The most ancient reference on the environment is enumerated in the Vedas, wherein the Vedic seers had a grand vision about universe. They fathomed the universe as consisting of three intertwined webs: Prithivi, Antariksha and Dyau. In reference to environmental study, we regard the division of the universe as the most important concept of the Vedas.
Hinduism has always been an environmentally sensitive philosophy. No religion, perhaps, lays as much emphasis on environmental ethics as Hinduism. The Mahabharata, Ramayana, Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas and Smriti contain the earliest messages for the preservation of environment and ecological balance. Nature, or Earth, has never been considered a hostile element to be conquered or dominated. In fact, man is forbidden from exploiting nature.
Meaning: “May there be Peace in Heaven, Sky, Earth, Water, Plants, Trees; May there be Peace in All.”
Meaning: “Take what you need for your sustenance without a sense of entitlement or ownership.” – Isha Upanishad
It is clear that the Vedic vision to live in harmony with environment was not merely physical but was much more comprehensive and this wish can be fulfilled only when environment will be unpolluted, clean and peaceful.
In the Bible too, God commands man to be a steward of the environment. Isaiah and Jeremiah make prophecies about the dire consequences that occur when man disobeys God and fails to take care of the Earth:
“The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.”
“I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.”
The foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from Nature. Yet, these are exceptional times in which Nature is sending us a message:
To care for ourselves we must care for Nature.
It’s time to wake up, take notice and raise our voices.
It’s time to build back better for People and Planet.
This World Environment Day, it’s Time for Nature.
Significance and History of World Environment Day
In 1972, the UN General Assembly established the World Environment Day on the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Every year, World Environment Day is observed on June 5.
As stated by the the UN, “The celebration of this day provides us with an opportunity to broaden the basis for an enlightened opinion and responsible conduct by individuals, enterprises, and communities in preserving and enhancing the environment.” This day is celebrated to encourage awareness and environmental protection.
Theme for 2020 and Highlights
The theme for 2020 is Biodiversity, a concern that is both urgent and existential. “Recent events, from bush fires in Brazil, the United States, and Australia to locust infestations across East Africa, Pakistan and now India; a global disease Corona virus pandemic demonstrate the interdependence of humans and the webs of life, in which they exist,” the UN said in a statement.
This year Colombia, one of the world’s environmentally diverse countries and home to nearly ten per cent of the planet’s biodiversity, in partnership with Germany; is hosting World Environment Day 2020.
Some Hard Facts: Did you know?
- Biodiversity involves 8 million plant and animal species, the ecosystems that house them, and the genetic diversity among them.
- In the last 150 years, the live coral reef cover has been reduced by half.
- Coral reef ecosystems cover just 0.1 per cent of the ocean, yet they support 25% of its life and the lives of half a billion people on land.
- Within the next 10 years, one out of every four known species may have been wiped off the planet.
- It would take 1.6 Earths to meet the demands that humans make on nature each year.
- Last year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), found that ‘one million species are threatened with extinction.
- Eighty seven of the 115 leading global food crops depend on insect or animal pollination.
- Between 50,000 to 70,000 plant species are harvested for traditional or modern medicine.
- Nature is on the verge of a breakdown. One million animal and plant species are likely to disappear soon.
- Over 80 trillion aluminium cans are recycled every year, and just one of them is enough to power a TV for 3 hours!
- According to a WWF report, the rate at which the population is growing, it is estimated that humankind will need three planets to sustain life by the year 2050.
- Food waste across the world contributes to 14% of global carbon emissions.
- Around 27,000 trees are cut down every day to supply the growing demand for toilet paper.
- 73 different kinds of pesticides reside in groundwater which is used by the populace as drinking water
- Over 70% of industrial wastes are dumped into water bodies by developing countries around the world.
- 1 million seabirds and 100 million mammals die every year due to water pollution.
- Only 1% of Earth’s water is fit for consumption.
- 5-10 million people die each year from illness as a result of water pollution.
- 3 trillion gallons of wastewater is dumped in oceans every year.
- 250 million people around the world do not have fresh water to drink.
- 27% of the world’s cities do not have the infrastructure for safe drinking water.
- 15 million children less than 5 years old die due to water borne diseases.
(Source: UNO, CSE, WHO)
Major Environmental Issues Confronting the World
Over the years, the environment had been changing, and not for the better. Until, it was the USA Vice President, Al Gore, who brought the environment issue to the fore with his ominous book An Inconvenient Truth, which he followed up with an imposing documentary of the same name, informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change. He stirred up a sleeping world and won the Nobel Peace Prize 2007 jointly with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The world woke up to a reality of cataclysmic proportions.
Watch the prodigious documentary:
Here is a list of the current major environmental issues you’ll hear about and you should be concerned about:
- Public Health
- Urban Sprawl
- Waste Disposal
- Loss of Biodiversity
- Water Pollution
- Ecosystems & Endangered Species
- Climate Change
Effect of the Corona virus pandemic on environment
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit us, probably the only major issue that confronted us was the deteriorating environment due to a host of human-intervened activities: the toxic air around us, the greenhouse gas emissions, the rising surface temperature of the Earth, the melting of the glaciers and rising sea levels. Environmental degradation was happening fast due to the depletion of resources such as air, water and soil. However, providentially, after the Corona virus lockdown commenced, there have been some positive changes in the environment:
The lesser travelling has led to the pollution in the air dropping significantly, as there was a marked decline in nitrous oxide emission.
The non-plying of watercrafts on the rivers and waterways, the water has cleared up, with even the unseen Swans and fish appearing where none was ever seen, like in Venice. Even the oceans are recovering and marine life is thriving.
Effect on Wildlife:
The decline in fishing has witnessed the fish biomass; animals have been spotted moving about freely where once they would not dare to go. Even sea turtles have been spotted returning to areas they once avoided to lay their eggs, all due to the lack human interference.
Effect on Vegetation:
Plants are growing better because there is cleaner air and water, and no human interference; with a gross decrease in the release of greenhouse gases, with plants growing and producing more coverage and oxygen. There is lesser clogging of river systems, due to less litter, which is good in the long run for the environment.
In conclusion, Corona virus has embellished us with a small solace though, with the environment smiling back at the humans who had nearly plundered it beyond redemption. Leo Tolstoy, who said, “One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken”, must be smiling from his grave with a benign satisfaction at the unannounced arrival of the corona virus.
[This is part one of a three-part series on World Environment Day]
Also read: Earth Day Musings Amid COVID Lockdown