World Environment Day is June 5. Find out how this UN designated day helps to educate, build political will and celebrate environmental achievements around the world. You’ll never guess who the host country is.
People who read this blog will know about Earth Day. They probably vaguely realize that is falls sometime in the spring–April 23, to be exact. Fewer readers know about World Environment Day, which falls every year on June 5. This year, the theme of the day is Beat Air Pollution. That’s because the UN has found that nine out of ten people around the world are exposed to air pollutants at levels exceeding WHO guidelines.
World Environment Day was declared by the United Nations in 1974. That means that it has been around almost as long as Earth Day, which began in the US in 1970. World Environment Day is the more recognized event outside North America. The day has become a global platform for raising awareness of the environmental issues of the day, from the ozone layer to desertification.
Millions of people have taken part in World Environment Day over the years. UN designated days are intended to educate the public, build political will and celebrate human achievements. Having a designated day for the environment gives us an opportunity to change our personal habits around the house. It’s also a chance to push for better national and international environmental policies.
“We need a green economy, not a grey economy”
Secretary General Antionio Gutierrez had this to say about World Environment Day. “It is time to act decisively. My message to governments is clear: tax pollution; end fossil fuel subsidies; and stop building new coal plants. We need a green economy, not a grey economy.” He’s right. That’s a pretty clear message.
Most of the time, we celebrate science and technology at Dare to Know. Yet, we also want to remind readers that our aims must be based on human values. Technology can give us the means to reach those aims. It cannot be the aim itself.
Humanity hasn’t always worked that way in the past. Humans now have the means to transform our planet on a massive scale. The problem is that we are at a point where we also have the means to destroy our world on the same scale. Growing numbers of people question whether we have the wisdom to prevent that.
Main air pollution goal is to fight climate change
These days, the main goal on the environment, and specifically air pollution, is to fight climate change. To do that, we all need to reduce our carbon emissions. We can look for ways to leave the car at home. That might mean taking transit, walking or riding a bike. If we do take the car, we can avoid idling. When its time for a new car, we can switch to electric.
A lot of emissions come from livestock, so we can cut our consumption of meat and dairy products. Too much of those food choices isn’t good for us anyway. We can compost and recycle. Most of us can find ways to upgrade our homes to make them more energy efficient. Lots of ways to cut emissions are our there, but we have to figure them out for ourselves. Each of us needs to think it over and take an inventory of how our own lifestyle can go green.
One person can make a difference but real change also calls for transformation at a societal level. Collectively, we need to lobby our governments to impose and enforce better rules on industry. We need corporations to reduce air pollutants. They can put a price on carbon or start a cap and trade system, giving businesses incentives to cut their emissions. Today’s business leaders have said that they want to get involved. They are looking to governments for leadership. Of course, we can’t accomplish any of this just by marking one day as World Environment Day.
stop subsidizing oil, push other forms of energy.
We also need our governments to phase out gasoline and diesel powered vehicles. The least they can do is to stop subsidizing the oil companies and nudge them toward other forms of energy. Our local governments can sometimes do more than our national governments. They are closer to our everyday needs.
For example, they can make transit more convenient and more affordable. They can stop designing cities around the car. Instead, they can start building bike lanes and walkways to make it workable to leave the car at home. Suburban and rural communities, like my home town, can work to attract industry to their jurisdictions to make it affordable to live and work in the same community.
Most people would rather not live in a bedroom community if they had a way to avoid commuting. They can also look at their waste management. Since we are focusing on air pollution on this World Environment Day, local governments should end any incineration they may still do.
host for this year has been China
The host for this year’s World Environment Day has been China. That might raise eyebrows. China hasn’t had a stellar reputation for air quality in the past. That’s the old China. Today’s China is taking drastic measures to cut air pollution and turn the skies blue again. This is happening even in cities infamous for air quality problems in the past, like Beijing and Shanghai. Millions of people can expect improved health because of these changes.
Set up June 5 as a recurring date in your calendar. Next year, you’ll be better prepared to make changes in your own lifestyle and/or agitate for change in your community. But don’t wait until then. Every day is environment day.
We all need to learn to do our part to express our reverence for the one home we have.
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
United Nations World Environment Day
Climate Justice and Human Rights
Biodiversity Always Wins
Finding New Ways to Share the Land
Happy International Day of Non-Violence