly 3 feet by the end of the century (many scientists comment that even this estimate may be conservative).  You can see what a problem that would create for low-lying island nations such as the Maldives.

Citizens of island nations not only face concerns about their country being subsumed beneath rising seas, but climate change has created other problems in the form of water scarcity and increased disease outbreaks as well.  As sea levels rise, they can infiltrate underground freshwater supplies, rendering them undrinkable.  Some islands in the Maldives have already been forced to bring in drinking water from outside sources.  Additionally, the warmer temperatures associated with climate change create the perfect habitat for disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes to flourish, endangering the human population with the risk of increased disease outbreaks.

Clearly, island nations are seriously threatened by climate change.  But here is the sad part: these countries have contributed very little--if anything--to cause climate change, and yet, here they are faced with some of the most dire consequences. Climate change has been caused by the wanton burning of fossil fuels by industrialized nations such as the United States and China, among others.  Although the nations that caused the problem will indeed eventually feel the effects of the climate change they've set in motion, these are not as immediately devastating as the consequences faced by smaller developing nations who lack the resources--or in the case of island nations, the mere possibility-- to adapt.

This is where we can circle back to that theme of  "we're all in this together".  The earth is a closed system. The actions of one entity will eventually be felt by all.  We have a responsibility to our fellow human beings to be conscious of the effects of our actions, and to reach out a helping hand to those who have been endangered by said actions.  Thus, World Environment Day 2014 is a great illustration of the fact that climate change is not just an "environmental" issue.  It's not just about polar bears.  Climate change is a human welfare issue; one which we have the responsibility to care deeply about and to address with urgency. 

This World Environment Day, "Raise your voice, not the sea level".  Check out the website to find out how to get involved, and also take a look at the Going Green page on A Day Without Rain for tips on reducing your ecological footprint.

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