The 1960s are remembered as a time of cultural shifts—socially, politically and artistically. While significant scientific progress was made, and many innovations began at the dawn of this new era, what’s often forgotten are the disasters and accidents that ignited the start of the environmental movement:
- In 1962, heavy smog in London killed over 700 people. This happened after the Clean Air Act had passed years earlier in response to a similar spell of pollution that killed thousands a decade prior.
- In 1965, an outbreak of Minamata disease, determined to be caused by mercury poisoning from a polluting factory, broke out along the banks of the Agano River in Niigata, Japan.
- In 1966, a coal mine pile in Aberfan, Wales, heavy under the weight of a prolonged rain, collapsed onto a junior school and row of houses killing nearly 150 people; mostly children.
- In 1967, the Torrey Canyon cargo ship, en route from Kuwait to Wales, collided with a rock following a navigational error, which resulted in an estimated 100 million litres of crude oil spilled into the sea, which killed 15,000 sea birds and contaminated 170 miles of the Cornish and French coast.
- In 1969, a drilling platform explosion off the coast of Santa Barbara, California dumped 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, covering more than 35 miles of the coastline and killing a significant amount of marine life.
In response to these avoidable catastrophes, toward the end of the decade, leaders in Sweden suggested a United Nations conference take place to specifically focus on issues of the environment, based on an “indisputable need.”
In 1972, their proposal would come to fruition.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment
From June 5 – 16, 1972, 113 of the total 132 Member States of the UN, plus over 200 NGOs convened in Stockholm, Sweden to address the growing concerns about the human impact on the environment.
What resulted from this summit was The Stockholm Declaration, which featured 26 guiding principles that outlined how the global community should collectively approach the care of Mother Earth. Among the points cited within are the need to safeguard our natural resources; address nature conservation when planning for economic development; halt the discharge of toxic substances; and make environmental education essential for younger generations. Essentially all of the points made were common goals, formulated with common sense by leaders who wanted to impact the greater good. If only all of their declarations had materialized …
Though most of the principles have yet to evolve into universal policies, now nearly 50 years later, the conference did leave a legacy. It served as a catalyst for the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme. It also sparked the creation of World Environment Day, declared by the UN General Assembly on that first day of the conference, to occur annually and raise awareness for environmental issues on this day, June 5.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration
Today also marks the beginning of a ten-year plan that aims to “prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean.”
The need for this is vital.
80% of untreated wastewater is currently discharged into our rivers and oceans. Each year over 4.7 million hectares of forests are lost. 90% of our remaining coral reefs will be gone by 2050 without significant action (we’ve already lost half of them).
When we reduce or eliminate natural habitats through deforestation and the destruction of our oceans, our global ecosystem is threatened. What this means is that we—humans—are essentially at risk of becoming an endangered species in the next few hundred years, like so much of the wildlife that are already struggling to survive. Unless we’re willing to change our ways …
Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.
This year’s theme for World Environment Day is:
‘Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.’
Though the issues may seem overwhelming to us as individuals, we really do have the power to help rehabilitate Mother Earth when we work together.
Here are just a few small ways to make a big difference for nature:
- Organize a beach cleanup, if you leave near a lake, river or ocean.
- Plant trees in your community.
- Create a garden of flowers in your yard that attract pollinators to keep the bee population healthy.
- Conserve energy; be mindful of your use of water, electricity and use renewable resources when possible.
- Drive an electric or hybrid car (or better yet, walk or bicycle to close by destinations).
- Be an advocate. Sign a letter to stop deep seabed mining. Take action to help preserve Indigenous land. Donate to Ocean Generation to help educate and influence policy change.
- Download the UN Ecosystem Restoration Playbook for additional ideas.
Above all else, don’t lose hope….
As we saw during the pandemic, Mother Earth has an incredible capacity for resilience.
When we help Her heal, we not only restore the flora and fauna that make up our beautiful planet, we heal ourselves …