In modern times as the world struggles with increasing changes in climate conditions, high population growth, shrinking natural resources and environmental degradation, environmentalists have found their culprits: large corporations and industrialists. These groups contribute to carbon emissions, one of Earth’s foes, and perpetrate the destruction of forest areas and the environment at large.
The survival or eventual ruin of Mother Earth depends largely on the minds and hands of humans, since they are the principal users and destroyers of the Earth’s environment. Regardless of status, man uses, and abuses, Earth much more than any other living being. The onus, therefore, of protecting planet Earth lies squarely on the shoulders of man himself; ordinary people, business people, industrialists, intellectuals, scientists, activists, public officials and leaders.
How then do we engage the deeply stratified communities of humans to collectively protect Mother Earth with the knowledge that at one extreme end are the downtrodden have-nots and at the other end, those who wield colossal technological and economic power, and would be unwilling to relinquish these powers? In a complex world of mixed economic fortunes, the question of protecting the world becomes a complicated equation. Those who thrive directly on the environment will advocate the absolute protection of natural resources, while those who reap industrial and corporate profits from the exploitation and transformation of natural resources would find it somewhat difficult to reconcile with the notion of protecting Earth, even though not absolutely.
Earth’s environmental problems probably commenced with man’s discovery of fire. Then followed a series of economic and social events accompanied by technological innovations that engineered new needs in man’s life, exerting more demands from the environment for supplies of energy. With his unquenchable thirst for more energy, man never imagined the possibility of exhausting his sources of renewable energy nor the use of renewable sources of energy.
The destruction of Earth’s environment began early as man set out on the road of industrialisation. In the mid-19th Century, humans in Europe shifted away from renewable (wind, solar, water) energy to non-renewable energy sources. From wood they moved to coal, then geothermal heat, natural gas, oil shale, petroleum and uranium. Prior to this shift, the Europeans had used wood for making charcoal for internal heating, ship building and industrial use. This severely reduced wood supplies, if not huge forest areas. In the US, trains continued to use wood until about 1875.
In the 1890s, about 38% of energy came from wood, 57% from coal. The rest came from oil and natural gas. It took 50 years for humans to shift from firewood to coal; another 50 years to change from coal to oil and natural gas. It may take another 50 or more years to shift from non-renewable sources of energy to renewable sources. By the time the switch is finally made, irreversible damage must have been caused to Earth’s natural resources by large corporations and industrialists.
In the face of this looming disaster, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recommends that man’s “only option is to manage productivity and resources in a sustainable manner, reducing waste wherever possible, using the principles of adaptive management, and taking into account traditional knowledge which contributes to the maintenance of ecosystem services.”
According to the UN agency, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism, and water management should be carried out within the Convention on Biological Diversity.
“By adopting the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB), governments commit themselves to integrate conservation and sustainable use into their policies at the national level. By minimizing biodiversity loss and helping local populations restore degraded areas, together we can make this a new era of environmentally-sound economic development,” says UNEP.
In the rural areas, there is no point in barring communities from exploiting certain natural resources because, if anything, these communities had been using their resources sustainably. The forest, for example, is their all and all; from time immemorial, it has been their pharmacy, supermarket, kitchen, water source, construction materials, ritual and recreational grounds. They had used these resources as adorably as they possibly could without causing harm to the environment. Then here comes large corporations with voracious appetites for raw materials to feed their industries. And they set out on destructive mass exploitation of the resources, often leaving behind toxic waste to the utter detriment of local inhabitants and their future generations.
To ban local communities from enjoying the natural benefits of their environments is tantamount to turning tradition and culture on their heads. Instead, it is the large corporations and modernisation projects that need constant monitoring, for they tend to deprive communities of their lands and historical livelihoods. Some, more unlucky than the others, are uprooted altogether from their traditional environments and displaced to strange settlements, sentencing them to perpetual poverty and misery. Government and NGOs need to step up monitoring compliance to the several conventions on environmental conservation. Yet again, there is need, as populations increase, exerting huge pressures on the environment, to sensitise the less-technologically endowed communities on the profits of protecting jealously the Mother Earth. This will entail profound selflessness on the part of governments to realise that while they enjoy tax monies from concessions for their survival, they should at the same time recognise that without these natural resources to generate incomes for them, they would be as doomed as the common man, hence the need to empower indigenes and others alike to be able to protect the environment against unscrupulous use.
And this is where UNEP comes in with a warning that needs to be treated seriously: “Despite the fact that sustainable use of biodiversity is widely included in national biodiversity strategies, unsustainable use and over-exploitation remain major threats to biodiversity in several sectors, including fisheries, agriculture, and forestry.”
UNEP says organic farming; environmental impact assessments, certification and eco-labelling, quotas for fisheries; not using large nets; management of protected areas; reduction of bush fires; sustainable tourism can all guarantee sustainable exploitation of natural resources and the eventual conservation of the environment for man’s prolonged benefits.
According to UNEP, about 300 million people depend on forests directly for their survival, including 60 million people of indigenous and tribal groups, who are almost completely dependent on forests. Yet, illegal logging and illegal harvesting of forest products are a serious problem, costing an estimated US$15 billion per year. In addition, rare tree species and those with high value for timber or non-timber forest products are in danger of becoming locally extinct.
Governments should, therefore, ramp up law enforcement, one of the weak points in the conservation of the environment, especially in less developed countries. This weakness is strengthened by the propensity for officials to embrace corruption as the quickest way to make fast money. Corruption should, indeed, be fought with every weapon available.
Environmental education should also be taught as early as possible to prepare the younger generation for responsible relationships with the environment. NGOs, activists and advocates should blow the whistle louder in the face of environmental abuse. CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity), FCS (Forest Stewardship Council; a price premium for companies that log sustainably), FLEGT (forest law enforcement, governance and trade in timber products) aimed at setting up a system to check the legality of timber products (timber legal assurance system (TLAS), amongst others, should all be widespread and adhered to if we want Mother Earth to continue hosting us.