World Environment Day 2019: is the very air we breathe killing us?

Photo: Marcelo Schneider/WCC

World Environment Day is the United Nations day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment. Each World Environment Day is organized around a theme that draws attention to a particularly pressing environmental concern. The theme for 2019 is "Air pollution".

Faith communities have the moral imperative to engage and work together with the wider society, as a willing yet critical partner, valuing each person as an image of God, entitled to unconditional love and dignity, and valuing God's creation as worthy of protection and conservation.

Faith communities, Faith based organisations and religious institutions are in the best position to “beat air pollution” because of their unique and privileged positions of influence, through transforming attitudes and world views, through education, formation and through worship.

Air pollution today has reached alarming proportions, destroying life and the environment. Ninety-one percent of the world's population lives in places where air quality does not meet World Health Organisation guidelines. Each year, it is estimated that 4.2 million people die because of exposure to outdoor air pollution. In addition, it is also estimated that 3.8 million more people die each year as a result of household exposure to smoke from dirty cook stoves and fuels.

Why has the situation deteriorated to such a level, that the very air we breathe is killing us?

The biblical account of creation states, "then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7). Without the life-giving breath of air, there is no life. God even made dead bones rise to life, with God's life-giving breath (Ezekiel 37: 1-14). The Bible's testimony to the Holy Spirit is often made in terms of the Hebrew term 'ruach' which is often expressed in the Bible using the images of the "wind," "breath," and "spirit".

The air that is freely available, is most precious! A free gift of God, that is priceless and the very root of all life. Let us join together and strive for a world of clean air, that brings life and overcomes death.

Nobody is safe from pollution. Air pollution cannot be stopped at national borders and the boundaries of privileged gated communities. Air pollution comes from five primary human sources — household air pollution, Industry, the transport sector, agriculture, and inappropriate waste disposal and incineration. These sources spew out a range of substances including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ground-level ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, and lead — all of which are harmful to life.

Let us work to overcome air pollution by promoting specific solutions at the individual and community levels, and in the wider society.

Recently, the World Council of Churches made available a resource rooted to the congregational level of churches’ engagement in ecological and economic justice. The “Roadmap for Congregations, Communities and Churches for an Economy of Life and Ecological Justice” offers a 5-step programme to change the way we deal with the economy and our ecological surroundings in the following areas: Living in accordance with the covenant with God and creation, Renewable Energy & Climate Protection, Just and Sustainable Consumption, Economies of Life and Networking.

It invites congregations, communities and churches to join a pilgrimage for an Economy of Life and climate justice, to commit to make changes in the way we live, to share successful ideas and to encourage one another.

Here are a few practical steps that we all can take to join this call:

  • Let us strive for a cleaner industry that is less polluting.
  • Let us encourage investment and maintenance of public transport systems and increasingly use public transportation, limit driving by carpooling, biking, walking and combine errands for fewer trips.
  • Let us monitor energy consumption and move towards renewable energies.
  • Let us ensure that the most marginalized communities have access to cleaner, more modern stoves and fuels can reduce the risks of illness and save lives.
  • Let us reuse, repurpose, recycle and buy recycled products.
  • Let us consume less and  buy ecological, fair, and regional products.
  • Let us eat local, agroecological produce and consume less meat.
  • Let us create community gardens, grow more of our own food and plant more plants and trees.
  • Let us improve the collection, separation, and disposal of solid waste. reduces the amount of waste that is burned or landfilled. Separating organic waste and turning it into compost or bioenergy improves soil fertility and provides an alternative energy source.
  • Let us also reducing the estimated one-third of all food that is lost or wasted also to improve air quality.
  • Let us conserve energy – remember to turn off lights, computers, and electric appliances when not in use and utilise energy efficient light bulbs and appliances.


O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104: 24)

May we care for the breath of life!
May we care for creation and life!
May we overcome air pollution.


Related links:

World Environent Day 2019

World Health Organization's data on air pollution

The WCC's Roadmap for Congregations, Communities and Churches for an Economy of Life and Ecological Justice

About the author :

Dr Manoj Kurian is the coordinator of the WCC-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

He is a Malaysian medical doctor, trained in Community Health and Health Systems Management. After working for seven years in mission hospitals in diverse rural regions in India, from 1999, he headed the health work at the WCC for 13 years. From 2012, for two years, he worked at the International AIDS Society as the senior manager, responsible for the policy and advocacy work.

He is an adjunct faculty at the College of Public Health, Kent State University, USA. Manoj is married and has two children.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.