Pittsburgh hosts World Environment Day

By Olivia Garber

Pittsburgh played host to a variety of events that kicked off North America’s 2010… Pittsburgh played host to a variety of events that kicked off North America’s 2010 World Environment Day celebration last week.

The United Nations appointed Pittsburgh as North America’s host city for the event last year in October. Green-minded organizations around the city have held World Environment Day events since March and will continue to celebrate the day through July

All of the events held sought to increase awareness and enhance political attention and action in environmental issues, organizers said.

Headlining the nearly week-long event were a conference on water conservation and an attempt at breaking a world record for the largest flotilla of kayaks and canoes assembled on a river.

On Saturday morning, more than 1,800 people came together on the water near Point State Park in an effort to break the world record for most canoes or kayaks in one place, which previously stood at 1,104 boats once assembled near Inlet, New York.

Liam Cooney, an employee at Kayak Pittsburgh who contributed to the event, estimated that, despite downpours and poor weather conditions, the group was successful in its bid for the world record. He said the official announcement from Guiness Book of World Records would take a few weeks.

The conference was not all fun and games, though. Water Matters!, a global water conference, presented a series of professionals who discussed Pittsburgh’s role in conserving and protecting the environment’s water supply.

The conference, presented by The Pittsburgh World Environment Day Partnership, was eco-friendly.All paper products were made of recyclable material, including biodegradable plates and cups for refreshments. The conference also purchased enough carbon dioxide credits from NativeEnergy to offset the carbon emitted because of the event.

As the title suggests, the focus of Water Matters! was water conservation, a topic that led to a few quips about Pittsburgh’s recent weather patterns. Many Pittsburghers are not aware of drinking and fresh water problems, organizers said, due to the relative frequency of cloudy and rainy days.

Jokes aside, speakers candidly discussed the importance of water conservation and protection.

Amy Fraenkel, of the United Nations Environment Program, said finding the economic value of the environment would lead to better protection of the world’s water.

“If we treat [the environment] as free, it will not be treated well,” Fraenkel said.

David Ainsworth, with the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity, mostly agreed with Fraenkel, adding that one of the principle steps in improving water quality is to raise general environmental awareness.

“During this year, we want people to come to terms with [the environment not being free]” Ainsworth said. “The proper respect is largely missing.”

Carl Safina, ecologist and keynote speaker for the event, blamed the water abuse on an indifferent society.

“The blame is that we created a culture where people don’t need to be responsible because we don’t hold them accountable,” Safina said.

Master of Ceremonies Bill Flanagan said that the city of Pittsburgh already serves as an example of change but can still improve.

While the opening speakers talked about water conservation on a local level, Safina addressed the global implications of water conservation.

Safina is also an ecologist at the Blue Ocean Institute, a position that led him to stress the importance of the individual’s role in protecting the environment.

“People are the most transformative force on the face of the planet,” said Safina. “We share a profound moral obligation to save it.”

One aspect that particularly concerned Safina is the effects of “nontarget” catches made by deep-water fisheries.

Safina said that 25 percent of the world’s fishing is nontargeted, meaning huge numbers of fish are usually thrown away.

“This would be like deer hunting with a bulldozer,” Safina said.

Fraenkel also mentioned several “sobering statistics.”

The world’s water supply is 40 percent less than what will be needed by 2030, said Fraenkel.

Fraenkel also said that every year, 1.8 million children five years and younger will die from diseases related to drinking water.

“We’re all in this together,” Safina said. “If the ark sinks, everyone goes down with it.”