22 March 2010

The 40th Anniversary of Earth Day is Coming Up

This April 22 — one month from today — marks the 40th time that Earth Day (and now Earth Week, and even Earth Month) has been celebrated. How are you going to mark the 40th anniversary of Earth Day?

Borrowing (and adapting) an idea from Earth Day Network in the United States, we're thinking of hosting an Earth Day Conversation, inviting people to bring their questions, concerns and ideas about climate change — and to drop in for a tea and a talk.

Earth Day is a world-wide nonpartisan day of activism on behalf of our planet. It's now held on April 22 each year, and the rumour I've heard is that April 22 was chosen because no other religious or national holidays fall on that day. (Even if that's not true, it's a good myth.) Check out Earth Days: The Seeds of a Revolution for more information about the history of Earth Day.

Almost a year ago, the United Nations General Assembly (GA) adopted a Bolivian resolution by consensus to proclaim April 22 "International Mother Earth Day." In his congratulatory address to the GA, Bolivian president Evo Morales said that 60 years after the Declaration on Human Rights, "Mother Earth is now, finally, having her rights recognized." Here's the news release from that day:

As the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed today International Mother Earth Day, Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma applauded the Members of the world body who had “taken a historic stand for Mother Earth” by acknowledging humanity’s common interest in the protection of the planet and its environment.

“Sixty years after adopting the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights], Mother Earth is now, finally, having her rights recognized,” said President Morales, immediately following the Assembly’s unanimous adoption of a resolution designating 22 April each year as International Mother Earth Day (A/63/L.69).

Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann thanked Bolivia for having taken the lead in bringing the resolution to the Assembly and added that, by declaring the International Day, Member States recognized their responsibility, as called for in the Rio Declaration, adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the “Earth Summit”, to promote harmony with nature and the planet to achieve a just balance among economic, social and environmental needs of the present and future generations of humanity.

By the text, the Assembly acknowledged that “the Earth and its ecosystems are our home”, and expressed its conviction that, in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations, “it is necessary to promote harmony with nature and the Earth”.

The resolution, spearheaded by the Bolivian Government and supported by over 50 Member States, noted that Earth Day is observed each year on 22 April in many countries. The Assembly invites all Member States, the entire United Nations system, regional and subregional bodies and non-governmental organizations “to observe and raise awareness of International Mother Earth day, as appropriate”.

In his address, President Morales appealed to all Members of the United Nations to live up to their responsibility to ensure life on the planet by working for unity, equality, dignity and, above all, humanity, which inherently involved protecting — and restoring — Mother Earth.

Action to that end had never been more vital, as the toll of years of environmental degradation and callous exploitation of the planet’s natural resources and ecosystems could no longer be ignored, he said. The incremental yet increasingly obvious impacts of manmade climate change were putting Mother Earth at even more peril, as in his region alone the snow capped peaks of the Andean mountain range were receding every day; islands were buffeted by ever-more violent storms; and arid areas were becoming even drier.

“We are strangling the planet -– strangling ourselves,” President Morales declared, stressing that, for too many years, the world had been held captive by the seductive notion of capitalism. However, it was now clear that “we don’t own the planet, we belong to it,” he said, calling for the twenty-first century to be dedicated to protecting and supporting Mother Earth and her ecosystems.

Some 60 years after activists had fought so hard to win acknowledgement of human rights worldwide, including social, economic, political and cultural rights, Mother Earth was now having her rights recognized, he continued. Indeed, animals and plants -- all living creatures and beings -- had rights that deserved to be respected and protected. Those that had supported the text in the Assembly would be heralded for their historic action, he said, expressing the hope that, as the twentieth century had been called “the century of human rights”, this new era would be known as the “century of the rights of Mother Earth”.

Continuing, President Morales said that, by proclaiming the International Day, United Nations Member States now had the opportunity to begin laying out a Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. Such a Charter must enshrine the right to life for all living things; right to regeneration of the planet’s biocapacity; right to a clean life -- for Mother Earth to live free of contamination and pollution; and the right to harmony and balance among and between all things.

In closing remarks, Assembly President d’Escoto said the world body was sending a special message of hope with Mother Earth Day. Even as scientists and biologists sounded the alarm that the world may already be at the “tipping point”, at which the damage wrought on the environment might be irreversible, the United Nations had moved “to put people and the well-being of the planet at the centre of our attention and recognize good stewardship of the planet and our dwindling resources as a shared responsibility”.

“It is only right that we, as sisters and brothers, take care of Mother Earth […] as Mother Earth, after all sustains […] our very humanity,” Mr. d’Escoto said. He urged listening to the voices of indigenous people, who, despite all odds, had sustained their profound links with nature. He urged support for the world’s small farmers and food producers, who, with sustainable farming methods, could provide us with healthy food, while not being driven into poverty by unfair trade policies and the actions of rapacious agro-industries. “Our decision today marks one more symbolic step in changing the dominant mindset that has brought us so close to self-destruction,” he said.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?