WE ONLY HAVE ONE EARTH: MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICES TODAY FOR TOMORROW
Around the motto “Only One Earth”, governments from all over the world convened in Stockholm in 1972 for the first world conference on the human environment (UN). The phrase is still relevant now, fifty years after – we have one home, Earth and mankind must protect it. All of mankind is linked together by the earth – the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated. Except another planet is in store, Earth remains mankind’s only home, and only hope. If the Earth is to be sustained for today and generations to come, the threats facing the Earth must be confronted. The threats on our home, the Earth, include biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution among others. It is against this backdrop that this essay focuses on how we can safeguard tomorrow by actively making right decisions daily to preserve the Earth.
The Earth: Yesterday and Today
According to American Museum of Natural History, our planet is habitable because “it is the appropriate distance from the Sun, its magnetic field protects it from damaging solar radiation, an insulating atmosphere keeps it warm, and it possesses the chemical elements for life, including water and carbon.” (AMNH). Mankind multiplied and increased intellectually moving through the ages, from the Paleolithic age even up to the modern day Industrial and Information age.
However, the more advanced man gets, the more threat is posed to the Earth. Many sceptics have argued that the climate change in the last few centuries is not of human influence. There has been such occurrence in the past with varied causes, however sufficient data as of today has proved beyond all doubt that man is the major culprit in the threats facing planet Earth. Some of the evidence are:
- Since 1850, the average surface temperature has climbed 1.1 degrees Celsius. In addition, since the mid-nineteenth century, each of the last four decades has been warmer than the one before it. (BBC, 2021)
- For 800,000 years, atmospheric carbon dioxide did not climb above 300 parts per million, according to analysis (ppm). However, since the Industrial Revolution (the Age of Oil), carbon dioxide levels have risen to over 420 parts per million. (BBC, 2021)
- Changes in air chemistry are recorded by both tree rings and polar ice. They indicate that carbon has increased dramatically since 1850, particularly from fossil sources. (BBC, 2021)
Unfortunately, these tendencies have not changed as the warmest decade was 2010s and 2021 is one of the seven hottest years ever (Bloomberg, 2022). The exact reasons why the earth is habitable are being distorted by man himself. The ozone layer protecting man from ultraviolet rays is being depleted; the insulating atmosphere to keep man warm is overburdened with greenhouse gases; the ocean and atmospheric air is being polluted, climate change is endangering life species and degrading the ecosystem.
The Earth: Today and Tomorrow
Two centuries ago, when the industrial revolution began, there was little knowledge on its grand effect on the environment. However, with the sufficient information now, environmental and climate change have been acknowledged around the world as a threat to Earth. Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General said “I refuse to be an accomplice in the destruction of their (the youth and the coming generation) one and only home” (Guterres, 2019). As in cancer that early diagnosis and treatment increases the chances of survival (WHO, 2017), so also must the threats facing our planet be tackled quickly.
The responsibility is ours, collectively and individually. Government of the world, the world’s largest asset owners and global industries must make decisions to saving Earth for tomorrow rather than gradually destroying it today. Individuals also have a role to play in securing Earth and the environment.
The Right Choices for Tomorrow
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development endorsed by the United Nations member states did not just envision peace and prosperity for people but also provided a shared framework for the planet (UN, 2015). Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 12, 13, 14 and 15 are towards the sustainability of the planet. An average man makes 35,000 decisions a day and the choices can negatively or positively promote the achievement of these SDGs. At the heart of several of our decisions, the question “Does it sustain the biosphere?” must be asked. The three dimension of the biosphere that must be taken into consideration in making right choices are:
- Sustainable Atmosphere: SDG 13 tackles climate change and preserving a sustainable atmosphere. Nations are implored to look into renewable energy; Economies are to shift to carbon neutrality; Forests are to be protected and more trees planted (to absorb Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere); Usage of ozone-depleting substances are to be reduced. For an average individual, choices in protecting the atmosphere include the use of a bicycle for a short distance rather than a car, planting of trees and use of solar panels rather than generator.
- Sustainable Hydrosphere: SDG 14 seeks to conserve the oceans, seas and marine environment as it spans two-thirds of the earth’s surface, provides food for billions of people, regulates temperature, houses a huge amount of biological diversity, and facilitates essential economic activity. However, overexploitation of natural resources, climate change, and pollution are some of the most urgent concerns affecting the ocean today. An average individual can contribute to the sustainability of water by re-using unclean water, using a re-useable water bottle as tons of plastic bottles are being dumped in the sea, and re-using oil rather than disposing them. Government and major industries must be at the forefront in taking active decision on conserving the waterways.
- Sustainable Lithosphere/Geosphere: SDG 15 seeks to protect and preserve the terrestrial ecosystem. Government of the world and relevant agencies must seek to stop and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss via managing forests, combating desertification, and fighting land pollution. Individuals can play their part by recycling, afforestation, reducing meat intake, renting apartments rather than erecting on new lands, preventing erosion and stopping land pollution by illicit discard of waste.
If only those who contributed immensely to the degradation of the Earth’s biosphere would suffer the consequence(s), it could be judged fair. But the consequence of every action affects all of mankind, even up to the next generation, positively or negatively. The only choice we have to protect the Earth, our home, is to make the right choices everyday – individually and collectively.
United Nations (n.d.). United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, 5-16 June 1972, Stockholm. Retrieved May 11, 2022 from https://www.un.org/en/conferences/environment/stockholm1972#:~:text=Photo%2FYutaka%20Nagata-,United%20Nations%20Conference%20on%20the%20Human,5%2D16%20June%201972%2C%20Stockholm
America Museum of Natural History (n.d.). Why is the Earth habitable? Retrieved May 11, 2022 from https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent/planet-earth/why-is-the-earth-habitable
BBC (2021). Climate Change: How do we know it is happening and caused by humans? Retrieved May 11, 2022 from https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58954530
Bloomberg (2021). Climate Change made the Last Eight Years the Hottest on Record. Retrieved May 11, 2022 from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-01-13/climate-change-made-the-last-eight-years-the-hottest-on-record#:~:text=The%202010s%20were%20by%20far,prior%20one%20since%20the%201960s
Guterres (2019). The movement to take climate action has begun. Retrieved May 11, 2022 from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/03/climate-action-un-antonio-guterres
World Health Organization (2017). Early cancer diagnosis saves lives, cuts treatment costs. Retrieved May 11, 2022 from https://www.who.int/news/item/03-02-2017-early-cancer-diagnosis-saves-lives-cuts-treatment-costs
United Nations (2015). The 17 Goals. Retrieved May 11, 2022 from https://sdgs.un.org/goals