Environmental Science Essay
Our world looses 40,000 species a year, while ocean fisheries collapse and global warming threatens ecosystems from the coral reefs to the melting of the North Pole poles to the grain-producing mid-latitudes. There is a greater need than ever before to understand ecosystem processes, man’s impact on these processes, and the value systems that will determine our future interactions with our own ecosystem. Conservation is akin to problem solving, hence the emphasis on the art of solving problems and the critical-analytical approach toward understanding the underlying issues.
Conserving nature is thus related to solving problems arising from human interference. It thus combines the complexity of nature with the human dimension, which is complicated to say the least. Hence the multitude of dimensions, confusion of ideas and the widespread involvement in all facets of daily life.Conservation is rooted in the belief that something can be done to prevent the loss of an endeared entity. When we saw native forests disappearing to shipbuilding and firewood, we began to protect them, goes the story.
However, the truth follows a slightly different path. Forests were saved because people discovered coal, which was much more efficient to use. Instead of building ships from timber, steel proved to be a better choice. Instead of burning firewood for locomotives, coal proved more efficient. Thus coal and steel saved the remnants of native forests. Likewise it was fossil oil that saved the whales. If no economic replacement can be found, people will use the resource to the last little bit. Conservation in its early days, often happened by accident. However, today, people are using knowledge, foresight, labour and technology for proactive conservation.
Soil conservation: soil has become threatened by human cultivation and climate change, resulting in loss of fertility, erosion and desertification. Water conservation: water is needed for food and industry, but in many nations a severe shortage is looming as humans use over 50% of fresh water that never reaches the sea. Atmosphere conservation: clean air is needed by all organisms on Earth. The atmosphere regulates the Earth’s temperature and protects it from harmful radiation. Global warming and ozone depletion threaten all organisms, including humans. Natural habitat conservation: wildlife needs natural habitat, Wildlife conservation: preventing extinctions, maintaining biodiversity.
Mineral conservation: the mining of minerals rests almost exclusively in the hands of mining companies. Their business is to supply an ever hungrier market. Conservation of minerals can be done only at the consumer’s end, by reducing the need, reusing by-products and recycling wastes Energy conservation: energy is the main driving force behind industry and indeed our civilisation. Our entire standard of living depends on energy to the extent, that people in developed countries use the equivalent of 50 human slaves each, or more. Fossil fuel is going to run out and alternatives have to be found, as well as energy conserved.
Urban conservation: in recent times, many cities have grown so rapidly that they have become unlivable due to overcrowding, traffic jams, inadequate public transportation systems, air and water pollution, noise, and lack of recreational parks. People flee the cities to live in suburbs, causing urban areas to sprawl, which exacerbates the transport-related problems. Urban conservation aims to make cities more livable, while halting urban sprawl. Marine conservation: the marine environment has its own rules.
To do conservation for the benefit of nature is difficult enough, but because humans are involved in every step, the matter becomes very much more complicated. In fact, this aspect can become quite time-consuming and energy-sapping, often obscuring what the whole purpose of conservation is all about. Human society has become more complicated over time, and will continue to do so.
People have occupied every bit of land, and have also been allowed to own it. By having an interest in an area planned for conservation, or an extractable species, human lives are affected and conflicts arise. People who have a claim to be considered, call themselves stakeholders. Don’t be surprised that a stakeholder can live hundreds of kilometres away from the place of conflict. Here are the human interests that need to be considered along every step:
- economic: people’s incomes are affected. Countries with a Bill Of Rights, require such people to be compensated financially. It increases the cost of conservation. However, often new opportunities present themselves, and people can get better jobs through re-training. Where fishing is stopped, boat owners and skippers can learn to earn a living from eco-tourism. Park rangers are required, and those displaced from the area make good rangers due to their local knowledge.
- rights: over time, people have given themselves all kinds of rights. Their present predicament is seen as a right obtained through custom, and any change to it is seen as an infringement of such rights.
- tradition: people have been doing what they do for many generations, often passed down in families from father to son. Villages have a tradition, and so do areas. A conservation effort may upset such traditions.
- culture: every ethnic group has a different culture. Within a culture, specific rights and beliefs are held dearly. Conservation may infringe on such cultural values.
- spiritual: persons and groups may have spiritual values, arising from beliefs and superstitions.
- emotional value: people often value a place or a species emotionally. Such values cannot be measured but are real to the beholders. A large range of emotional values can be held.
- race: racial matters may dominate conservation efforts. Original People like the Maori in New Zealand, the Aborigines in Australia and the Indians in America and Canada, have lived in the area for a long time, and have cultural and spiritual ties with an area. However, often the race issue is used to gain power and income.
Nevertheless, it seems that the three underlying causes, population growth, economic growth and material needs (‘standard of living’) are too holy to be stemmed, or even discussed. So it happens that all our conservation efforts are directed at fixing problems, rather than preventing them.
Worse still, the concept of sustainable development requires us to increase economic activity while also conserving the environment, two opposing goals. Conservationists now try to improve our ‘quality of life’, the need for a clean environment, such as clean air and water, uncluttered living areas, and unspoiled scenic lands. Only very recently has the concept of biodiversity entered the conservationist’s vocabulary. It requires healthy ecosystems, not just for the benefit of people but also for those other millions of species.
The ecological crisis, as an outcome of human impact on nature, has reached a point that could threaten the very survival of humanity. In keeping with the economic interests of a small minority, new production forms be implemented faster and faster, with no prior evaluation of their ecological consequences. These minority interests also require maintaining production techniques recognized as harmful. This is going on while technological progress is increasing the possibility of acting upon nature, and hence upsetting or destroying it.
Industry, transports and the breakdown of more or less durable consumer goods release a great variety of toxic substances into the air. The unbridled and apparently uncontrollable growth of motor vehicle traffic makes this the primary source of sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, far ahead of household and industrial heating. Formic aldehyde, mercury and asbestos, for example, are industrial pollutants. These are also found to a very significant extent in everyday consumer products, such as building materials in the case of formaldehyde and asbestos, and mercury in batteries.
Waste, of household, agricultural or industrial origin alike, is carried off in the world’s waters, turning them into gigantic sewers. Continental waters, rivers and lakes are the hardest-hit, but pollution is reaching the sea more and more, via rivers and coastal cities. The direct consequences are the accumulation of heavy metals; mercury, cadmium, etc, and highly toxic organic compounds, in sediment on the ocean floor, riverbeds and lakebeds. Above all, fertilizer build-up, involving nitrates and phosphates, has led to an unbridled proliferation of algae and water plants. Their breakdown then exhausts the oxygen dissolved in the water: resulting in a massive death of aquatic life.
Among the most dramatic manifestations of the ecological crisis, the destruction of the world’s forests is among the most disturbing, because of the extent of its consequences. In 50 years, one third of the world’s woodlands has disappeared. This has hit tropical countries the hardest. In the industrialized countries, the wooded area has remained relatively stable, but forests are slowly dying from air, oil and soil pollution.
However, in the “Third World”, deforestation is at the heart of the ecological crisis. Deforestation is the outcome of a vicious cycle of poverty and depletion of arable land. Another cause is the over-harvesting of tropical woods, with no concern for sustainable management. This destroys biodiversity – the tropical forests are home to over 50% of the plant and animal species of our planet – and the forest population’s resources, in order to provide a cheaper product for Western building and furniture markets.
In future, we must see our neighbours as partners and friends rather than as poachers and foes. This partnership can also extend to adjoining industries, farming enterprises and business ventures. It does, of course, mean that human attitudes and behaviour will have to change. We should all see ourselves as custodians of the environment and learn to live in harmony with it. Only then will we see light at the end of a dark tunnel.
- Daniel B. Botkin, Edward A. Keller Published by Wiley Text Books (June 2002) Environmental Science: Earth as a Living Planet