Suruwa B. Wawa Jaiteh
The 50th Earth Day celebration takes place amid a global existential threat- a pandemic that has sickened millions, killed thousands, and grounded businesses and economies to a near halt. And, the worst is yet to come.
In 1970, when it was first observed, some 20 million people took to the streets and protested the multifold environmental crises, oil spills, smog and polluted rivers. Participants demanded that their governments take concrete action on these issues, specifically by passing environmental laws and establishing environmental agencies.
Two days ago, the commemoration of International Mother Earth Day took place indoors and online, as billions of people are locked down or are sheltered in place.
Prior to Covid-19, the biggest global issue was the rapid warming of the planet. According to the United Nations Emission Gap Report, at the end of this year global carbon dioxide emissions need to have dropped by 7.6 percent, and continue to drop at the same rate every year, to maintain heating of the planet under 1.5 degree Celsius. If the warming continues to be higher than this limit, catastrophic climate events are expected to visit upon many parts of the globe in the coming years. These days as government and business leaders scramble to contain the spread of Covid-19, an unintended consequence is the drastic reduction in economic activity that in turn significantly reduces economic activity.
To say however that the pandemic occasioned some good for the climate cause would be a hasty conclusion and a gross over simplification. After all, the near stoppage of economic activity is taking an enormous toll on incomes, jobs and peoples’ survival. Aside from the crises faced by patients, their families, medical frontliners and entire hospital systems, hunger and displacement are specters that are just as devastating for thousands of global citizens. Those of us unfortunate enough to not have to go out of their homes to earn a living can pause and rethink whether our way of life before the crisis would still be acceptable in a post-Covid-I9 world.
Were the things we deemed important to achieve actually that? What constitute “importance” anyway? Were our actions in keeping with optimising our existence in all aspects, or were we living in manic pursuit of things that we thought would make us happy? Were we giving back to others and to the environment, or were we too busy acquiring and consuming for ourselves? Were we mindful about the planet we could leave for the next generations, or were we all about instant gratification? The earth and its inhabitants are under siege. May we use these crucial days to imagine how we could be spared pestilence, and how we can live differently after we have been given the time to reflect and act as appropriate. May Allah (SWT) be with us. Amen.
Suruwa B Wawa Jaiteh is a former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and also a researcher at the West Africa Rice Development Association (now Africa Rice Institute).