As the month of April dawns this morning, many of us will be pranking our friends, relations and fellow citizens with ‘April fool jokes’. Yet, in the month of April we celebrate many more serious events. For us Sri Lankans, April marks the dawning of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, and as importantly, on April 22, people the world over will commemorate Earth Day.
Today Earth Day has become one of the most widely celebrated of environmental events across the globe. It is a day dedicated to increasing awareness about the Earth, its issues and problems. Events are held worldwide to increase awareness and appreciation of the Earth’s natural environment and the need to prevent environmental degradation of the Earth as we know it today, for the sake of generations to come. Environmental degradation is, simply put, the disintegration of the Earth and its environment through consumption of assets, air, water and soil; the destruction of forests and the eradication of wildlife.
Earth Day itself was originally celebrated at the time of the Equinox - March 21, but subsequently the United Nations designated April 22 as International Earth Day. This annual event held worldwide, is celebrated with special events and is held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. An unfortunate aspect is that many tend to limit activities to a single day or a couple of weeks.
While numerous activities are taken to clean up the environment such as planting trees and saplings, collecting and removing garbage, imparting environmental education to help understand the effects of climate change, cleaning of roads and parks, signing petitions etc, the vast majority of us tend to let our attention get diverted. Often we drop the issue until the next Earth Day comes around. For example the first Earth Day in 1970 saw the largest national demonstration in United States history, with around 20 million people across the nation voicing their concern for the environment.
Hardly 50 years later, the same American people elected a President who denies climate change, environmental degradation and pulled the US out of the UN Paris Agreement whose central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
On 13 and 14 of this month, we Sri Lankans will celebrate Sinhala and Tamil New Year. During this week, we will pay our customary visits to numerous friends and relatives. The young and old, male and female will also consume numerous bottles of soft drinks. Though our religious and political leaders speak of the evils of consuming alcoholic beverages, a majority of men - both young and old - will consume large volumes of these beverages together with whatever ‘chasers’ available.
And these ‘chasers’ like soft drinks come in plastic bottles. UN studies have shown that little Sri Lanka - one of the smaller countries in this world, is the fifth largest plastic polluter of the oceans of the world! It takes seven litres of water to make a single plastic water bottle and it is estimated that a single individual uses approximately 200 water bottles each year. If we went a year without buying even one plastic bottle, we would individually have saved over 7,000 litres of water each and we are a nation of 22 million!
Can we, for the sake of the earth, during the period leading up to this New Year’s Day and thence beyond avoid buying drinks; whether it be water, soft drinks or any other beverages in plastic bottles? In our own little way every individual has an important role to play in helping to save our planet. Let’s not limit our efforts to a single Earth Day. Can we do it everyday?