What will happen when we wholly view conserving the environment as a human right. This is already a fact but less viewed as a human right. People who are activists for the environment are not seen as human right activists. The world has chosen to classify nature activists. As animal lovers against development and/or climate change noise makers.
We also inclined to believe we are specifically environmental activists, animal activists and/or wildlife activists. Rarely as human rights defenders. Yet, the same injustices human face from fellow human beings socially is also in comparison to how humans harm the environment.
Conserving the environment in the end leads to protecting the human race. We see ourselves as very important beings on the entire blue planet. We forget we are within the ecological formation as part of the higher order of primates.
Why then should human rights be the basic focus on environmental conservation?
Kenya recognises the right to a healthy environment in the constitution. Article 42 of the Kenya Constitution states;
“Every person has the right to a clean and healthy environment, which includes the right–
(a) to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations through legislative and other measures, particularly those contemplated in Article 69; and
(b) to have obligations relating to the environment fulfilled under Article 70.”
What does a clean and healthy environment entail?
From the air we breathe to the water we consume to the food we eat. All this are part of the environment and are basic needs. To some extent, even where we live. Cases have risen of people living in houses made of toxic chemicals. From roof shingles made of asbestos and wall paints with lead composition.
Respiratory diseases are increasing every day. This signifies a deteriorating quality of air in many countries. 6.5 million people die annually as a result of poor air quality. 4.3 million die owing to household air pollution.
3.5 billion people depend on the oceans as a source of food. Marine life is in danger as oceans have become waste and wastewater dumps. Toxic chemicals from the waste deposited gets its way through to the food chain. Man, as a consumer of marine life suffers in the end. Toxic chemicals get into the blood stream. This will lead to future ailments which were a rarely phenomenon in History.
Oceans are also used for oil drilling. When an oil spillage occurs, the damage to fish and other animals is insurmountable.
Toxic pesticides, herbicides and insecticides used on our farms and in our homes will find their way to our fresh water sources. Fresh water is no longer deemed as fresh. Their results in an imbalance between natural chemicals and human made chemicals. These will also lead to loss of life due to water poisoning.
When we cut trees along river banks, build sky scrapers on wetlands and clear forests for farmland, we create a vacuum. This vacuum must cannot remain empty whether we accept it or not. Nature in itself can be very ruthless to man. We have seen landslides occur in both developed and developing regions. No one is at the mercy of the environment.
Accessing fresh water is challenging as natural springs, aquifers and groundwater diminish due to lack of wetlands which act as water storage systems. As we clear forests, and even wetlands, we are also reducing carbon sequestration. This is a very important aspect of the environment. Carbon is ‘trapped’ instead of releasing it thus causing damage to the ozone layer. This results to a rise or fall in global temperatures known as global warming.
Wild species both animals and plants have an important role to play in the environment. Scientists who study individual species can attest to the fact that wild species can be able to detect a shift in the environment.
Birds, snakes and amphibians are good ecological indicators. The species can be able to detect any change in the environment. This will be observed through their behaviour among other characteristics. Vultures, beautiful birds of prey, are facing extinction due to the presence of toxic chemicals in the environment. This occurs when they consume poisoned animals. Vultures are the clean-up crew of the earth. When they consume directly or indirectly poisoned animals, it poses a danger to their population. We have a seen rapid decline of the species over the years. This is due to poisoning by herders who are protecting their livestock and by poachers afraid of circling vultures giving away their location.
Environmental activism and human rights is a connection. We cannot separate them. We need to only combine our efforts as we work towards the prosperity of current and future generations of human beings, animals both wild and domestic, and plants.
“If we are to go on living together on this earth, we must be responsible for it.” – Kofi Annan