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Today is World Environment Day, an annual international United Nations event that highlights environmental issues and encourages positive action.
Each year, a different theme is chosen and a different city is selected to serve as the host of the event’s annual environmental exposition. This year the theme is “Melting Ice –A Hot Topic?” and the host city is Tromsø, Norway.
The theme was selected to dovetail with International Polar year 2007. According to the U.N.:
The day's agenda is to give a human face to environmental issues; empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development; promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues; and advocate partnership, which will ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future. World Environment Day is a people's event with colourful activities such as street rallies, bicycle parades, green concerts, essays and poster competitions in schools, tree planting, as well as recycling and clean-up campaigns.
It’s odd (though maybe not too surprising given our country’s current unfortunate cultural and political estrangement from so much the rest of the world), but from where I’m sitting this event is nowhere be found. It’s eventa non gratis. No media mentions. No celebrations. No speeches. No parades. No nothing. Just a few scant mentions in the usual less-than-mainstream environmental press places. Maybe this is the international version of Earth Day and everyone here in the USA figures we’ve already done that this year? That we’ve got our own eco-day and don’t need another one? Perhaps. Except that we do. Because the issue of melting ice certainly deserves at least a day of serious contemplation. Consider these figures from Reuters:
- Parts of the polar regions, Antarctica and the Arctic, are already warming two to three times faster than the global average, which is predicted to be between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius this century. More heat is absorbed by the sea than by ice and this promotes faster melting because less sunlight is being reflected back into space.
- Climate models predict global warming will be most acute in polar regions. Some predict an almost complete loss of summer sea-ice in the Arctic before the end of the century -- meaning polar bears, which depend on the sea ice to hunt seals and move around, are unlikely to survive.
- The Greenland Ice Sheet, the Arctic's largest glacial mass, constitutes 10 percent of the world's freshwater reserves. It is currently melting faster than new ice is being formed. If all Greenland ice melted, the world's oceans would rise by seven metres (23 feet).
Things to think about. In the end, as admirable as occasions like Earth Day and World Environment Day are, I find myself once again wishing that we could just dispense with the special eco-days and just make every day a day when everyone everywhere is aware of the fundamental necessity of environmental sanctity and is working to preserve and enhance it. Perhaps I’m asking for too much too soon and events like WED represent the steps we take toward that better day, but we’ve been celebrating Earth Day for 37 years and WED since 1974. Isn’t that enough of an awareness warm-up? I bet the polar bears and the penguins think so…