Monday, June 7, 2010

Have you made the change?

Letter to children and young people: Help save the planet

World Environment DayKuala Lumpur, 4 June 2010
Dear Children and Young People,
There is no doubt that the world you live in today is different from when I was your age. There were no computers, mobile phones or Facebook, but it was also a world with fewer factories, fewer cars and people. This meant less air pollution and less human waste.
There are 6.8 billion people living on this planet today who in too many cases still go about life as if the world’s resources were endless. But Mother Earth has started to respond with clear signals that this is not the case.
Years of industrial and human pollution, particularly in industrialised countries, has brought about enough damage to the environment to cause climate change and many of the natural disasters we have seen in recent times like droughts and floods.
The delicate balance between different forms of life on our planet is also being disturbed. The biodiversity, which simply put is the variety of plants and animals that live together in perfect balance, is at risk after many years of unchecked “development”.
The cutting down of forests and clearing of land have had terrible consequences for many countries’ biodiversity.  Some plant and animal species have disappeared and some are on the verge of extinction. This is also bad news for us humans as we depend on this diversity for food, medicine, fuel and other basic things.
“But why is he telling me about all these depressing things?” you might ask. “I can’t do anything about it anyway. I am only a child.”
Well you might be young but that does not mean you cannot be a leader. You can set an example by the way you behave and take an active interest in defending the environment that you will inherit. And there is another important reason for you to speak out. When things go wrong due to climate change, those who are worst hit are often children.
Climate change, which causes extreme conditions like floods and droughts, bring failed crops, lost income, poverty, hunger and disease. Stagnant and dirty drinking water and poor sanitation cause diarrhoea, malaria and dengue. Less food production means children do not get much of the nutrition they need.
Natural disasters also often damage homes and public infrastructure such as schools. Again children pay the price in lost education. And even if the school remains, poverty in many places forces children out of school because there is no money for school fees or they have to work to help their families put food on the table.
In short, children have a lot to lose if we do not take care of the environment. You can help just by deciding to do some small but important things.
The first is how you use water. When you take a shower or brush your teeth, be sure not to keep the tap running. When you help your family wash the car or water the plants, use a bucket rather than a hose. And remind your parents to do the same. Remember, you are saving clean water for your future.
Avoid using plastic bags. Instead, bring your own bag from home when you and your parents shop. This is important because plastic is a material which is not biodegradable. This means that it never moulders and disappears. Lots of plastic bags get washed into the sea and remain floating there, killing animals like dolphins and sea gulls that get caught in it.
The third is to help save on petrol and keep car exhaust to a minimum. Encourage your family to use the shortest routes when going about their daily business. Try to go many in one car instead of travelling separately. Better still, use public transportation when you can.
You might think this does not sound like much. But believe me, you could very well be the person who starts a big change in your family or even neighbourhood. Just imagine what 2.2 billion children on Earth could achieve if they decide that "enough is enough".  
With knowledge and determination, you and your friends can play an important part in changing the world for the better. Of that I am convinced.
Best regards,
Hans Olsen
UNICEF Representative to Malaysia
Unite for Children
This letter was published by The Sun Malaysia on 4 June 2010 to mark World Environment Day.

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