Having grown up amid lush green forests in the mountainous landscape of Sri Lanka, I always recall the words of the great poet Rabindranath Tagore: “Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.”
How sad that so often we humans insist on interrupting this conversation.
Just like every other living thing, we are a part of nature. But we are also the only species that bears the responsibility of protecting the environment for future generations. The coronavirus pandemic has shed light as nothing has before on the relationship between environmental degradation and threats to public health.
A few years ago, the government-owned electricity company in my country planned to build a second coal power plant, in eastern Sri Lanka. It would suck 93 million liters of water per hour from a bay where fragile ecosystems meet the deep sea, the site of one of the largest spawning grounds for sperm whales in the world. After processing, those 93 million liters per hour would be dumped into the ocean, now loaded with toxic chemicals that put that marine life at great risk.
Learning from the lessons of the damage caused by the first plant, a coalition formed, made up of many public advocates, including Rotarians. They ran a campaign that alerted the media, the public, and the local community to the potential dangers, in addition to taking legal action. The government eventually abandoned its coal plant idea after the resulting public outcry.
We can truly move mountains when we come together.
When some of us moved to add the environment as Rotary’s newest cause, we did so because of the urgency of the problem. In 1990-91, RI President Paulo V.C. Costa set forth a vision, and today we will take this work to the next level. We live in a time of great stress on our environment, of rapidly rising sea levels, massive storms, disappearing rain forests and wildlife, and destructive forest fires. Climate change touches us all, rich and poor.
We will face the challenge strategically, as with the other areas of focus. In fact, the six other areas of focus depend on this one. For what good is it to fight disease if our polluted environment causes us to become sick again?
The Rotary Foundation will be central to this work. More than $18 million has gone toward environment-related global grants in the past five years. Building upon this work to protect the environment, we will give yet another Rotary gift to future generations. And you can be a part of it today.
Trustee Chair 2020-21