Earth Day: planet vs. plastics

As the world prepares to observe Earth Day later this month, we look back at our thoughts on the day: millions of people will be participating in activities around the world to draw attention to the urgency of the climate crisis and environmental degradation, and the need for immediate action. This year the theme is “Planet vs. Plastics” which calls to advocate for widespread awareness on the health risk of plastics, rapidly phase out all single use plastics, urgently push for a strong UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, and demand an end to fast fashion. April 22 is also International Mother Earth Day, as proclaimed by the United Nations in 2009.
Here in Guyana, over the past few years, there has been much talk about climate change, and the devastating impact it is having and is likely to have on communities locally and the world as a whole. However, while Governments and policy makers are busy debating the issues at the national and international levels, many believe that more needs to be done in terms of designing and implementing critical projects at the community level to encourage and sensitise individuals about the need to play their part in mitigating the effects of climate change. Citizens still do take the issue for granted, and do not pay much heed to the various messages about the need to change lifestyle patterns and so on.
Scientists have argued that the planet is indeed threatened by lifestyle patterns of individuals, and if persons continue to use resources the way we currently do, the planet’s reserves would be exhausted at an increasingly rapid pace. For many countries, there is still the challenge of getting everyone to not only understand and appreciate the idea of the need to work towards sustainable consumption, but also to take practical steps to move in this direction.
Certainly, Governments can set the framework with their policies; set targets, define standards, give incentives to make companies go green. Businesses and industries, together with researchers, can provide the solutions, but, in the end, the consumers have the power of the purse, whether they buy green products or not. The highly touted ‘green model’ reduces our ecological footprint, emits less greenhouse gases, uses less energy and raw materials, and can create new sources of growth and employment.
In essence, achieving economic growth and sustainable development requires that we urgently reduce our ecological footprint by changing the way we produce and consume goods and resources. As stated by UNDP, the efficient management of our shared natural resources and the way we dispose of toxic waste and pollutants are important targets to achieve this goal.
Based on statistics, the world’s population is growing rapidly, as more than a billion new people will enter the middle class by 2050. Experts have predicted that if citizens do not change their consumption patterns, the global use of resources would be multiplied by 15, which is considered dangerous for our planet, as it would not be able to satisfy the needs of everyone.
At the individual level, every individual does play a crucial role in defining his/her own consumption pattern, and can in a way also contribute to the fight against climate change. For example, we can reduce the level of energy utilised, and the money that is saved on energy could instead be used to develop climate-friendly technologies and appliances.
Official records show that, on a global level, more than 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are related to household consumption. While it is accepted that it is not an easy task to get persons to change lifestyles and to work towards a climate- friendly environment, the task would be much easier if they are educated about the role they can play and the benefits of their own action.
Here, in Guyana, we still continue to dump garbage carelessly. For example, persons continue to dispose of plastics and Styrofoam items in a reckless manner, resulting in the clogging of drains and trenches, thereby leading to flooding etc. The 2005 floods exposed our vulnerability, and should have served as a big wake-up call for us to treat the environment differently.