Global salvation - GulfToday

Global salvation

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Sir David Attenborough

Britain’s Sir David Attenborough has been honoured with a lifetime achievement Champion of the Earth award by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). This, the UN’s highest environmental award, has recognised his decades-long effort to educate the planet’s public through documentary films about nature and his commitment to the battle against climate change.

“If we stand a chance of averting climate and biodiversity breakdowns and cleaning up polluted ecosystems, it’s because millions of us fell in love with the planet that he captured on film and in writing, in his voice,” stated UNEP director Inger Andersen.

Environmentalist and author Simon Barnes wrote.”If the world is, indeed, to be saved, then Attenborough will have had more to do with its salvation than anyone else who ever lived.”

This being the case, it is late to confer on Sir David the award, created in 2005. He has been one of the main activists in the climate change movement and has lobbied summits dedicated to this effort. He has collaborated with UNEP for 40 years in the belief that the countries of the world must combine to tackle global warming and pollution.

Responding to the award, Sir David, 95, stated, “Fifty years ago, whales were on the very edge of extinction worldwide. Then people got together and now there are more whales in the sea than any living human being has ever seen.”

He then pointed out: “We know what the problems are and we know how to solve them. All we lack is unified action.”

Sir David earned a degree in natural sciences from Cambridge University in 1947 and in 1954 launched his career at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) with “Zoo Quest,” a series that introduced viewers to then unknown creatures, including orangutans and Komodo dragons.

He went on to make his name with “Life on Earth,” which showed how microbes and mankind emerged on this planet.  He wrote and produced eight more documentaries on the state of our world, warning that we humans must get together to preserve the planet.

The announcement of the Attenborough award took place ahead of Earth Day on April 22. Other honorees were women from around the globe. The 30-member SeaWomen of Melanesia won the award for Inspiration and Action for teaching island women scuba diving and biology in order to monitor coral reefs and restore protected marine areas.  “When you train a woman, you train a society,” said Evangelista Apelis, a SeaWoman and co-director of the SeaWomen programme based in Papua New Guinea.

Maria Kolesnikova, Champion of the Earth for Entrepreneurial Vision, was volunteering for MoveGreen, a youth environmental organisation in the Kyrgyz Republic, when she realised its capital city was shrouded by grey smog produced by coal smoke and other combusting fuels. Having measured the intensity of the pollution, the movement launched a campaign among school children and installed sensors in schools to warn teachers when to close windows due to pollution. Kolesnikova then tackled politicians with the aim of forcing them to monitor and curb emissions as well as develop solar, water and wind power.

Ugandan Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, a 30-year wildlife veterarian, won the award for Science and Innovation. As a pioneer in community-backed wildlife conservation, she founded Conservaton Through Public Health which strives to reduce friction between humans and animals and teach families how to grow crops to feed themselves. She also tries to convince Africans to choose careers in conservation.

Barbados Prime Minister World Champion for Policy Leadership Mia Amor Mottley confronted global leaders when attending last year’s UN General Assembly by demanding the elimination of polluting emmissions which are melting polar ice and imperilling the very existence of small island states by raising sea levels. “I think that the combination of the pandemic and the climate crisis has presented a perfect political moment for human beings to pause and really examine what it is we are doing. What I really, really want in this world is for us to be able to have a sense of responsibility towards our environment, but also to the future generations.”

Since the award was established in 2005, there have been 106 laureates, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018. Among the first laureates from seven global regions was the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates for his lifelong efforts to protect his country’s environment and contributions to agriculture and protection of species. Among the other honourees were South African President Thabo Mbeki and the people of his country and the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

No monetary award is attached to the prize. Instead, each laureate receives a trophy designed by the Kenyan sculptor Kioko and made of recycled metal. The trophy represents the fundamental elements sustaining life on Earth: sun, air, land and water.

The question that UNEP and environmentalists the world over must answer is: “Can the earth be healed?” Experts say it can but it will take time and humankind must end its depredations so the healing process can begin.

Writing on The Conversation website, Scott Denning pointed out, “We have polluted the air and water, strewn plastic and other trash on land and in oceans and rivers, and destroyed habitats for plants and animals.” But, he added, “..we know how to help natural processes to clean up many of these messes.” Stubbornly optimistic, he said there has been progress over the past half century.

The main challenge is climate change which will become worse until humans stop burning coal, oil, and natural gas which heat up the atmosphere, causing fires, floods, droughts, and unstable weather events. Politicians, manufacturers, lobbyists and citizens could have curbed emissions by technological means before the situation became critical but they failed. Now electricity produced by cheap solar, wind and water power is seen as the solution for global warming.

Photo: AFP

Related articles