In our community of Newmarket-Aurora, I believe we have a strong connection to our environment. Residents here enjoy an abundance of greenspace and trails, giving us all the opportunity to get some fresh air, and commune with nature.

Which is particularly important during this pandemic, when so many other recreational opportunities have been temporarily paused.

This Friday is World Environment Day (WED), and although you couldn’t be blamed for thinking we just went through this six weeks ago, WED is quite different from Earth Day.

World Environment Day is celebrated every year on June 5th and is a key United Nations’ campaign for building awareness and inspiring action to protect our environment. It dates to 1974, and has focused on topics like global warming, marine pollution, human overpopulation, and many more.

This year’s theme is biodiversity – a global concern that has been magnified by recent events, like the bushfires in Brazil and Australia, locust infestations across East Africa, and of course, climate change.

We all have heard that the Amazon rainforest holds much of our planet’s diversity. But Canada is also an important contributor. Our biodiversity is one of the country’s greatest riches, which is why it is so important to continue protecting our forests, lakes and rivers, as well as our wildlife.

Living in cities and subdivisions, as many of us do, it is sometimes easy to forget how interconnected we are with every component of nature. When one is changed – or removed – the entire system is affected.

Forests and grasslands purify the air we breathe – and absorb carbon to help mitigate climate change. Wetlands purify our water, and soils produce the foods we require to stay healthy and resist disease.

But our actions – both locally and globally – have challenged our ecosystem in unprecedented ways. According to a recent article from the United Nations Environment Programme, “the emergence of COVID-19 has underscored the fact that when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the system that supports human life. The more biodiverse an ecosystem is, the more difficult it is for one pathogen to spread rapidly or dominate; whereas, biodiversity loss provides opportunity for pathogens to pass between animals and people.”

We can’t solve this problem alone, but I am encouraged by our country’s environmental record, such as our commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, our plans to ban single-use plastics and help clean up our waterways and oceans, and the many protections on everything from our fisheries to our forests.

Locally, as well, our community has embarked on ambitious projects like turning Newmarket’s historic Mulock Farm Estate into a “Central Park” for residents. And a few years ago, we connected the Aurora and Newmarket portions of the Nokiidaa trail system through the spectacular Mackenzie Wetlands.

“Nokiidaa,” by the way, comes from the Ojibwa term meaning “walking together.” It’s a term that seems bittersweet during these challenging times. We may be encouraged to “physical distance,” but I believe we’ve never been more together in terms of trying to solve a problem that affects us all.

And by that I’m not just referring to COVID-19. Happy World Environment Day everybody!