To celebrate World Environment Day, hundreds of Freetonians came together to plant a tree in honor of the more than 1,000 people killed and missing after devastating landslides and floods tore through Freetown less than a year ago. The landslide and flood waters ripped through the capital city with tremendous energy, destroying everything in its path. It was reported that a huge wave of boulders, building debris and mud cascaded down the river channel immediately after the landslide. The disaster affected more than 6,000 people and caused significant destruction and damage to critical infrastructure.
When a family of 10 smooth-coated otters appeared in Singapore’s urban downtown of Marina Bay last year, the city was ablaze with excitement and delight. Who would have thought that these otters would make a dense urban environment like Singapore home? After all, otters were thought to have vanished in the 1970s as Singapore rapidly developed into a dense metropolis.
Was this a fad? Probably. Was this a big deal? Absolutely. In a small city-state where land is considered a scarce resource, the tension between urban development and biodiversity conservation can be very pronounced. This was not the case in Singapore. Between 1986 and 2010, as Singapore’s urban population doubled from 2.7 to 5 million, its green cover also increased from 36% to 50%, all within the confines of just 710 square kilometers. The increase in green cover in urbanized Singapore was seen as a sign that the efforts by the urban planning agency, parks and water management boards had paid off, and a testament that the natural environment could be indeed be integrated effectively into the urban fabric of the city.
Today is World Environment Day. This year, it celebrates the theme of “connecting people to nature,” and invites us to think about how we are part of nature—and how intimately we depend on it.
In the first 6 months of this year, Sri Lanka has experienced a number of major events that demonstrate exactly how critical managing the environment is: Drought, landslides, a garbage avalanche, flash floods — and many other events at scales that have not caught the attention of those not affected. The damage to lives and assets, and the disruption to routines that make us who we are psychologically and spiritually is tough to live through and slow to reverse – if it ever does.
So why would we leave thoughts on sustainable environmental management to just one single day a year? We typically celebrate “Environment Day” by picking up rubbish around the city or from the rivers, or the sea; or by participating in a charity walk, or a charity run, and so forth. The excitement builds, everyone engages and the next day everyone moves on to “more pressing matters” until the next calamity, and the blame game starts all over again.
Let me assert the following key point: Nothing will change until we all see ourselves as part of the problem and part of the solution. For many of these issues we can make a difference, every day!
Over the past decade, illegal poaching of wildlife has quickly caught up to habitat destruction as a leading cause of wildlife loss in many countries.
Poaching African elephants for ivory provides a case in point. Elephant poaching has sharply increased since 2006. We may now be losing up to 50,000 elephants per year with only 450,000 elephants remaining in Africa. In short, we are running out of time and unless we can stop the killing, we will surely lose the battle. Decreasing demand for ivory is vital over the long term, but the scale of current elephant losses makes this strategy too slow to save elephants by itself. The ecological, economic and security consequences from the loss of this keystone species will be quite severe and potentially irreversible.
It’s environment week, kind of. Tuesday was World Environment Day and tomorrow is World Oceans Day. Both days were institutionalized through United Nations resolutions to draw attention to the environment and the threats it is exposed to. For communicators in development, climate change is one of the most relevant issues. Communication scholars also have thought a lot about how to effectively communicate climate change. I am not quite sure, however, whether the two sides are working together. Let me therefore discuss how framing can influence our understanding and acceptance of climate change.