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Joining hands on Earth Day
Publication Date : 22-04-2013
The observation of Earth Day this year takes up a critically important theme - the Faces of Climate Change - focusing on how global warming affects individuals and what they can do to protect the planet. As it does every year since it started 43 years ago, Earth Day seeks to promote awareness and activism. It deserves wholehearted support, for the global climatic challenge is serious and time is short.
Trying to engage people individually, however, is not without difficulty. First, the effort involves a steep teaching curve, as many people know the subject only vaguely. They often find the scientific explanations and mathematical calculations beyond their comprehension. Second, even if some are aware of its adverse impact from media reports, they may regard climate change as a remote threat, with little bearing on them. Third, those who are keenly aware of the danger may feel overwhelmed by the thought that it is already too late to do anything.
Earth Day efforts to put and keep climate change on people's minds have to steer a careful course - between simplistic arguments and too much data; between exaggeration and scepticism; between over-optimism and despair. Above all, advocates have to highlight the human dimension. As the Earth Day website points out, climate change is already affecting people's lives. Some faces of climate change: A Kansas farmer has to cope with prolonged drought that wilts his crops; a Niger fisherman often nets no fish in the river; a Bangladeshi woman has to make do with polluted water because of frequent flooding and cyclones. The blight of climate change extends to all corners of the globe, not least in South-east Asia.
Persuasive signs of climate change are increasingly evident. Last year, Arctic sea ice covered the smallest area on record in September; the United States endured its hottest year ever; superstorms hammered the Caribbean, the Philippines and north-eastern US; droughts devastated northern Brazil, Russia, China and most of the US; monster floods affected Nigeria, Pakistan and parts of China. These phenomena are occurring so often they are setting a "new normal" in public perceptions. With increasing global warming, they are unlikely to disappear.
So, what can an individual do? Practically, a lot: Use less electricity by switching off lights; reuse bags and other recyclable items; save water; plan car journeys to save fuel; and so on. The greatest power of the aware and responsible individual, however, is in joining hands with other individuals. As global climate talks stagnate, they can make a difference by heightening public expectations of what various sectors of society must do to rise to the collective challenge.