World Environment Day - 5 June 2021

Regenerative agriculture Farm in Pottstown, PA, USA. Photo: Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash

Regenerative agriculture Farm in Pottstown, PA, USA. Photo: Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash 

World Environment Day 2021 is being hosted by Pakistan, where Columbans have been on mission for many decades and are actively engaged with communities to raise awareness and take action on caring for Earth. The theme of the United Nations (UN) World Environment Day 2021 is 'Ecosystems Restoration.' There are many types of ecosystems such as grasslands, mountains, forests, farmlands and even urban areas. Ecosystems are made up of both living and non-living elements dependent on one another, and when healthy and functioning form the basis of 'prosperity and flourishing' for all.

During a COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Columban Sister Kathleen Melia was among other Columbans in the Philippines who cared for 4000 seedlings to be added to the replantation of former deforested land in the Subanen Mission area. Sister Kathleen explains that replanting these sites has resulted in multiple benefits, including protection from landslides and soil erosion, provision of healthy food for the community, improved nutrition for children and cultural wellbeing.  

Regenerative agriculture methods are being used worldwide to restore farmland ecosystems. In the book 'The Call of the Reed Warbler', Australian farmer Charles Massy explains how regenerative agriculture enables landscapes to renew themselves whilst providing health and wellbeing for humans, including the improved mental health of farmers. Benefits include improved soil and animal health, increased food production and protection in times of drought. The practices also help draw down carbon from the atmosphere to help slow global warming. Fortunately, more and more consumers are committed to purchasing food that has been produced sustainably in a range of ways. 

There are moral and ethical implications to global patterns of consumption. Columban Fr Sean McDonagh, in his book 'Passion for the Earth,' states:

'The demands which are made by our modern, affluent way of living are impoverishing the poor. Poorer nations are forced to sell their valuable resources…so that the poor become poorer, hungrier, more vulnerable, and disenfranchised.'

Columban Lay Missionary John Din speaks here about the impact of extractive industries in his home country of the Philippines, which leads to a depletion of natural resources for the benefit of wealthy nations who often have legislative protections in their own natural environments. Wesley Cocozello, who works for the Columban Centre for Advocacy and Outreach in the USA, says in this podcast: 'We need to redefine what human flourishing looks like,' with a more inclusive world view. 

In a 2021 edition of The Lancets Planet Health journal, medical experts warn of the risk to human health from ongoing emerging infectious diseases and pandemics. Over the past 30 years, COVID-19, Ebola, H1N1 (Swine Flu) and H7N9 (Bird Flu), among others, aptly show the interdependence of human, animal, and ecosystem health. Zoonotic diseases pass from animals to humans and are made more likely by unsustainable human demands on ecosystems in various ways. Importantly this report highlights the need for global experts across disciplines to work together to respond to these urgent problems.

World Environment Day 2021 heralds the beginning of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to focus on work in every continent. Here in Australia, we are aware of many threats to our environment. In the 'Combatting ecosystem collapse from the tropics to Antarctic' report from January 2021, scientists warn that 19 ecosystems across Australia and into Antarctica are at risk of collapsing from global warming of habitat for animal life, pollution and other problems. These include terrestrial and marine ecosystems, including the Great Barrier Reef, kelp, mangrove and Mountain Ash forests, and woodlands. There are, however, many examples of positive action. Since the devastating bushfires of 2019/2020, many conservation groups and volunteers are undertaking initiatives to restore and regenerate ecosystems. 

Cities are increasingly the focus of environmental restoration, and initiatives that bring together local communities, academics, government and industry, offer hopeful examples of change. Making cities greener helps reduce the effect of urban heat and makes them more liveable in a whole host of ways. Planting flowering shrubs in our gardens and eliminating pesticides is an excellent way of providing habitat and food source for insects, vital to the pollination of food crops.

At the Opening Ceremony of the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference, a 12-year-old boy from Fiji, Timoci Naulusala, addressed world leaders and asked them to be open to the realities of global warming and stated that everyone has a role to play; students, teachers, parents and leaders. Timoci received a standing ovation for his speech.

Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM is a team member of the Columban Peace, Ecology & Justice office in Australia.

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