2018, the UN International Year of … Our Choice

Written for the King Sentinel. Thursday, January 11th edition

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For the first time in recent history, the United Nations has not made a specific designation for the year 2018.  In fact, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement calling for global unity to overcome growing challenges:

“On New Year’s Day 2018 I am not issuing an appeal, I am issuing an alert – a red alert for our world. As we begin 2018, I call for unity. We can settle conflicts, overcome hatred and defend shared values. But we can only do that together.”

While the UN has already gone ahead and declared 2019 to be the International Year of Indigenous Languages, for which we say, Miigwech, it appears that the designation for 2018 is left up to us. To those who seize the initiative go the spoils, so let us step up and declare 2018 to be the International Year of Environmental Literacy.

Readers should be reminded that we previously defined “environment” as being “everything that surrounds us, everything with which we interact, everything that we are – in short, everything.” Environmental literacy, therefore, is our ability to move through the stages of awareness, knowledge, and critical thinking about “everything” to wisely put our values into action. This becomes particularly challenging in an era of “truthful hyperbole”, “fake news”, and a global leadership that boasts, “My nuclear button is bigger than your nuclear button!”  Challenging, but even more necessary than ever.

Our 2018 is a world of extremes where one part of our home planet is experiencing Arctic weather bombs, hurricane force winds and historic flooding, while another part is experiencing heat waves and drought. One part of our world is giving the richest corporations historic tax breaks while another part has left 5 million people in urgent need with a hundred thousand on the edge of starvation. While the global population growth is predicted to slow as fertility rates drop, we are at the same time predicting close to 50,000 new births in Rohingya Muslim refugee camps – that’s the population of King Township and Bolton combined – refugee camps rife with cholera and dysentery.

It is hard for us to comprehend the realities of accelerating global climate change and a steadily warming planet when we are shoveling snow. To put that into perspective, my wife and dog and I went hiking yesterday in the Happy Valley Nature Reserve where the wind chill temperature dropped to under -25ºC while the temperatures in Sydney Australia soared to over 45ºC. A temperature differential of 70ºC makes it even difficult to comprehend the realities of daily weather.

It is difficult for us to understand the cries for water, food and safety from those who have none when we are putting out our excess once a week in garbage bins, blue boxes and municipal composters. It is mind-boggling for those of us who believe in a just society to witness the rise in xenophobia and populist misogynistic nationalism in democratically elected governments.

The only cure for a world suffering from these extremes is for those who espouse positive, inclusive values to stand up and be counted, to speak up for those whose voice has been devalued, to offer solace to those who have none. Equally important is for us to use our democratic rights, while we still have them, to elect literate well-informed, respectful candidates to public office so that they make intelligent decisions on our behalf. And that requires us to be literate and well-informed citizens.

Our children tell us that they want to be the change, a change for the better. They remind us that we should be able to tell them that everything is going to be OK, that we are taking good care of them and their world, and that whether they live in King or Caledon or Syria their future will be bright.

But our children aren’t stupid. As young environmentalist Severn Suzuki reminded us at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 25 years ago: “My dad always says, ‘You are what you do, not what you say.’ Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown-ups say you love us. But I challenge you, please, make your actions reflect your words.”

Perhaps then there is only one resolution to make for this New Year of 2018.

To finally accept that challenge, and to be the best we say we can be. Perhaps it is not so much a resolution, but a revolution and an evolution to environmental literacy. To a higher ground from where we begin to comprehend the incredible interconnectedness of our planet and the consequences of our actions. Considering the recent red alert from the United Nations Secretary-General and the remembered plea of a child, it is clear that the time has come for people of goodwill to defend their world together.

As the old biblical adage reminds us: As we sow, so shall we reap.  Here’s hoping the 2018 harvest is a good one.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

 

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