Earth Day 2014 By Ambassador Terence McCulley U.S. Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire

Earth Day is April 22.  Each year, this observation allows us to highlight the importance of preserving and protecting the world around us, not just for the present, but for future generations.  Each year, more than one billion people participate in Earth Day-related activities in more than 190 countries, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

This year, the celebration of Earth Day is particularly timely, given the recent release of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that indicates the effects of global warming are moving much more quickly than previously thought.  The report outlines potential disasters that could happen in the immediate future if changes are not made including: massive flooding of coastal cities; highly unpredictable and dangerous weather patterns; and widespread famine as a result of drought.  In releasing the report, the director of the IPCC said, “nobody on the planet will be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”

What does this mean in Côte d’Ivoire?  Three-quarters of the world’s largest cities, including Abidjan, are located next to the sea and more one-third of the world’s population lives in coastal areas.  In some parts of the world, ocean levels have already risen by as much as nine inches.  In addition, global warming increases the risk of severe weather, which means increased risks of flooding and drought.  The good news is we can take action to counter the effects of climate change.

Although many measures require the cooperation of governments at the national international level, there are also steps we can all take in our own neighborhoods that will make our world cleaner and safer and reduce global warming.  One way is through recycling.  Reuse glass and plastic bottles in appropriate ways.  Re-purpose bags and cardboard boxes.     The government of Côte d’Ivoire has already banned the use of plastic sacks.  The best thing for the environment is to reuse cloth or pagne sacks to carry fruits and groceries.

Another way to protect our environment is one of the simplest:  just pick up the trash from the world around us.  Throwing plastic on the ground does not make it go away; scientists estimate that plastic takes over 400 years to breakdown.  Styrofoam takes 80 years, aluminum 200 years, and glass more than 10,000 years.

The U.S. Embassy is doing its part to help.  This Saturday, April 26, volunteers from the Embassy and I will join volunteers from PARO-CI (probably should spell this out, or at least identify it as an environmental NGO) and others to clean an area in Yopougon.  If everyone in Yopougon and around the city all put in just a little bit of time each day to  put trash in its proper place, Abidjan would be much cleaner.

The challenges facing our planet are not the isolated challenges of one community or one country but will require individuals, communities and nations working together to make a difference.  Together, we can create a healthier, greener, more sustainable planet.