Why Protect the Environment and How? A manifesto of change to save the environment

This following post may be a bit pretentious, however it’s an essay I wrote for an assignment at university titled ‘Why Protect the Environment and How?” I’ve not got my actual grade for the assignment back yet however going by module results I’m guessing I gain a 2:1 for it. Sliced in the middle is a piece about farming, this is from another assignment from the same module. For this I got a 1st (76%). If there is any glaring errors, spelling mistakes, typos, grammar errors it’s probably due to me confidently thinking I had just three weeks to do the assignment and slowly cruising along before finding out I only had four days so had to rush to get it completed! I’ve included a reference list and cited my references except for the section on farming which wasn’t a typical essay and therefore didn’t need citation. However the references are included. Hope you find it interesting!

Why Protect the Environment and How? A manifesto of change to save the environment

Whilst most will argue that the aesthetic beauty of nature and the environment is a valid enough reason to protect it, halcyon days of youth spent traipsing fields upon fields upon fields upon fields do not alone carry enough weight to protect against destruction.  Even the beneficial quality to physical and mental health nature offers (Natural England, 2014) stands little chance of protecting the environment. Since the global recession in the late 2000s governments have in a naïve bid to revitalise the economy seen the countryside as an area for economic growth, with green belt land set aside for building new houses (Motion, 2013). Robert Costanza stated in 1997 that the services provided by the ecosystem and natural capital range between 16 – 54 trillion US dollars per year (Stratford, 2013) These figures are made up from counting the cost of the services nature provides us for free, such as $1 trillion in sales dependent on animal pollination (Juniper, 2013). As the human population increases and with it the demand for growth, can our environment sustain it without adequate protection? Whilst governments and politicians worldwide generally follow a consensus that we need to act against climate change many fall short of addressing the issue of the greater environmental crisis and that we’re running out of resources (Goldsmith, 2010). As we fight for resources with it we risk ruining the ecosystems that hold the vital services together (Juniper, 2013) (Stratford, 2013).

As the demand for resources and their scarcity rises with it comes grave warnings that it could see the social unrest and the possible downfall of societies (Ahmed, 2013). Whilst some commentators may scoff at such suggestions history has documented the collapse of a society due to resource depletion such as on Easter Island (Good & Reuveny, 2006) The idea of the collapse of society due to human impact on the environment may come across as hyperbole however between 2008 and 2013 social unrest was seen in several countries following the rise of food prices with links to the rising price of fossil fuels (Ahmed, 2014). Furthermore the effects of climate change, the extinction of plants and animals, land degradation and erosion, ocean acidification and other environmental issues only add to the pressures that can be put upon societies (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 2013).  If societies and governments require a substantial reason to protect the environment then here it lies. Humanity and the economy rely on it. With this comes the first force for change: A move away from being a carbon and in particular an oil dependent nation.

The burning of fossil fuels for power is the biggest polluter and driver of climate change (WWF, 2014). If the environment is to be protected then one of the first steps taken has to be to reduce dependency on ‘dirty fuel’ and move towards ‘clean’ renewable energy. However the UK government seems reluctant on the transition to renewables (Atkins, 2014). This is not surprising when the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has been accused of being lobbied by the fossil fuel industry (Merrick, 2012) and Prime Minister David Cameron laying the blame on expensive fuel bills on the subsidies for green energy (Mason, 2013). Backing the claims of those who oppose renewables that it is too expensive for the public, however Cameron makes no reference to the subsidies paid for fossil fuels, which work out at around £6 – £8 for every £1 spent on renewable energy (Goldsmith, 2010). Furthermore the UK government seems determined to keep the UK hooked on fossil fuels by pushing the use of hydraulic fracturing or fracking to extract shale gas (Williams, 2013). This ‘dash for gas’ is supported by offering incentives to local authorities that support it (BBC, 2014), offering ‘most generous tax breaks in the world’ for fracking companies (Harvey, 2013) and changing land ownership and trespassing laws to suit the fracking companies (BBC, 2014). At the same time ministers are trying to win over the support of the public by insisting that shale gas will reduce energy bills, however this claim is refuted by several sources including the head of a fracking company (Bawden, 2013). In addition to fracking the UK government also supports nuclear energy (Wintour, 2013).  However nuclear energy does not offer a quick solution to climate change; if all UK nuclear reactors were replaced and doubled it would take over twenty years for them to reduce carbon emissions by 8 percent (Goldsmith, 2010). Then there is the debate over the risk to human health and the argument that nuclear reactors provide a target for terrorism, with a terrorist strike on a nuclear power plant being up to forty times more catastrophic then Chernobyl (Goldsmith, 2010). This leads to the next factor for change; electing politicians on their environmental principles.

If politicians are elected without any consideration to their beliefs or principles on the environment then there is a risk of climate sceptics holding office in departments that are in charge of environmental policy. Like the UK’s Secretary of State for the environment, Owen Paterson; who sees climate change as a positive as it creates better summers for British farmers (Syal, 2013). Early 2014 saw large amounts of flooding across England, with many environmentalists claiming that this would become the norm due to climate change, however around the same time it was revealed that money spent on flood defence  had been cut by 41% (Carrington, 2014).

Whilst environmental spending receives cuts as part of the UK government’s austerity program, large amounts of money are made available (£50 billion) for the ambitious high speed railway project HS2 (BBC, 2014). Although from an environmental view point it may look positive that large amounts of government funding was been used on mass public transit projects with HS2 comes a large environmental and ecological impact. These include causing fragmentation of butterfly, bird and bat communities, HS2 will also affect, pass through or destroy; 10 sites of special scientific interest, 9 Wildlife Trust nature reserves, 153 local wildlife sites and indirectly affects a further 337 sites  (The Wildlife Trusts, 2014). This grave lost to the environment is been pushed through a necessary means to boost UK business, however it has been argued that HS2 is a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem and that the money used on HS2 would be better spent on investment in digital networking rather than physical networks (Donnelly, 2013).

One viewpoint taken is that when the destruction of wildlife sites is unavoidable that biodiversity offsetting should take place. This means creating a new habitat in a different area to compensate for the habitat lost by the construction on green belt. In the case of HS2 it has been suggested that whilst the environmental destruction previously outlined is inescapable that it provides an opportunity for nature restoration and using the rail line to build upon wildlife corridors and hopefully provide a wider more linked environment (Trotter, 2014). Biodiversity offsetting along with the creation of small suitable habitats can be incredibly beneficial to wildlife and protecting the environment if considered when the building on green belt is the only option to take (Morris, et al., 2006). The inclusion of areas such as artificial wetlands in close proximity to urban and industrial areas provide a small haven for wildlife which would otherwise be lost (Gemmell & Connell, 1984) (Santoul, et al., 2009). This then provides the next change that must be implemented; if destruction of the environment is unavoidable then there must be ecological compensation.

Whilst the human population continues to rise it is palpable that with it so does the demand for food.  This increase has seen vast changes in the way food is produced; intensive agriculture has become the norm in Western society. However does this have a negative effect on the environment?

Possibly the main negative impact agriculture has on the environment is its contribution to climate change. From machinery and transport to fertilizer, pesticide and feed production, the farming industry is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and in particular oil. As well as the CO2­­ emissions from fossils fuels, animal farming produces large amounts of greenhouse gases (methane and nitrous oxide).

The majority of agriculture is the production of crops. Not only for human consumption but also for use in animal feed (95% of soya bean production is for animal feed). To grow crops the farmers need space, which can see deforestation. Crops are often a monoculture which can result in biodiversity loss, most prevalent in the decline of pollinators and farmland birds. To grow these crops there will be the use of pesticides and fertilizers which both carry harmful effects. There will also be the need for a large amount of water, 87% of all fresh water consumed is used in farming. Water scarcity is predicted to become a major issue.

In addition to these factors intensive agriculture also speeds up the degradation and erosion of soil. This problem in time will only get worse owing to the prediction that due to lack of space farming will have to resort to moving onto more sloped land where soil erosion occurs more rapidly.

The use of genetically modified (GM) crops in farming whilst could signify a move away from the heavy application of pesticides and fertilizers also comes with its problems such as the development of super weeds and super pests which will then result in an increase use of toxic chemicals. This has resulted in several countries moving away from the use of GM crops to some extent.

As well as the environmental risks, there are also risks to human health such as the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria which has resulted from the indiscriminate feeding of antibiotics to factory farmed animals. There is also the risk of pollution and build-up of chemicals in water that farming can present.

Is there a way to reduce the negative effect on the environment? Whilst organic farming can reduce certain negative effects it too comes with its problems. There is little difference in soil erosion. Organic dairy farming produces more methane than intensive dairy farming and an increase in organic farming would result in the need for more deforestation. Whilst changes in farming practice such as mixed crops and low cropping can increase biodiversity and reduce negative factors these result in a low yield. Because agriculture is an industry this is not favourable. Similarly a reduction in pesticides, fertilizers and GM crops results in industry lobbying politicians.

Given the amount of oil, water and crops used to produce meat, the ideal solution to reduce the negative impact farming has on the environment is either a vegetarian or vegan diet with anaerobic digesters used to treat waste which can then be used for power and further reduce agriculture’s use of fossil fuels. If we are to protect the environment we must change the way we farm the land.

The most important factor of change to protect the environment for future generations is getting the future generations involved. It has been stated that modern children spend very little time outdoors engaging with the natural environment, which can have a negative effect both on their health and the health of society (Henley, 2010). In addition to this whilst children spend less time outdoors in the environment there has also been plans to remove certain environmental issues from the UK national curriculum including not teaching children under the age of 14 about climate change (Siddique, 2013). If the environment is to be protected then we need to educate and engage children to care, from small scale recycling to the big issues of climate change. Which is the final factor for change: get the next generation interested and enthused.

The reason for saving the environment is simple; our economy depends on it, our society depends upon it, our humanity depends on it. From the services the ecosystem provides for our financial needs to the benefits it’s provides our mental and physical health if we don’t look after it, if we don’t change our ways then there is no way out and we are destined for downfall. Change needs to come most importantly in the form of tackling climate change and reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and oil. To achieve this we need a political will that will listen to both the people and planet, not corporations. Whilst the world’s population continues to grow it is palpable that with it there will be the need to extend urbanisation, but in doing so we must make sure that there is no biodiversity loss, that suitable habitats replace the ones lost. If we don’t we lose the vital services we rely on to live. However all the changes that must be implemented to protect the environment are null and void if we fall short of one thing; educating and engaging children in the natural world and the environment. This is summed up flawlessly in The Lorax the children’s environmental fable about damaging the environment at the expense of business when Dr. Seuss (1971) wrote “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”


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