One of my favorite Chinese proverbs is “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
It does not at all reduce the power of the maxim to acknowledge that it was coined by Frederick R. Barnard, a New York advertising manager looking to attract clients to his agency in 1921, and not by Confucius.
Napoleon Bonaparte of course came close to beating Barnard with his statement ”un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours,” or “a good sketch is better than a long speech.”
And of course in his 1862 classic Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev wrote, ” A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound.”
But I digress. Let’s take a break from pictures for awhile and just read some words.
The idea of designating one day each year to focus attention on our planet’s oceans was first proposed by Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on June 8, 1992. After years of unofficial celebration, the United Nations formally designated June 8th as World Oceans Day, beginning in 2009.
On the occasion of the first World Oceans Day, the U.N. Secretary-General explained:
“The first observance of World Oceans Day allows us to highlight the many ways in which oceans contribute to society. It is also an opportunity to recognize the considerable challenges we face in maintaining their capacity to regulate the global climate, supply essential ecosystem services, and provide sustainable livelihoods and safe recreation.
“… The theme of World Oceans Day, ‘Our oceans, our responsibility’, emphasizes our individual and collective duty to protect the marine environment and carefully manage its resources. Safe, healthy, and productive seas and oceans are integral to human well-being, economic security, and sustainable development.”
World Environment Day is much older than World Oceans Day. Celebrated every June 5th since 1973, World Environment Day was established by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment to stimulate awareness of ecology and to increase political attention and public action on environmental matters. World Environment Day is very similar in intention and effect to the globally celebrated Earth Day which originated a few years earlier in the United States.
Each year World Environment Day has a different theme and is hosted by a different city or country. This year’s global host is Rwanda, a country of exceptional biodiversity. The 2010 theme is “Many Species. One Planet. One Future.”
Celebrations in Rwanda included a Kwita Izina gorilla-naming ceremony, an event introduced several years ago to create awareness of efforts to protect the region’s endangered mountain gorillas. In a worldwide online vote, the name “Zoya” — refering to “life” and “light” in several languages — was selected as the winning name for a baby gorilla. A separate online vote for children produced the name “Waka Waka” for a second baby gorilla.
New Zealand hosted World Environment Day 2008, with the main international celebrations occurring in Wellington. The 2008 theme was “CO2, Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy.”
So, what can we do to celebrate these enviro-dates?
The first thing we can do is to not give up hope. There are signs of intelligent life on Earth, particularly among our children. We need to encourage that intelligence and stop making excuses for why doing the right thing is too difficult, or too politically unpalatable, or just too inconvenient.
The second thing we can do is to each recognize that we must each be responsible for examining our own behavior and for developing a more healthy, sustainable, and Earth-friendly lifestyle.
And the third thing we can do is to each adopt and support one effort or group focused on making the world a cleaner, safer place to live. There are plenty of options out there from which to choose, on the local, regional, national, and international levels. There are efforts focused on animals, or on water, or on air, or on waste reduction, or on cleaner energy. There are groups that take a political approach, or a legal approach, or a scientific approach, or an economic approach, or a religious approach. Among all the choices, there is certain to be something out there that resonates with your own particular preferences, goals, and values.
One laudable campaign that came to my attention recently is Mission Blue, an effort to rally public support to establish a global network of Marine Protected Areas. Marine Protected Areas would provide safe havens for ocean wildlife, maintain healthy biodiversity, support habitats that act as carbon sinks, and help marine environments recover and regenerate. There is no better argument in support of Mission Blue than what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico on this World Oceans Day.
Just another 1,000 words to make the point: