For decades now, mankind has had weapons capable of inflicting catastrophic and possibly irremediable harm to our world.
Perhaps it’s because the damage done by the relatively primitive, first atomic bombs has been so widely publicized that we have been spared any repetition. But more powerful weapons now lie in many arsenals. While there can be no guarantees that they’ll ever be used, we must hope that recognition of their destructive power will ensure that they are never deployed.
We seem much less able to comprehend and address the slow, insidious harm being caused to our world by unfettered ‘development’ or, more accurately, unrestricted industrialization.
Not being immediate or dramatically conspicuous, the unfortunate and sometimes unforeseen changes we are bringing about in our environment generate more talk than remedial action: our atmosphere is increasingly polluted; acidification of the oceans progresses, threatening survival of important coral reefs; poor farming practices and urban sprawl deplete the limited area of productive farmland; water supplies are over-taxed and contaminated; over-fishing is steadily reducing fish stocks.
It’s not a litany to be proud of. What’s worse is most of it is avoidable. Technologies are available that would mitigate many of the problems.
Atmospheric pollution can be reduced by use of clean fuels, more efficient engines, less use of fossil fuels, and smokestack screens and filters.
Application of these practices and reduced production of such greenhouse gases as methane would lessen acidification of the oceans with all its attendant ills.
Modern irrigation systems and better control of fertilizer run-off would contribute both to less demand for water and less contamination; so-called ‘gray water’ should be substituted for potable water as an irrigation medium, especially when it is used only cosmetically.
General application of the principles set out in Garrett Hardin’s 1968 Tragedy of the Commons would correct the problem of over-fishing.
None of such measures call for a halt to industrialization, merely regulation and control to avoid its harmful side-effects.
Currently, the necessary oversight is inadequate at best, absent at worst
One must ask, ‘why?’ Do governments lack the will to insist that commercial enterprises are operated in an environmentally responsible way? Is profit-making more important than sustainability? It’s thought-provoking that the communities that are most outspoken in opposition to rampant development are found amongst aboriginal peoples in Australia, Canada, India and Latin America; peoples who live on the land and are close to their environment. There are indeed green parties and movements in the more developed world but they make up only a small proportion of their communities.
Again one can ask, ‘why’? Have we become too complacent? Do we switch off when we hear a Chicken Little alarm yet again?
Will we whistle while Rome burns? Worst of all, how can the populace exercise any measure of control over global corporations bigger than many governments?
Perhaps Shakespeare said it best “.. the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings…”.
Remedies are known, let’s ensure they are used fully, the alternative could be a sleep-walk to disaster.
Dr. Roy Strang writes monthly on the environment for the Peace Arch News. firstname.lastname@example.org