“He who finds a thought that lets us a little deeper into the eternal mystery of nature has been granted great peace.” – Albert Einstein
Each year on the 5th of June, World Environment Day is celebrated the world over. Depending on how much attention you pay to environmental issues in the news on the other 364 days of the year, it’s hard to ignore that despite numerous high-level governmental commitments (and even a new Climate Agreement), progress towards protecting the natural systems we rely on can still often seem glacially slow.
It’s true that Turnbull has hardly lived up to his former stance on climate action (did someone say Adani?). And Trump rolled back 23 major environmental protection laws and policies in his first 100 days of office. I’m sure you can think of other examples.
Despite the challenges we face, Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim says World Environment Day is a time to celebrate our rich natural heritage:
“World Environment Day is the day the planet celebrates our collective love of and reliance on nature. It helps encourage action to protect our environment and fosters a deeper appreciation of our connection to the natural world.”
So, in the spirit of celebrating nature and its mystery, as Einstein and many great thinkers throughout world history have done, here are five facts to inspire wonder. (And spark up a conversation during your next coffee break.)
- An estimated 20,000 Amazon species remain undiscovered
There are still places on our mysterious planet that remain uncharted territory. One of these is the Amazon, bigger than Western Europe. And home not only to isolated Amazon tribes but also one in 10 of the known species on Earth. And that’s not including the estimated 20,000 plant and animal species that we have not yet discovered.
- There used to be hundreds of varieties of our most familiar foods
These days, we’re used to seeing just a few varieties of common crops like corn, tomatoes, potatoes and rice. But less than 100 years ago, people ate many, many more. For example, in the US alone 307 varieties of sweet corn were cultivated just 80 years ago, compared to 12 today. Mexico still grows 59, but these too could be under threat. Initiatives like Seed Savers and Peru’s Potato Park are fighting to protect heirloom varieties, biodiversity and traditional culture. You can buy Australian heirloom seeds here.
- Australia is home to the tallest flowering plant in the world
Native to Victoria and Tasmania, our majestic Mountain Ash, or Eucalyptus regnans, stands up to 132 metres tall – that’s more than two and a half Olympic swimming pools end-to-end. Mountain Ash are also one of the best species at locking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and are an important part of our climate puzzle.
- Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on Earth
Some species can shoot up 91cm per day – or 4cm an hour. Bamboo was also the only plant to survive the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.
- Some animals in the Chernobyl exclusion zone are showing remarkable adaptation to nuclear radiation
For example, that some bird species have adapted to higher radiation levels by producing more protective antioxidants to guard against genetic damage Following the Fukushima disaster, scientists have broadened their research to include field studies in the contaminated area in Japan.