Little over a decade ago, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 22 April as International Mother Earth Day. Member states acknowledged that the Earth and its ecosystems are our home, and expressed their conviction to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations. The General Assembly widely acknowledged that depletion of the Earth’s natural resources and rapid environmental degradation are the direct consequences of unsustainable consumption and production patterns, and are responsible for triggering adverse impacts on both the health of the Earth and overall human well-being. There was an urgent need to devise a new relationship with the Earth, a relationship that ensured harmony with nature. The same year, the General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Harmony with Nature. The year was 2009. Three years later, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were born at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 17 SDG Goals to balance economic growth, social progress and environmental protection.
Back in the Bhutanese countryside as I bent down to tie my dragging shoelace, I smelt the freshness of clean mountain soil softened by the drizzly rain the night before. The air was cool and the gentle breeze induced rhythmic sway of branches flushed with tender spring leaves. It was very quiet. The stillness of the trail and the serene environment was magical, and I wondered about the peace and quiet that we often talk about. It is said humans are social animals and our way of life evolved through social interactions leading to what we call human society. True as it may sound, perhaps once in a while, there should be moments of solitude totally submitting ourselves to the bountiful arms of nature. Moments where the mind mingle with nature experiencing the inexpressible oneness with mother Earth. Moments where we reflect on ourselves and the surrounding environment and recognize that we are but a tiny component of the wonderful world and it is imperative that we value the interdependent nature of all inhabitants of the earth.
Looking beyond the boundaries of the countryside and further into the distant horizon, a sense of anxiety framed in me. Is the world beyond the horizon same as where I am? Perhaps not. The world beyond the horizon is much bigger, wider and densely populated. Modern development there has etched a next level of pursuit in the race toward economic prosperity and advancement of science and technology. Since the industrial revolution, nature has been considered as an exploitable commodity that exist for the benefit of people disregarding the gravity of adverse impacts that lay beneath. The race for development and the quest for uncovering the wonders of human intelligence through science and technology has clouded our intellect in valuing the natural world. Loss of biodiversity, desertification, climate change and the disruption of the natural cycles are among the price we pay for our disregard for nature and the integrity of its ecosystems and natural processes.
WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020 reminds us that the global Living Planet Index, an indicator of the state of global biological diversity, based on trends in vertebrate populations of species from around the world, continues to decline with an average of 68% decrease in population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016. Since the industrial revolution, human activities have increasingly destroyed and degraded forests, grasslands, wetlands and other important ecosystems, threatening human well-being. Seventy-five per cent of the Earth’s ice-free land surface has already been significantly altered, most of the oceans are polluted, and more than 85% of the area of wetlands has been lost. The report further relates that in the last 50 years the drastic surge of global trade, population growth and urbanization has transformed our world. Humanity’s Ecological Footprint (the measure of human demand on natural capital) has surpassed the Earth’s rate of regeneration. Today, we are overusing the earth’s biocapacity by 56% in order to feed and fuel our 21st century lifestyles. This calls for a common understanding that biodiversity conservation is not simply an ethical commitment for humanity, but an unavoidable and strategic investment for our own survival. Where there is biodiversity there is prosperity, and where there is prosperity there is well-being.
Reverting back to the trails of my solitary walk, I noticed a sudden movement in the shrubby undercover of the forest. I looked and I looked again. There in the partial light of the morning sun, a handsome Himalayan monal appeared. He was least bothered by my presence. Perhaps he did not see me as I stood motionless like a sedentary figure lost in my thoughts. As I rushed to grab my camera, the bird sensed my presence and flew away. Nevertheless, the very close view of such a majestic pheasant in full display of its colorful feathers of blue, green, purple and the uniformly rufous tail feathers was a treat in itself. The bright colors of the bird enwrapped me in the unmatchable palette of nature’s creation. Then a thought arose in me questioning my inner self of the state of the global environment. If the sight of a single pheasant can uplift my heart, what about the myriad biodiversity that adorn our planet. Our world is indeed beautiful and we must not dismember the intricate composition of nature. The present state of our planet is excruciatingly painful and what scientists and ecologists reveal is an alarm bell for all of us to act together to protect mother Earth before the lapse of time. We should be united in the quest to heal our planet. Nations big or small, leaders influential or inconsequential must all think alike and join hands to support global effort in bending the curve of biodiversity loss. It is not just the present that matters but the future matters more! Let us all take a moment to delve deeper on International Mother Earth Day and commit ourselves to do whatever little we can to support all initiatives that strive to make our world a better place for humanity and for all sentient being. Centuries ago William Wordsworth wrote, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her; ‘tis her privilege, through all the years of this our life, to lead from joy to joy...”. Today it should be our privilege to come together and strive together to rejuvenate nature and mother Earth.
Information and data source:
WWF Living Planet Report 2020