Celebrating the Earth

April 22 was Earth Day. This is a day celebrated all over the world since 1970, when  Gaylord Nelson,  a US Senator from Wisconsin, inspired by the anti-war movements in the US, decided to bring environment conservation into the forefront of national policy. Prior to this, in 1969, John McConnell, a peace activist, proposed the idea of celebrating the Earth at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco. He proposed March 21 as the day to do so.

The efforts spearheaded by Gaylord Nelson and his team, although limited to the US at first, eventually became a worldwide event in the 1990s, resulting in what Nelson had wanted - making the earth and its environment an important agenda in global policy. This culminated in what, to most environmentalists, is a hallmark event, the UN Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio. From this time onwards the environment was firmly on the agenda of global and national economic development.

It will surprise many to know that Pakistan was one of the few developing countries that actually participated in the Rio Summit, having already prepared a National Conservation Strategy, which was highly appreciated by the international community.

Subsequently, the environmental movement has taken off. And while it is still considered a frivolous cause, and another "western agenda" by many in our land of the pure, let me assure you that it is extremely important.

This is not just about cleaning your streets and making sure that there is a beach cleaning campaign every year or so. It is beyond that. Our very economies and future development depends on our commitment and efforts to conserve our natural resources.

In 1997, ecologist Robert Constanza and his team did the unthinkable: they quantified the world’s ecosystems in dollars. At that time, the figure they came up with was US$ 33 trillion (US$ 49 trillion today). This is the amount of cash we would have had to dole out if we did not have access to goods and services provided by earth's natural systems. The goods and services we use and abuse free of cost. In 2014, Robert Constanza and his team updated his figures and the cost now amounts to about US$ 143 trillion. The GDP of the US in 2014 was just over US$ 16 trillion. Let that sink in for a while.

Earth Day and for that matter many environment conservation efforts now have climate change as their central agenda. This is because our footprint on this planet has ensured that we continue to increase global temperatures to the extent that all other damage we have done through pollution and unsustainable development is exacerbated.

Did you feel how Karachi was so unusually hot this month? Yeah, that's climate change.

Here is another interesting piece of news: the National Institute of Oceanography told the parliament early this year that Karachi would be submerged by 2060 if the current level of sea erosion continues, due to a change in climate and unsustainable development activities in the coastal areas.

The idea of celebrating Earth Day spreads the message. So, please don't think of conservation as a fad promoted by hippies. It is not. It is crucial to our very survival. Read about it, talk about it, spread the message, change a habit and find a cause to support. Your children and grandchildren will thank you for it.

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

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