Amid tragedy, we can see a cleaner future. But will we keep sleepwalking towards a climate catastrophe?
Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans rallied to demand protection for the environment. The hope is that, today, many more people around the world will mobilise for the cause, albeit while adhering to physical distancing and lockdown guidelines.
With carbon emissions and global temperature records at an all-time high and wildfires, floods and other extreme events surging around the world, never has the need for climate action been more urgent.
And yet, right now, the world is distracted by another global emergency – the COVID-19 pandemic. The immediate focus has to be on preventing yet more deaths and alleviating, wherever possible, the suffering inflicted by this terrible disease. But for some political leaders this has been a reason, or even a convenient excuse, to put plans to tackle climate change to one side. Whereas both crises stem from the same root cause – humanity’s relentless exploitation of the planet’s resources. Until this is addressed, catastrophic climate change and further disease outbreaks are inevitable.
Destruction of habitats not only contributes to emissions but also brings animals, and the viruses they carry, into contact with humans. Global warming does not just create human refugees. Animals too migrate in search of cooler climes, spreading pathogens to new hosts around the world. Eating and trading wild animals further increases the chances of spillover. Wildlife, oil, water, trees, minerals; you name it, we profit from turning the planet’s riches into commodities. And it is killing us.
Al Jazeera’s environmental solutions series, earthrise, celebrates the people committed to protecting life on earth and turning the climate crisis around.
To mark this day, we look back at five of our films, each of which takes on an extra significance in the context of the current pandemic. These stories prove how far one person’s determination to make a difference can go. And that when this determination is met with support, from the public or from business and political leaders, then transformation becomes truly possible.
The human footprint is so huge that it affects three-quarters of the land on the planet. Only a few pockets of wilderness remain.
In response, a worldwide movement is under way to “rewild” the countryside. One initiative, in Chile’s Patagonia, is exceeding all expectations.
In 2004, philanthropists Kris and Doug Tompkins bought a sheep ranch and set about restoring its overgrazed lands. Their venture went on to become one of the biggest conservation projects in history. Recently it has expanded even further with the support of the Chilean state.
If you don't establish some sort of value system that awards peace between the human and non-human world, you'll never get where we need to go.
The incidence of emerging infectious diseases is on the rise. The majority of these originate in animals. Deforestation, which leads to pathogens moving out of the woods with their animal hosts, is a major cause. It is also responsible for approximately 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Your clothes may play a part in this. Every year, 150 million trees are pulped to create viscose and rayon to feed the fast-fashion industry.
The non-profit company, Canopy, is campaigning to protect the world’s ancient forests. In Sweden, it is working with major brands to transform the high street.
It's not an intuitive link that something so soft and silky next to your skin actually it starts off as a tree.
Washing your hands is a key defence against coronavirus. But what if you are one of the 785 million people without access to clean water? Now, more than ever, every drop counts.
Jordan is one of the world’s driest countries. What is more, more than 35 billion litres of water are lost there each year due to illegal tapping and faulty pipes.
That is why the Water Wise Women initiative is so important. Three thousand women have been trained in water conservation and plumbing. They are helping preserve their country’s water supply drip by drip.
I love it because it's really really helpful and you can save something really expensive for us. It's the water.
The rivers of the city of Doula in Cameroon are choked with so much plastic waste that you would struggle to see a drop of water. Like other rivers around the world, they are a symbol of how we plunder the planet’s resources, only to swiftly discard the products we make with them.
But Ismael Essome is living proof one person can make a difference. He is on a mission to change attitudes to waste in Doula and, from there, to inspire the whole of Africa.
I realised that all the rivers are full of plastics. No one cares. No one said 'What is this?' And I was shocked to see that so I decided to do something.
As countries around the world enter lockdown and the air becomes cleaner, we are gaining a tantalising glimpse of a greener world.
We are at a fork in the road. Once the worst ravages of the pandemic are over, which way will we go? Towards decarbonised economies and a sustainable future? Or back to business as usual, a rise in emissions and a future beset by extreme climate events – and, most likely, further pandemics?
The people of the Danish island of Samso chose the path of sustainability. In the process, they proved that going green makes good business sense and that a healthy environment is a prerequisite for a resilient and healthy society.
That's the idea, to help communities realise their potential and their options and fly.
You can find more earthrise films here.