Environmental Science

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to address the Citizens for a Greener planet on the occasion of this annual convention. Today, I would like to share with you my views and thoughts on the concept of sustainable development. I believe that the future sustainability of our planet will largely depend on the actions we take now. Let me first define what I mean by sustainable development. According to the United Nations, sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.1 The increasing population has put immense pressure on the limited resources of the earth such as the land, water and other natural resources. For instance, forest is cut down in different parts of the world for agricultural purpose, human settlement and other activities. This has resulted in increased degradation of natural ecosystems and is eroding the life supporting systems that uphold human civilization.

Deforestation is a local problem that can have global consequences and is a treat to human civilization. I would like to elaborate this by taking an example of the social factors that led to the collapse of the Easter Island civilization. Easter island is a small island situated in the Pacific Ocean more than 3,200 km west of Chile. This Island is well known for its gigantic statues made up of volcanic stone. Its peak population of 7,000 individuals appears to have been reached in 1500 AD, i.e. approximately 150 individuals per square mile. By this time, about 1,000 statues had been carved and 324 erected.2

Easter Island suffered a major ecological collapse that resulted in the extinction of one of the greatest and richest ancient civilizations. In fact, the inhabitants of this island exceeded their carrying capacity by over-harvesting trees that covered the island. Forests were cleared for agriculture, construction of canoes, and for the transport and leverage of the huge statues for which the island is renowned. The statues were moved several miles even though they weighed as much as 80 tons and were up to 37 feet tall. Extensive deforestation resulted in reducing the resources to make large canoes that in turn resulted in cutting off access to any marine fishery in deep water which were the major source of food. Besides, soil erosion that resulted from the loss of forests eventually depleted the terrestrial food resources, which led to resource wars and a population collapse. The inhabitants continued unsustainable practices despite evidence they were not sound.2 Finally, it ended up in a civil war and cannibalism, when food supplies proven to be insufficient. I have used the example of the Easter Island to explain the dependence of human societies on their environment and of the consequences of irreversibly damaging that environment.

Globalization is converting Earth into a single social system.  The entire life support system is now threatened by human behavior, and it is extremely essential at a global level to protect and cherish this system. Let me give you another recent example of deforestation in the Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Since 1978, over 530,000 square kilometers of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed. The Amazon rainforest is being cleared mainly for cattle pasture, colonization and subsequent subsistence agriculture, infrastructure improvements, commercial agriculture and logging.3 This has resulted in land degradation, loss of biodiversity and several other ecological implications.

Agriculture in the Amazon rainforest has shifted from subsistence farming to a commercial farming system. In order to bring about sustainability, it is essential to promote mixed cropping to preserve the biodiversity. Thus the value of income diversification, soil protection, maintenance of forest functions, and preservation of biodiversity could outweigh the negatives of deforestation.

The deforestation of the Amazon is an example of mismanagement of renewable resource that goes against the idea of sustainable development. The global community and the local Brazilians have begun to realize the consequences of continued deforestation in terms of domestic social and economic costs and in terms of global social costs. 4 Hence it becomes essential to conserve the existing forest by rational utilization of already cleared and degraded areas and prevention of further deforestation. In fact the development and enforcement of new conservation policies based on the principles of sustainable development could bring about sustainability in these fragile ecosystems.5 Though the environmental losses and degradation of the rainforests have yet to reach the point of collapse as in the case of Easter Island, the continuing disappearance of forest and loss of its species is a serious concern.

As globalization is catching up, sustainable development needs to be emphasized by the global community. Besides the degradation of the resources such as soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, species extinction, and other problems, deforestation of Brazil’s rainforest could lead to increasing global temperate and other global consequences. Hence it becomes essential for the involvement of the global community and the local government in conservation process. In conclusion I would like to say that it is essential to create awareness among the local community to think globally and act locally in a sustainable manner.

References

  1. 17 Aug. 2005, http://encyclopedia.laborlawtalk.com/sustainable_development
  2. Cairns, J. (2004, May 24). Sustainability ethics: tales of two cultures. Ethics In Science And Environmental Politics, 39-43.
  3. Mongabay.com, Tropical Rainforests, Deforestation In The Amazon 2004, 15 Aug. 2005, http://www.mongabay.com/brazil.html
  4. Lawson, T. (November, 1999). Sustainable Development in Brazil, 17 Aug. 2005 http://www.andover.edu/aep/papers/410/tlawson98.pdf
  5. Mongabay.com, Saving the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil, 16 Aug. 2005 http://www.mongabay.com/saving_brazils_forests.html
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