Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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World Environment Day 2013 Says Think, Eat, Save 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, June 3 / 13

Zack Gross

World Environment Day (WED) takes place every June 5th and the 2013 version has taken on the theme of Think.Eat.Save.  The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has organized WED annually since the first UN Conference on the Human Environment, held in 1972 in Stockholm, Sweden.  Does anyone remember that Maurice Strong, born in Oak Lake, MB, was the Executive Director of both the 1972 Conference and then the twenty-year follow-up one in Rio, as well as the first Director General of UNEP?

The focus of “Think.Eat.Save” this year is on the tremendous waste of food that exists in our world today and the enormous environmental footprint that humans leave on our planet.  The UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted or lost each year, the equivalent of all the food produced in Sub-Saharan Africa.  At the same time, one in seven people go to bed hungry every night and 20,000 children under the age of five die daily of hunger-related causes.

Global food production occupies one-quarter of all habitable land, is responsible for 70% of our fresh water consumption, leads to 80% of our deforestation and creates one-third of our greenhouse gases.  Thus, finding ways to produce food with the least possible environmental impact and to distribute it most equitably and efficiently would go a long way to making our lives in the rich world more sustainable and lives in the developing world more just.  More buying locally and more organic production have been cited as two positive steps by the UN.

The Global Host of World Environment Day 2013 is Mongolia which has one of the world’s fastest growing economies and is taking positive, concrete steps to become a “Green Economy.”  Mongolia is facing challenges as a result of the impacts of climate change, says the UN, with its mean temperature having risen by two degrees Celsius and precipitation having decreased markedly over the past 70 years. 

Mongolia has introduced a moratorium on new mining pending improved environmental regulations and is looking at becoming an exporter of clean, renewable energy.  Coal use has created severe air pollution in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, leading to the levying of a pollution tax and the setting up of new technologies.  As well, to combat desertification, youth have planted over two million trees in arid regions since 2011.

The United Nations Environment Program offers up many suggestions for WED-related activities and events on June 5th.  Certainly, many schools around the world are already tuned in to this, due to the on-going commitment of their teachers, parents, churches and community groups.  Beyond the celebrations, however, a year-round, life-long commitment is necessary.  Canadians in recent years have prioritized environmental issues in the top three concerns that they have.  At the same time, though, North Americans continue to be the most wasteful and polluting people on earth.

Some of the suggestions that the UN’s Celebrate WED website makes include citizens switching from private to public transportation; growing vegetable gardens in yards, on community land or even in a pot on one’s apartment’s window sill;  composting, recycling and reusing to give our resources a second life;  continuing to learn about ways to live more appropriately in a finite world and to avoid using products that hurt the natural environment;  purchasing products that are certified as forest stewardship, organic and fair trade;  and, finally, initiating or joining community eco-friendly projects.

On a global level, well-known scientists and activists are joining the WED Think.Eat.Save campaign to work on a variety of difficult, urgent issues.  Vandana Shiva, from India, a global leader of grassroots environmental movements and big-picture thinking about our planet has targeted “Zero Waste as the New Paradigm
,” citing the terrible waste of food by retailers and consumers.  Luiz Carlos Iasbeck of Brazil is looking into the management of the food system and the high prices that come with environmental challenges and economic downturns.

Find a way to mark World Environment Day this week, and keep it in mind as you tackle your daily life.  Our extra-large footprint on the planet comes more from over-consumption than over-population and our wasteful habits indicate that when you have “too much,” it is easy to be careless.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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