By M. Omorovie Ikeke
Twenty-second of April each year is marked as International Mother Earth Day (IMED). Unfortunately in much of the world the day will go unnoticed. Deep earth awareness is still lacking in many quarters. Human existence on earth has brought much pain to the earth. The state of world environmental degradation is astonishing.
Environmental problems that the earth is facing include: atmospheric and marine pollution, species extinction, climate change, drought, desertification, deforestation, famine, war, violence, improper disposal of solid and chemical waste, etc. In 2015, the United Nations established the sustainable development goals. These goals are inclusive of climate change, responsible consumption and production, sustainable cities and communities, affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation. All these bear on environmental issues and once they are achieved they will help in environmental health/wellbeing.
A brief on the IMED is necessary. The day was established by the General Assembly of the UN in 2009. Before now from 1970 various eco-conscious groups have promoted and celebrated Earth Day on 22nd April. The UN notes that in 1970 there were protests against air pollution in the United States; and “Two years later, the UN Conference on the Human Environment 1972 in Stockholm marked the beginning of a global awareness of the interdependence between people, other living species and our planet, as well as the establishment of World Environment Day on 5 June and the UN Environment Programme.” Many other efforts that have helped to create environmental awareness, according to the UN includes: “ the Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002; the declaration of 2008 as the International Year of Planet Earth; the UN official Mother Earth Day Declaration, joining other platforms in their Earth Day celebration; Rio+20 – resulting in a focused political outcome document, which contains clear and practical measures for implementing sustainable development – and recently, the Climate Action Summit 2019 and COP25, both focusing on the achievement of the Paris Agreement.” We are not unmindful here of many other indigenous movements /practices that have fostered earth keeping.
As we celebrate IMED we must accept the challenge to promote environmental awareness/practice to help abate environmental problems. In this part of the world, particularly Nigeria a great deal of environmental problems exists. These problems include: deforestation, desertification, gas flaring, soil erosion, noise pollution, improper dumping of solid waste, unplanned urbanisation, slums and ghettos, overpopulation, etc.
Nigeria has legal instruments to promote healthy environmental practice. These instruments include: the Federal Ministry of Environment, and her parastatal the National Environmental Standards and Regulatory Agency, the Environmental Impact Assessment, etc. The challenge before Nigeria is that many of her environmental laws are poorly enforced. Many mining and oil multinational corporations go unpunished with all the environmental crimes that they commit. It is painful to note that until now gas flaring that causes pollution and endangers the environment continues to take place. There is need for a new awakening to the reality of environmental protection.
Writing in 2014 in his doctoral dissertation at Fordham University, Bronx, New York; this present writer proposed the symbol and image of “ecosolidarity” as a framework and language that can help to tackle the environmental problems in Nigeria and the world. Ecosolidarity implies that human beings and the entire ecological systems share in an intricate and intimate oneness and unity. What affects one affects the other. Human beings need to stand in solidarity with the whole earth and all life on earth. Human beings are an inseparable part of the earth. Human beings endowed with reason and responsibilities have a duty to save and protect the earth from damage and degradation. The earth has “intrinsic value”, to use the words of Holmes Rolston III, a foremost father of environmental ethics.
The earth question is an important one. The earth is called a mother. Here we cannot forget the outstanding encyclical written by Pope Francis, called “Laudato Si,” in which he enunciates: “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”
As we celebrate this international mother earth day, let us rise up to the responsibility to protect the earth. This responsibility is not only for some or those engaged in the environmental movement. It is for all of us human beings who live on planet earth. Without living on earth in a simple and humble manner to preserve the earth we run the risk of creating an earth that cannot sustain us and future generations. All agents of socialisation including the media, education, religion, etc must join in crusading for new habits that create a sustainable world.
Ikeke is a priest of Catholic Diocese of Warri, an Associate Professor of Philosoph, Delta State University, Abraka.