The past year was another difficult one for our natural environment. Global issues such as climate change, dwindling natural resources, deforestation and pollution are worsening by the day, driven by human impacts. In South Africa, we are suffering from one of our worst-ever droughts, and the poaching of animals such as rhino is continuing unabated. These are just a few issues that all of us urgently need to pay attention to as World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June.

What is World Environment Day?

Established as an annual event by the United Nations (UN) in 1972, World Environment Day is the largest global celebration of its kind, being recognised by millions of people in over 100 countries. The day aims to encourage worldwide environmental awareness and on-the-ground action in the form of events such as clean-up campaigns, tree-planting drives, recycling initiatives, social media campaigns and contests. These are normally entertaining and rewarding initiatives to be involved in, making them a perfect thing to do when you’re looking for a few hours off from your studies.

The 2017 theme, “Connecting People to Nature”, encourages all of us to get out into the great outdoors to appreciate the beauty and importance of our environment, to recognise how we intimately depend on nature and to learn how we can preserve it.

Our environment

Why should you care?

We hear the dire warnings about environmental threats virtually every day. It may feel as though these warning are becoming repetitive, but they are now manifesting themselves in noticeable and very serious ways. Last year, 2016, was our planet’s warmest-ever year, with rocketing carbon dioxide levels leading to massive effects on most of our natural ecosystems. See NASA’s concerning data on global warming here.

We are fully dependent on natural water supplies, and on fertile soil in which to plant our crops. The oceans provide not only seafood, but massive stores for greenhouse gases. Life-saving medicines are developed from the genetic materials of countless natural species, and our trees protect us from the harmful effects of excessive carbon dioxide. Every species plays a vital role in preserving this natural balance.

Closer to home, South Africa’s drought situation can be directly attributed to climate change and El Nino – a rising in ocean temperatures that causes worldwide climate effects, including lack of rainfall. With our population expanding rapidly, our water resources are declining at an alarming rate, making it the responsibility of every individual to take action. Meanwhile, rhino poaching has risen by more than 300% since 2010, air pollution in some areas exceeds World Health Organisation standards, and water and soil pollution is rampant.

Rhino poaching is on the increase

What can you do on World Environment Day?

In line with the 2017 theme, the UN has encouraged people to visit their nearest national park or nature reserve to spend time appreciating nature. To better show your commitment and spread the message, you can take a photo or video in your wilderness area, and post it on social media using #WorldEnvironmentDay or #WithNature. The best submissions will be seen by world leaders in exhibitions at the UN headquarters. See the World Environment Day website for details.

We have to remember that in order to conserve our environment, we need action that stretches far beyond just one day. It’s essential that we make environmental awareness an active part of our lives, and educate others on its importance too.

Here are some tips on what you, as a college student, can do every day to help preserve the environment:

  • Only print documents when necessary to help prevent trees being cut down for paper; use online options wherever possible.
  • Take reusable shopping bags to the grocery store instead of buying plastic ones every time.
  • Recycle your notes instead of throwing them away.
  • Join up on any clean-up drives or other environmental initiatives being held in your area.
  • Plant a tree in your community to show your commitment to the environment.

What will you be doing to help preserve your environment? Let us know in the comments box below!