Earth Day Sends a Message

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, General Information, Green Economy, India, News, News & Updates, Publications, Regions, Take Action, Upcoming Events

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While watching the movie Avatar for me one striking element in the movie was The Tree of Souls. A giant willow tree the closest connection to Eywa, mother goddess for the Na’vi people of densely forested habitable moon, Pandora. The tree had spiritual significance for the Na’vi people. In the movie the destruction of the Tree of Souls would prove disastrous to Na’vi people as a whole, creating a void that would decimate the race in its entirety. Avatar to me did seem a love letter to the glory of nature and humanity.

You must be thinking why on earth I am talking about Avatar, well the answer lies in the fact that 22 April is the International Earth Day celebrated worldwide in support of environmental protection. . For the first time Earth Day was celebrated on 22 April, 1970 mobilizing millions of people from all walks of life and led to the launching of many environmental movements including Earth Day Network. For some people tree plantation might be an epitome of environmental cliché. But I do believe that a nation’s wealth lies in its rivers, forests, oceans, scenic beauty and wildlife. This is all we have. The biological systems are in fact the whole economy sustaining world’s wealth. With the world now becoming highly industrialized giving preference to cutting down of trees so that big shopping malls can take its place arguing that it leads to development, I somehow can’t fathom this equation of development. Cutting down of trees has led to global warming for which it is important to understand the greenhouse effect. We don’t want to stop economic progress that could give millions better lives. Insisting on sustainable development that combines environmental care, economic growth and social justice is the need of the time. Unrestricted growth cannot be supported by our planet.  

Coming back to the greenhouse gases particularly carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is damaging to the environment. With an excess of these gases by human inventions, the greenhouse effect is accelerating and this is causing the rise in temperature that we have been experiencing in the last two centuries. We might not see a red flag here yet but the effects it has on the environment and the organisms that live in it are detrimental. The greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and it’s concentration has hit 402 ppm this month and alarmingly that is the highest level recorded in at least 800,000 years. Doesn’t this lead to raise a red flag? Many plants and animals cannot adapt to temperature changes in the environment letting them to become some endangered and others extinct. The trees play a vital role in the carbon cycle. The more trees we have, the less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the more oxygen there is to be consumed by the species that inhabit the Earth. Wasn’t it the oxygen that makes life a miracle on the planet Earth compared to the rest of the planets? We live in an age where carbon dioxide is profuse in the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide released through human innovations, such as automobiles, industries, and power plants is damaging and we should do something about it before it gets late. More than ever trees play a significant assigned role in the environment and take some of the excess carbon dioxide out of the air. Unfortunately, deforestation does not let this to happen and with millions of trees cut down each year r various purposes, the amount of carbon dioxide is rising day by day causing average temperature to rise. Ultimately this leads to global warming and its effects are evident now.

Someone rightly said better be late than never. If we do conserve our existing supple of trees we can play our part in securing a better future. So no matter how clichéd it sounds planting a tree, loving our natural reserves, protecting it is essential. We need to think about deforestation.

While watching the movie Avatar and how sacred the trees especially Tree of Souls was for the inhabitants did remind me of Chipko (Hugging) movement. Started in early 1970s the Chipko movement was a non-violent resistance through the act of hugging trees and protecting the trees from being cut down.  Using the Gandhian methods, the movement to protect trees with rising deforestation awareness led to peasant women from the village Rani Khet, India taking an action and reclaiming their traditional forest rights. Their actions inspired many others throughout the region at the grassroots level. The movement had spread throughout India by 1980s that led to the formulation of people-sensitive forest policies, which put a stop to openly cutting down trees in the region. The movement originated in 1970s is an inspiration for many environmentalists where a group of women peasants got together to make a difference. Their efforts cannot ne ignored or forgotten. Today while celebrating Earth Day I want to acknowledge this movement that was started in a small village to save the trees. It was started at a time when there was less talk about protecting environment. Loving something does ignite passion in people that can make them do wonders.

Many have united today who feel for trees the same way the peasant women of Chipko movement or Na’vi people of Pandora planet did. Just love it and then you will feel the need to protect it. Among many Earth Day Network did step forward adding another drop in the ocean with a hope to educate and inspire. After the first Earth Day in 1970 many environmental laws soon followed. The various acts made it biding on the law to protect the environment and everything therein. Growing out of the first Earth Day, Earth Day Network (EDN) now works with thousands of partners in 192 countries to positively take forward the environmental movement. Millions of people now participate in Earth Day activities each year that makes it the largest civic observance in the world.

Over the last 40 years, Earth Day Network has executed innumerable successful environmental campaigns on issues ranging from drinking water and climate change to saving the whale and many others. To tackle new challenges Earth Day Network created innovative programs with non-environmental partners that were engaging and participatory. EDN’s extensive activities, whether promoting green economic policies or green schools at home or abroad is concerned do inform populations instilling in them the energy to act for a healthy future for themselves and their children. Working with partner organizations Earth Day Network does provide civic engagement opportunities at local, national and international levels. Earth Day Network works to broaden the definition of environment that is inclusive of well being of an individual promoting a sustainable future. This includes creating green jobs, green schools and protecting the environment by stopping air and water pollution. There is a dire need to raise awareness on these issues when many are blinded by the false definition of development, where the shiny and big industries act as eyewash and an epitome of success and prosperity. By no means does this statement reflect that I am against economic growth but too much of everything is bad, we can’t mess with the nature as it’s results would be detrimental, we have already started to experience it’s wrath and it’s time to be aware and act accordingly.

One of the initiatives that did strike me was Avatar Home Tree Initiative. The reason why it struck me maybe was my fancy for the movie Avatar and importance of tree plantation. And this campaign did reflect that interestingly. The Avatar Tree Initiative was a great success and did exceed it’s original objectives aimed at sustainable development and environmental protection. With seventeen partner organizations together with the dedication of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment thousands of trees were planted in six continents. Involving thousands of people these tree planting projects benefitted tens of thousands of people and continue to profit the global environment and all it’s dwellers. To see such projects flourish and affect millions does give hope. We don’t need to belong to the planet Pandora to feel for the trees. These tree planting projects did develop despite the current challenges of natural disasters and depressed international economy.

To protect environment for all people and protect the natural lands The Canopy Project undertaken by Earth Day Network does catch one’s attention. Planting trees to help communities especially the impoverished communities to help them sustain themselves and their communities is an initiative that deserves praise. Instead of focusing on large scale forestry EDN started by reaching out to local communities keeping in mind the think big and start small approach. It is no surprise that the under privileged needs more attention and help as when the atrocities strike they are the ones most affected by it. Ironic as it might sound nature doesn’t keep track of the rich and poor and no one can be saved from it’s rage. Giving priority to the impoverished communities and making them plant trees to achieve environmental sustainability is a positive step. Trees not only filter the air but also provide food, income and energy thus helping the communities economically too.

The reality is that unpredictable weather patterns are increasing and are more frequent. We have been experiencing violent storms and floods. Trees not only help take excessive carbon dioxide from the air but also help to prevent soil erosion that has led to devastating floods. It is true that first line of defense against global warming is planting more trees. We definitely need to go green and that is why in 2012, Earth Day Network made a commitment with the Global Poverty Project to plant 10 million trees in impoverished areas of the world over the next five years. This commitment needs to become a reality and with perseverance and help from everyone it can become a reality.

The Canopy Project has planted over 1.5 million trees in 18 countries over the past three years. In many states in the US, projects to restore urban canopies have been completed. In Haiti alone Earth Day Network planted 500,000 trees. The earthquakes causing landslides on deforested hillsides that led to horrific devastation in Haiti s known to everyone. In many high poverty districts in Uganda EDN planted 350,000 trees providing local farmers with food, fuel and stability of soil. The Canopy Project of the Earth Day Network has been active around the world. In Australia, Landcare Australia working with national parks and land care groups focused on areas with endangered animal species.  In Belgium, Vereniging voor Bos in Vlaanderen  or Organization for Forests in Flanders worked with private landowners  to afforest their properties to fight the environmental effects of intensive livestock and agricultural production. In Brazil SOS Mata Atlântica Foundation worked with local communities to plant innate trees as a means to restore one of the most biologically diverse Atlantic Forest. In Canada, Tree Canada joined the Avatar Home Tree Initiative to restore pine forest that was devastated by 2005 hurricane. In France,  Kinomé’s Trees & Life program helped young children in southern France to plant their own trees. Kids of the same age in Senegal planted two trees for every tree planted by children of France fostering global reforestation and intercultural awareness. In Germany, The Berlin Energy Agency’s and Club-E  planted trees in southern Berlin as part of its mission to raise awareness about sustainable development among young people. In Italy, San Giovanni community and municipality in Persiceto worked on the Cassa Budrie reforestation project that helped to promote local water security and prevent soil erosion. In Japan a tailored tree-planting at a Japanese school provided students and teachers the opportunity to plant trees on their campus and engage in related green schools activities. In Mexico, Sierra Gorda Ecological Group (SGEG) has been working since 1987. The SGEG worked with local communities and farmers to plant trees directly benefiting local communities restoring watersheds. In The Netherlands, Stichting wAarde or the Earth Value Foundation worked with local young prople to plant trees in Amsterdam and Utrecht. In Spain, Plantemos Para el Planeta planted trees in southeastern Costa del Sol, which was destroyed by wildfire in 2009. In Sweden, Under Sweden’s Skogen i Skolan or Forest in School program, various trees in northeast Sweden were planted by teachers and students.

Supported by and carried out in partnership with nonprofit tree planting organizations throughout the world like some examples stated above Earth Day Network is slowly moving towards it’s goal of planting 10 million trees within the period of five years. Many sponsors and individual donations have also contributed in making this project a success. Working in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme’s Billion Trees Campaign Earth Day Network does wish to contribute positively towards the green movement.

We need to protect our Tree of Souls to continue living in a sustainable world. The Na’vi people of Pandora planet did win in the end. Looking at reality rather than fiction does make me say that we can do that too. Interestingly Avatar was released on Earth Day in 2010 which wasn’t a coincidence. Avatar has inspired a worldwide tree-planting campaign, that involves a million trees in 15 countries and that campaign is The Canopy Project of Earth Day Network. Avatar aligning with Earth Day Network is also a deliberate attempt to press for the need of planting more trees. After the film James Cameron and actress Sigourney Weaver went to the Amazon rainforests and they have been talking about the importance of preserving the environment. Film is an important medium to spread the message using an entertaining tool and it’s about taking everyone along, people from all walks of life to make a positive change.

It should also be kept in mind that narrowing the focus on global warming and losing the broader focus of protecting life on this planet can lead to adverse outcomes. It should be about protecting the forest as an effort to sustain the world’s biodiversity. It is important to look at what is causing the rise of carbon dioxide targeting the current energy system to curb this crisis. It is important to look at all the aspects rather than looking to forests only to solve the current climate crisis.

NB: Nektarina Non Profit is the official partner of Earth Day Network since 2010

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Anam Gill

Believes that empathy and compassion can trigger change. A media professional passionate and committed towards issues of human rights and social justice.