Around the world in some 600 cities, hundreds of millions of people marched last Saturday, April 22 to mark Earth Day, emphasising the significance of evidence–based science on issues ranging from climate change to new technology. It was essentially a people–based mass movement though United States President Donald Trump says he wants to put American business interests first and has slashed funds for the US Environmental Protection Agency amid disturbing reports that he might pull the US out of the historic climate change accord, which almost all countries signed in Paris in December 2015.
For Sri Lanka, Earth Day came in the aftermath of the Meethotamulla garbage dump disaster in which more than 30 people were killed and about 1,000 displaced. Government leaders have pledged that high technology will be used to turn organic waste into energy or compost fertilizer. Last week top Japanese experts rushed here for an in-depth study on garbage disposal and their recommendations are likely to be implemented in the coming months. Not only the Government but all people, religious groups and private organisations need to cooperate in carrying out proper methods of garbage collection and disposal. Eco-friendly citizens need to understand the importance of reducing the use of polythene and plastic as a vital step in the battle against global warming. According to the United Nations, environmentalists have expressed shock at the 300 billion pieces of plastic floating in the Arctic Ocean.
The first event for Earth Day, which was held in America nearly five decades ago following a devastating oil spill, is credited as the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Since its launch, Earth Day has been supported by famous personalities including Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Emma Watson. Now it is coordinated globally by the non-profit Earth Day Network, which describes it as the largest secular holiday in the world. Each year, festivals, parades and rallies are held in at least 192 countries to demonstrate support for environmental Protection. The day has its own flag, which was created by US peace activist John McConnell and, perhaps unsurprisingly, features a picture of the world on it. Russia has set up an early warning system to detect when its mysterious ‘exploding Arctic domes’ might erupt. It also has its own anthems -- one of which is performed to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, but with lyrics on protecting the planet.
In Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena has led the battle against climate change. As Minister of Environmental Affairs, he has initiated a number of creative projects for the battle against climate change or global warming. Even after the recent Meethotamulla garbage dump disaster, he has initiated effective steps to turn garbage into eco-friendly energy or compost fertilizer. Supporting him actively, are Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka among others. President Sirisena also led the Sri Lanka delegation to the Paris Climate Change Summit. Sri Lanka signed and ratified the Paris accords.
What is the Paris Agreement? In December 2015, the Paris Agreement saw 196 countries agree to cut their carbon emissions in an effort to keep the increase of average global temperature to below 2ºC. But according to US President Trump, the plan to cut greenhouse gases will impact on US jobs and leave the country at the mercy of oil imports from the Middle East. By pulling out of the Paris accord he could derail the whole agreement, analysts say.
That is why it is essential for people’s movements and all religions to take major initiatives in battling the possible catastrophe that could come from climate change. We cannot leave such a vital mission to leaders such as Donald Trump who are clearly inconsistent and unpredictable. His ‘America First’ policy is self-centred and is not likely to succeed. That is why Pope Francis has put the battle against climate change high on the list of priorities in the mission for the church and the world. We hope other religious leaders also will do so, because preventing climate change and maintaining the delicate eco-balance is a sacred duty, perhaps more important than some rites and rituals. Let us remember that we all have been a part of the crisis, now we need to become a part of the solution rather than just complaining about the current heat wave.