An event of global significance seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the media: the International Year of Planet Earth (IYPE), which had a quiet launch in Paris on Wednesday. The UN General Assembly has proclaimed January 2007 to December 2009 as the International Year, and its launch in 2008 marks the central year of the triennium. The IYPE seeks to persuade governments worldwide to make better use of earth science when framing policy decisions, so that the planet’s resources could be put to sustainable use to make it a healthier and safer place.
This couldn’t be happening sooner, given the real danger of Earth’s population running out of natural resources by 2050 because of the wasteful habits of humans. As many studies prove, humans have obviously overtaken nature in their power to drive global change. In fact, they have become a geological force by themselves that impacts Earth’s climate. Take farming, for instance. It has already produced the biggest global imprint of humanity, affecting half the planet’s habitable land, and the challenge now is to increase agricultural productivity without using substantially more land. Critics may argue that such jitters are exaggerated. After all, haven’t environmentalists warned for years that people should live radically different lives as the oil reserves could run out? While the truth is that just as the Stone Age didn’t end because the stones ran out, the oil age may fade only because oil would become too expensive to compete with other fuels. But such arguments don’t detract from the fact that more than a third of the planet’s natural world has evidently been destroyed in the past 30 years alone.
Earth and its environment can be likened to an aircraft in which various ecosystems act as rivets. Lose enough rivets and the thing collapses. The IYPE is a good opportunity to acknowledge this. It is good to see India doing its bit by formulating a new public transport policy, which rewards ‘green’ vehicles with tax exemptions and slaps stiffer taxes on those that don’t meet fuel efficiency standards.