ENVIRO NOTES: Education key to finding balance

A few years ago, the redoubtable John Crosby remarked, “Ten years ago we didn’t know the environment existed, now it’s all around us”.

In one respect, he wasn’t far wrong. For centuries, western culture ignored the environment and mankind’s relation to it and only lately has it become a topic of concern.

Philosophers, scientists, writers and artists were all at fault and, if religious leaders thought about it at all, they relied on a self-serving interpretation and application of the biblical injunction (Gen.1[26]) to “have dominion over the earth.” For too long the only relationships considered were those amongst people and that between people and their God or gods. Interconnectedness between people and their natural surroundings was not explored; thinking was all homocentric.

We are now beginning to become aware of the inescapable linkage. Words like ‘ecology’,  ‘environment,’ ‘nature’ and ‘habitat’ have become part of a common vocabulary, even if their meaning isn’t always clear. Some of us, but not all, recognize that our environment is more than just the source of our necessities – food, fuel and raw materials. The pejorative word ‘exploitation’ is uttered only in accusation, though the action is still to be found in the corporate agenda.

Years ago, the federal government’s attitude to the environment could be encapsulated as “we plan such-and-so development, how can we minimize environmental harm?” which is, of course, an admission that harm is likely.

The better, and very different, starting point would be “if such-and-so development were to go ahead, what would the environmental consequences be and could we live with them?” The present government seems to have regressed even further.

Today there are many  environmentally-conscious groups and individuals, ranging from the unrealistic extreme to the thoughtful and rational, who realize that continuation of any form of western lifestyle requires a healthy environment. Unfortunately, many governments at all levels, boards of directors and CEOs pay only lip-service to concepts of environmental conservation and sustainability.

For examples, look at atmospheric pollution in China and India; Canada’s watering-down of environmental legislation; residential and industrial building on good farm land such as our ALR; Shell Oil’s attitude to oil spills in the Nigeria delta; and deeper and surprisingly widespread water contamination from tar sands excavation. The full list is long.

The remedy can be encapsulated in one word – education. Voters and shareholders should require their governments and company directors to be well-informed about any likely environmental impacts of their activities and the long-term consequences. Continuing sustainability should not be compromised for short-term profit.

It can be achieved if the will is there: in war-time Britain open-pit coal mining went ahead but reclamation requirements were-so stringent that some restored sites are better farmland now than they had been before diggers went in.

Do university departments of business, economics and law introduce their students to the concepts of ecology, environmental conservation and sustainability?

Is Aldo Leopold’s informative short book Sand County Almanac on any required reading list?

How well do secondary schools inculcate a philosophy of resource conservation, as opposed to materialism and consumerism? Where do school boards stand?

Only when our ‘movers and shakers’,  the decision-makers of our society, can give positive answers to such questions dare we hope to achieve balance with our environment.

Dr. Roy Strang writes monthly on the environment for the Peace Arch News.

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