Earth Day 2014: A time of hope

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Philippine EnviroNews, Philippines

FORTY-FOUR years ago, the first Earth Day was celebrated in the United States amid a backdrop of anti-war sentiments.

Today, we celebrate Earth Day in the midst of a different conflict in a modern, fast-paced world; one that pits man versus nature, man versus himself.

Millions of people around the world will devote this day to various activities honoring the only home we have. Simple gestures will mean a lot for our planet: planting a tree, picking up trash, conserving energy, avoiding wasteful practices or simply pausing to enjoy the earth’s wonders.

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The Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists Inc. (PNEJ) joins the world in commemorating Earth Day. We join the celebration mindful of the lessons we have learned from natural calamities that brought to our doorsteps the problems of neglecting our environment and our planet. Climate change and its deadly consequences are here.

Typhoons Ketsana (Ondoy) and Parma (Pepeng) came as a wake-up call for the Philippines in 2009. Ketsana brought Metro Manila, the country’s political and economic center, to its knees due to unprecedented flooding. Pepeng hit almost two weeks later and its unrelenting rains unleashed landslides and spawned widespread flooding in Central and Northern Luzon regions. Lives and billions of pesos worth of government and public property were lost to these successive typhoons.

After the rebuilding and recovery, many continued living their lives, choosing to forget the nightmare. Many Filipinos were hoping, and praying, that the horror of 2009 won’t happen again.

But four years later, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) brought a clearer picture of the wrath of climate change right before the Filipinos’ to eyes. In one fell swoop, thousands have died and an entire city in Eastern Visayas, Tacloban, was leveled by a storm surge unprecedented in the country’s modern history.  The reality of climate change is not only at the country’s doorstep — it has entered the door and that door had been shut. There’s no turning back.

The picture is now even clearer as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its recent report released in its session in Japan, said there is real danger that climate changes may put communities and nations in the brink of war and conflict over precious and scant resources, like food and water.

Philippine Climate Change Commission Vice-chair Maryanne Lucille Sering says this scenario is not farfetched because climate changes will place already scarce natural resources under greater pressure and put large population groups to flight from drought, flooding, and other extreme weather conditions.

“For the Philippines, these ingredients of danger are already present. With an increasing population exposed to increasing intensity of typhoons during the last 5 years, even in areas not often visited by typhoons, the dangers are now becoming a reality,” Sering says.

We celebrate Earth Day today by accepting the reality that our planet is fragile and vulnerable to the acts of nature and man. People around the world should brace themselves as extreme weather is the new normal.

TODAY, we ask you to pause and offer a silent gratitude and respect to the planet that nurtured us all.