Earth Day 2020: Lessons for human survival from a pandemic and a global environment under stress

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The 50th anniversary of Earth Day (April 22) is falling in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic—a coincidence that should prompt reflection on where we are heading as a species. Earth Day was conceived to make environmental protection the world’s number one priority—at least for a day—and educate people about the environment’s crucial importance for humanity. Should COVID-19 overshadow the attention we pay to Earth Day? Absolutely not! If anything, the pandemic reminds us of the myriad ways the environment and human activities intertwine.

As we described in the 2019 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR), a range of environmental trends are causing rapid and sometimes irreversible losses of key ecosystem services and functions, including in agroecosystems—which in turn disrupt human social and economic activities. These trends include climate change, deforestation, land degradation and biodiversity loss, water pollution, groundwater mining, the growth of solid waste, and air pollution. These problems are compounded by growing inequities in access to natural resources and basic necessities such as water and food; by poor governance of natural resources; by a short-term focus on GDP-driven economic growth; and by under-investment in innovations that can reduce our negative footprint on the environment and address inequities.

Photo credit: John Hogg/World Bank

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