OPINION: As we celebrate Earth Day, what does the planet mean to you?

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg has arguably done more than anyone in the last few years to raise awareness of damage to our planet - Credit: Anthony Quintano/Flickr

Birmingham – hardly a place where one is aware of the earth beneath our feet, perhaps as the Brummies have a reputation for building a lot of roads to cover it!

I was born and grew up there and still retain a certain fondness for what is arguably our second city.

At one time I was very conscious of my insignificant presence in the world and would write out our address – house number, street, suburb, Birmingham, Warwickshire (shows my age, it is now the West Midlands!), England, Great Britain, Europe, The Earth, the Universe. Even as a child I was aware of the world  around us.

For those who do crosswords a clue such as 'earth' can take you to soil or the world. We used to come regularly to west Norfolk for holidays with our grandparents and the thing which always amazed us was how the colour of the soil changed as we passed Peterborough and saw the expanse of black earth which is the Fens.

My father told me that it was “black gold” and I believed him.


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The Earth, both the planet and the soil beneath our feet, is celebrated on Earth Day on April 22.

Something for a pub quiz – who founded Earth Day?

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It was created in 1970 by an American senator, Gaylord Nelson.

For the past 50 years, it has been coordinated and celebrated internationally by the Earth Day Network to support environmental protection and is recognised in more than 193 countries across the globe.

In December 1970 the US Congress authorised the formation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues but fast forward to recent years and the United States were taken out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change by the then President, Donald Trump.

Happily, the current president has different views and the US is now supporting issues around climate change again.

Norfolk Federation of Women's Institutes. Elizabeth Barker.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Elizabeth Barker of the Norfolk WI - Credit: Archant

One of the big changes in environmental awareness came about in recent years when, in 2018, a young Swedish girl called Greta Thunberg started her solitary strikes outside the Swedish Parliament.

Her call for action on climate change roused a whole generation of young people not just in Sweden but globally and the Friday protests brought environmental issues to the top of the agenda for many people.

She went to America to address the United Nations when she was still not 18 and she went on a small yacht, not on an aeroplane.

She travels by train or electric car and has no interest in wasteful and environmentally disastrous fast fashion. We cannot all live life as she does but many millions of people, particularly the young, are inspired by her commitment.

Another pub quiz question. What is COP26? It stands for Conference of the Parties and is a summit that will be attended by the countries that signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate change.

This year the UK is playing host to COP26 for the first time in November. It is set to be the biggest diplomatic conference that the UK has ever hosted with more than 200 world leaders in attendance, including American president Joe Biden.

He has brought the US back into the Paris Agreement, crucially just before the final parts of the agreement come into force at the end of December 2021.

The final parts of the Paris Rulebook will be agreed and will set the tone for global climate policy for years to come.

The National Federation of WIs has long campaigned on environmental issues, with campaigns ranging from Support for UK Dairy Farmers through to End Plastic Soup, via SOS for Honeybees. Climate Change is an ongoing campaign and we shall continue to draw attention to the problems, particularly as they affect women.

Women and girls face huge risks and burdens as a result environmental changes as many live in poverty in homes at risk of flooding and are employed in climate-vulnerable jobs, such as agriculture.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is 'Restore our Earth' with the message 'Mother Earth is asking for help and we need to step forward to restore Mother Earth'.

Will you think about what you can do to restore this precious planet?

For more information on Earth Day, see www.earthday.org

Elizabeth Barker is chairman of Public Affairs Committee for Norfolk Federation of WII. You can contact the federation at fedsec@norfolkwi.org.uk

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