June 5 is the day to celebrate the Earth with World Environment Day. This year, the day will engage businesses, citizens and governments around the world.

Amid the global pandemic, the focus of this World Environment Day is biodiversity. Biodiversity, the variety of species and types of species found on our planet, is at risk due to the current state of the environment. This year’s World Environment Day will be hosted by the country of Colombia in tandem with Germany. 

The pandemic has emphasized how important nature is to the balance of human lives, according to the World Environment Day website.

“The emergence of COVID-19 has underscored the fact that, when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the system that supports human life,” the website said. “By upsetting the delicate balance of nature, we have created ideal conditions for pathogens–including coronaviruses–to spread.”

This year’s World Environment Day will be celebrated virtually, with many educational and informative resources being offered online.

In Athens, there are organizations, professors and students fighting against the damage humans are causing to the environment.

One such organization is The Green Initiative, a new student organization on campus looking for ways for students of all different majors to utilize their skills by both learning more about and informing others about things like green infrastructure, sustainability and conservation issues.

“There is a lot of misinformation, and there's a lot of people that just have never been taught or never learned about the environment and how what we do in our everyday lives affects the world around us,” Johnny Murray, president of The Green Initiative, said. “I just find the education part to be the most important.”

Although the organization is still very new, Murray said it has already begun some of their education and outreach by helping with and building educational models of the green roof that is being worked on for Schoonover Center. 

Kim Thompson, an assistant professor of instruction in the department of environmental and plant biology, began the green roof project on Schoonover and also serves as the faculty adviser for The Green Initiative.

Projects like green roofs, Thompson said, assist in reducing greenhouse gases and save energy, which contributes to the fight against climate change.

“The most important environmental issue right now is climate change,” Thompson said. 

Many of the other important issues affecting our planet, Thompson said, also contribute to climate change. Thompson specifically mentioned deforestation.

“Another issue is deforestation,” Thompson said, “That is a problem, not just because it reduces carbon sinks taking in carbon dioxide, but it also leads to really poor practices in the environment, like pasturing in areas that really shouldn't have livestock … We lose a lot of diversity and potential future resources.”

Thompson said she is often asked by students about what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint and help save the environment.

Some of these solutions include turning off lights to reduce energy usage in homes, opting to take public transportation or riding a bike instead of driving when possible, being careful about unnecessary purchases and keeping our indoor temperatures higher in the summer and lower in the winter. 

Looking toward the future, Murray said some of the largest changes for the environment takes place after people are educated about environmental issues and the legislature begins to reflect that.

“That drives public policy, the people that we elect,” Murray said. “We're going to start electing people that take us more seriously and that want to make a change for the better. Then that eventually changes the legislation. After all that, then we finally start to see some changes.”