On April 22, the 45th anniversary of Earth Day was celebrated here in Equatorial Guinea and throughout the world. In the United States, Earth Day is recognized as one of the founding events of the modern environmental movement. I remember attending the very first celebration of Earth Day in 1970 when I was a college student. The late Dr. Barry Commoner, one of the founders of this movement, was the featured speaker at my university. I was inspired by his message that day. His major point was that America’s economy needed to conform to the laws of ecology. You see, at the time, the view of most was that ecology would slow-down economic growth. Commoner made the strong argument that just the opposite is true. Environmental protection is essential to long-term prosperity. In his 1971 bestselling book The Closing Circle, Commoner proposed four basic truths about ecology. They are as follows:
- Everything is connected to everything else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.
- Everything must go somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature, and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown.
- Nature knows best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, said Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system”
- And finally, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.
These were revolutionary ideas at the time, but they are now largely mainstream concepts, and accepted by almost everyone. In terms of ecology, a lot more remains to be done. But we’ve come a long way since that 1st Earth Day. The United States is leading the world in addressing the environmental problems we face. President Obama and Secretary Kerry have reaffirmed that global environmental concerns, especially climate change and degradation of our oceans, must be at the top of our foreign policy agenda.
Protection of this country’s rich biodiversity is especially important. Equatorial Guinea has the fourth highest species richness of primates in Africa. In addition to 19 primate species on the mainland, there are 11 on Bioko Island. Of these, eight are endemic subspecies, making Bioko Island a particularly important area for primate conservation. Unfortunately, the rich terrestrial biodiversity of Equatorial Guinea is endangered. Unsustainable hunting is the single greatest threat to the majority of wildlife in Equatorial Guinea’s forests. Rapid infrastructure development has positive effects, but without proper oversight, it can threaten the country’s wildlife and their habitat.
The good news is that many people have stepped-up to work with the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea to help protect the biodiversity of this country, and preserve its natural beauty. Programs and partnerships like the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program (BBPP), Drexel University, the National University of Equatorial Guinea, the Bushmeat Alternatives Project, and American oil companies such as Noble Energy, Marathon and Exxon-Mobil are ensuring that many generations to come can experience all the unique beauty that Equatorial Guinea has to offer.
The Earth Day Network has picked as its theme for this year’s celebration “It’s our turn to lead.”
This could not be a more apt, because young people must be involved if conservation efforts are to succeed. The U.S. Embassy is proud to have partnered with Equatorial Guinea’s government as well as with schools, U.S. oil companies, environmental groups, and university students this year to make the first-ever Earth Day celebrations in Equatorial Guinea a huge success.
There was a recent beach clean-up project in Ureca organized by Noble Energy in which embassy staff took place. Over a ton of trash was collected in just two hours, which shows just how important volunteer activities are to preserve the beauty of this country. I very much hope that there will be similar clean-up projects in the future. The Embassy also participated and helped to organize Earth Day themed activities at the Maria Cano School in Malabo. Three area schools participated in this day of fun and learning with a focus on protecting and safe guarding our beautiful planet. We capped off our Earth Day celebrations with an educational evening at the American Corner of important lectures and presentations about biodiversity and climate change.
We hope that next year you will join us again for Earth Day activities. Perhaps more importantly, we encourage everyone to remember that “Every day is Earth Day!”