Though our focus on the environment may have narrowed down to the unseasonably cold and wet weather – horrible, but not to the extent of flooding and tornadoes seen elsewhere – we are in the midst of Canadian Environment Week. It’s another reminder that we should be more mindful of our surroundings – a chance to celebrate or feel guilty, depending on one’s outlook.
Spanning June 2-8 this year, Canadian Environment Week dates back to 1971. It encourages Canadians to contribute to the conservation and protection of their environment. Right smack in the middle, June 5 was World Environment Day and Clean Air Day (created to encourage action and raise awareness on climate change issues and on clean air, with citizens encouraged to bike to work, walk to the store or find other ways to reduce their personal emissions), while June 8 is World Oceans Day. Those are a whole bunch of reminders of just how little we’re really doing to protect the most fundamental aspects of life on the planet, particularly clean air and water.
A number of Woolwich Healthy Communities events have highlighted what we can do to help, from roadside cleanups to planting trees, with residents responding accordingly. Such visible acts align well with this year’s World Environment Day’s theme, Beat Plastic Pollution, as discarded plastics make up a large share of detritus found strewn about. The theme is also in keeping with recent discussions about banning plastic drinking straws, for instance.
Reducing plastic use and, thus, waste also jibes well with World Ocean’s Day, as those all-important bodies of water are now laced with harmful manmade materials. Estimates put the amount of plastic in our waterways at more than 150 million tonnes, joined by some eight million more each year, the likes of errant plastic bags or plastic straws winding their way into sewers or large amounts of mismanaged plastic waste streaming from developing economies. The amount of plastic waste making its way into our oceans is the equivalent of a garbage truck load being dumped every minute of every day.
At the current rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, when measured by weight.
Tiny particles of microplastics are found in most beaches around the world. Plastic, mistaken for food, has been found in more than 60 per cent of all seabirds and in 100 per cent of sea turtles species.
While cleanup activities, for instance, highlight the visible and tangible impacts of pollution, they’re only the tip of the environmental iceberg: The real damage comes from the stuff we can’t see, or collectively gather up for proper disposal.
As environmentalists stress, the number-one issue remains climate change. Canada, of course, has a poor track record on this file, promising little and doing less, arguing any targets we set would be a drop in the bucket if the big players – the U.S., China, India and Russia – refuse to play ball.
Perhaps it’s time to move past the rhetoric and actually start doing something. Even climate change skeptics – those who argue the changes are naturally occurring, not manmade – can’t argue the fact we’re polluting the only home we have. Measures designed to improve the environment can only improve our own health and quality of life down the road.
One way or another, we’ll have to change the way we live today. Whether we choose how to do that, or the planet makes the decision for us remains to be seen.
The need for each of us to tread more lightly on the earth is the real take-away message this week.