Everything we need in life we got it here on our planet. This article will explore why the earth’s resources don’t seem to be enough for everyone. The area of environmental issues is wide and deep therefore we will focus on some of the environmental factors, the players and actors that influence environmental policy and decision making and environmental inequalities. It will conclude by encouraging us to act in a caring manner towards our environment and earth’s resources.
There is immense awareness where ever we are in the world about climate change. C02 emissions, earth’s depleting resources and many other environmental issues. We switch on the television or radio and there is always something about climate change or the environment. Today’s school children and young people are being taught about the environment, that each one of us has a part to play in preserving our natural resources.
In February and September 2019, school children walked out from school in protest over climate change. They once again brought climate change issues onto the agenda, from London, Sydney Australia , New York, South Africa and other parts of the world.
The school walk outs were initially started last year by a young activist, Greta Thunberg. Greta is challenging leaders to take young people’s concerns about climate change. Greta notes; that ‘leadership have failed us’.
Greta expressed her frustration to world leaders and those in decision making positions to act and put a stop to climate change. Greta further expressed her disappointment at the 2019 UN climate change summit in New York.
Media reports have also highlighted that today’s young people are feeling depressed and living in fear about earth’s demise. They see and read alarming media reports on media channels about melting ice in Antarctica and the Amazon fires we witnessed this year. The fear of the unknown if one is young is overwhelming.
There was a generation of young people in 1945 who witnessed and heard news about the atrocities of the second world war, when the United States detonated two nuclear weapons over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I am convinced they also experienced the same fear being experienced by young people today. We still talk about it today and are reminded about what humans are capable of doing: environmental destruction that is man made.
Greta like many other climate activists before her is trying to live according to her beliefs, cutting down on her carbon foot print by sailing to the USA in August 2019 to attend climate conference in New York instead of catching a flight. In the United Kingdom Extinction Rebellion has been making waves, blocking roads, traffic, the underground and threatening to close airports and disrupt flights, (7 October 2019). Before that we have seen organisations like Friends of the Earth and others bringing up recycling issues, planting trees and campaigning against fracking.
Environmental issues and problems have been discussed before. Every year there are conventions, conferences, workshops, seminars held to talk and discuss climate issues.
Environmental activists, climate change organisations, leaders and others have been meeting for decades discussing issues around the environment, many agreements have been made like the Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1992, encouraging parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with scientific evidence that shows that global warming is happening (Wikipedia), the are many others like the Paris Agreement, treaty on the proliferation of Nuclear weapons, Basel convention (about transboundary movement of harzadous waste), these are just a few: but it still remain that there is still more work to do.
As Greta and other young people have done they are putting the blame right at the feet of world leaders, the powerful, those with a voice, those who are able to make and influence policy.
Malthusians theory and neo-Malthusians claim that recent trends on population growth suggest that environmental crisis is inevitable. It claims that population growth will overwhelm resources.
Malthusian warns that a growing population will struggle to match basic requirements notably food. Neo-Malthusians claim population numbers need to be curbed as they increase environmental degradation according to Aradau (2009; p. 29). The picture portrayed is one of famine, disease, lack of shelter, sanitation problems and so on.
Apart from highlighting danger, hope and difference, these discourses have also helped categorise communities. Some of these discourses have been formulated and used by powerful people with an ability of putting issues on the agenda and influencing policy. Speech actors: some of these issues arise because of inequalities.
Urban informal dwellers in slums, are the ones who may experience localised degradation because of poor sanitation, lack of clean water and congestion. Lack of money and poor wages contribute to this scenario as well as being vulnerable to respiratory diseases like TB infection, cholera, and others. Lack of knowledge for example reproductive health, giving themselves time to recover after pregnancies lack in some societies.
Industrialisation in developing countries has resulted in rural urban migration. Failure by apartheid South Africa and successive governments to build formal housing for all has resulted in squatter camps in some parts of the townships. There are slums in India and those brought by civil war in Angola. Poor accommodation is a common sight in many parts of the world.
Inequalities and a culture of consumption and over consumption
The West and other developed countries in the 21st century enjoy a culture of consumption and over consumption. Aradau citing Arudof (ibid, p 34) uses a good example of that of an American child and compares it to a child in a developing country. The former will use lot of water many times more than the other, showing that ecological footprints are not equal.
In developing countries women and girls work very hard. They walk long distances to fetch water probably repeating this process five times a day.
Arguably, more C02 is produced by developed countries because they have the means: the resources and wealth. Environmental refugees may be portrayed negatively when they chop down trees for fire wood, or clearing land to make way for subsistence farming, this is because of economic and political inequalities some of which are a result of colonisation and also failure by politicians at local level to address these imbalances.
British media have reported that some of the clothing sold in British shops are produced in Bangladesh and similar developing countries. Some of the conditions of these buildings are not meant or fit for human use. In the past, Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing factory workers in the process, (The Guardian, 2014). C02 produced in developing countries to satisfy consumer products is proof that it is not just the poor who are accelerating world environmental degradation.
Businesses in China and some parts of the world whose labour is cheap and maximum profits are achieved will continue producing to meet appetite of the West without consideration for human safety or the environment. After consumption most of the waste is shipped back to developing countries in containers for dumping and processing, according to Mawdsley (ibid, p. 125). Although it may be argued that employment is being provided for people who may otherwise be suffering the amount of C02 produced in manufacturing and transportation cannot be ignored.
There is also a lot of transportation of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables for retail to meet appetites in the West, and transportation of horticulture products.
Land that also provides food is disputed. Goodman (2009, p. 225) explains that food may be thought of as being geographical but this is not the case. This is because local individuals, regional and global players are all involved.
Food corporations are interested in growing cash crops such as coffee at a large scale. Haiti farmers are subsistence farmers and could do with land for farming. El Salvador has land that is available to grow coffee which is largely consumed and is big business in Western countries.
Nature and ecologies are degraded at a large scale to make way for plantations that benefit a few. Economic and land inequalities are visible and very much linked to the environment.
Some, not all, Western supermarkets have managed to influence the price of agricultural products, getting them for lower price, a move from industrial agriculture to agribusiness. Large companies and corporations are tapping into landscapes and labour all over the world to achieve massive gains.
They leave behind a trail of environmental damage such as soil erosion that is caused by the removal of top soil when vegetation is removed to make way for planting.
There is loss of habitat for instance in Central USA. California wetlands have been drained to make way for farming. Some pesticides may have substances that may react in a negative way to some species for instance altering the functionality of birds to breed.
Farming has become a climate change issue especially cattle and dairy farming. According to Wikipedia, Australia has around 29 million cattle and Brazil has 200 million, ten times that of Australia but Brazil still want more cattle. On the other hand Australia is a very hot country and yet it is not doing enough to harness solar energy.
Including slum dwellers in decision making .
Leaders at local, national and international level should address these issues:
manage urban growth,
formal and non formal settlements,
urbanization growth and demand
Maybe some of the above environmental risks may be minimized. If not addressed or taken seriously then danger may be a looming reality.
The campaign for protected areas gives room for inequalities. Humphreys and Falls (2009, p. 209) notes that non-state actors with money are able to buy and own vast land in environmental protected areas. In some cases management of style of such protected areas is not local but foreign.
Land also provides food, subsistence farming.
There are gains in biodiversity at local and corporate level in today’s climate if we increase and recognise indigenous people’s knowledge of plants, trees, and animals for medicinal use.
Although corporations through research may gain more and recognised more, there is pressure from local communities to inject gains back into those communities where biological plants are discovered. Such financial gains may be used in building schools and clinics, repairing roads something that benefit the whole community.
Knowledge, science and technology is coming up with new ways of producing crops, medicines, and so on (BBC Countryfile 12 May 2013). Scientists are trying to redesign a new super power wheat plant by crossing the hardy grass with original wheat, giving nature a helping hand.
They are transferring knowledge from the laboratory to the land. This shall improve the way farming is done across the UK and such knowledge is transferable to other countries. There are other interesting ideas around the world making headway in research and technology.
As communities we need to look after out natural resources such as water, land, soil, plants, animals and so on. Equipping local communities with knowledge and support of looking after the natural resources in a sustainable manner is a start.
A quick response to environmental issues by national governments, non-governmental organizations , communities, international institutions, academics, the courts, businesses and corporations should all work together in dealing with environmental threats.
Our generation can contribute positively by first of all expressing gratitude and being thankful for what we have. We get up every morning the sun always rise and sets. Depending on where we are in the world we get up to see beautiful blue skies, fresh crisp air, fresh morning dew, rain, breaking waves and many more beautiful natural treasures.
As individuals we can begin by taking small steps: cutting down on unnecessary journeys, planting trees, switching off switches, recycling and so on. When we appreciate what we have then we can safely guard it so that we don’t lose it.
Aradau, C., (2009) ‘Population and environmental degradation: gender, race and inequality’ in Brown, W., Aradau, C., and Budds, J., (eds) Environmental Issues and Responses, Milton Keynes, The pen University.
‘Environmental refugees’ CD , Earth in crisis: environmental policy in an international context, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Humphreys, D., and Falls, J,. (2009) ‘An idea of nature: biodiversity and protected areas’, in Brown, W., Aradau, C., and Budds, J., (eds) Environmental Issues and Responses, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Goodman, M, K., (2009) ‘Rural challenges: food and agriculture’, in Brown, W., Aradau, C., and Budds, J., (eds) Environmental Issues and Responses, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
BBC 1 Television ‘Country File’ programme aired n 12 May 2013, 6pm.
The Guardian Newspaper 2014