By Jack Cunningham
Guest writer for Wake Up World
Environmentalism is the movement of the 21st century, or at least the movement of the modern world. However, if you search “save the world” or “environmental issues” in Google you will be faced with the dilemma of trying to decipher which environmental issue is more pressing and therefore which issue you should put your time, energy (and probably money) towards.
The fact that we as a species are unable to collectively agree on which environmental issue is more urgent than another is a scary reflection on us, but in the interests of keeping this article “on topic” we best leave that discussion for another time. In terms of the range of environmental issues currently circulating the internet and popular media what I have tried to do is give a bit of a lay-mans account of what are the main environmental problems facing us.
Note: Unfortunately any modern environmental issue is fraught with fierce and determined opposition on both sides. The intensity of the debate leaves the issue itself often fading into the background. So as proponents and opponents slug it out for the hearts and minds of the human population (or at least those that care about the environment), I wanted to try and summarise the main environmental topics currently occupying the world stage.
Biofuels: turn plant matter, either plant waste, food crops (corn) etc., into Ethanol which can be further processed and provide a substitute for traditional petrochemicals (oil based fuels).
Pro’s: reduces the burden/reliance on oil and provides alternative sources to power engines.
Con’s: competes with food crops for land use. The production and use of biofuels doesn’t significantly reduce the amount of Green House Gases released into the atmosphere.
Recent developments: research and testing on the use of different inputs including plant waste, household rubbish, plastic as the primary input have been positive.
Climate Change/Greenhouse gases/Global Warming – easily the most prominent issue in the developed world. Seems to polarise the population into either “climate change supporter” or “sceptics”. The idea is that the industrial human population has had a warming influence on the world’s climate. The main “scientific” consensus is that this was caused by the large and prolonged output of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Supporters: Humanity needs to collectively reduce its output of CO2 and become more aware of our carbon footprint if we are to save the world.
Sceptics: The world has been heating and cooling over the last 4 or 5 billion years. Oceans have risen and fallen. Forests have grown and shrunk. Humans may be having a small impact but we are simply in the middle of another large temperature cycle being driven by large elemental and planetary forces over which we have no discernable control.
Recent developments: Despite the scientific world still locked in fierce debate, some countries are beginning to build future laws and political policy around human-induced climate change (supporters). This environmental issue has also morphed into a modern day political and ideological crusade. The fervour with which climate change activists are supporting their cause has been likened to a modern day replacement for fundamentalist religion.
Over population – the burgeoning world population that is placing considerable strain on everything from natural resources to infrastructure to human quality of life. A complex issue involving a wide range of cultural, religious and other issues.
GMO’s – Genetically modified organisms. The genetic altering of organisms for a desired outcome. Mostly commonly used for the production pharmaceutical drugs and agricultural inputs (improving seed and plant genetics).
Pro’s: Although there are those who support GMO, this author feels it is unjust to give any discussion for support of the topic any air time.
Con’s: Opponents say that the use GMO’s is meddling with a long established natural, biological and genetic process. There is also concern that modern science will not be able to comprehend all the possible negative consequences of tampering with a species genetic code.
Recent developments: Some examples include in 2011 China announced that they have introduced a gene into 300 dairy cows that would enable them to produce milk with the same properties as human breast milk. Labelling is another area receiving much discussion – how much genetic tampering is considered to have to label something as GMO?
Renewable Energy – energy that comes from naturally replenishable sources i.e. wind, rain, tides, sunlight and geothermal heat.
Pro’s: cheap source of power generation (once established), excellent in remote areas (think remote townships and rural areas in Africa), logical replacement for fossil fuels.
Con’s: expensive to set up, power supply can be intermittent i.e. no sun for solar panels, no wind for wind farms etc. Aesthetic concerns relating to the installation of renewable energy infrastructure near human dwellings.
Recent developments: 2011 projections by the International Energy Agency estimate that solar power generators will produce almost all of the world electricity within 50 years.
Peak Oil: the theory used to estimate when the world’s natural oil resources will run out.
Pros: since the theory first surfaced in 1965 it has predicted with reasonable accuracy the decline of production from oil wells, regions and some countries.
Con’s: difficulty in predicting the worlds peak production cycle. Some estimates showed that 2006 would be the beginning of the decline, other says that not until 2020 will the world’s production begin to terminally decline. Predictions are always difficult.
Recent developments: With research and development into other forms of energy increasing apace the idea is that the planet will be able to transition across from an oil based society to a renewable society with gradual and little disruption. This will render the peak oil issue obsolete.
So hopefully you get the summary of what is going on out there in terms of environmental issues. This covers some of the more mainstream environmental issues but I’m sure there’s some that I have missed so please feel free to comment and join the conversation and let’s get the world educated!
Whatever the issue is it needs to be addressed quickly if we are to save the world, because I’m sure we all agree that the environmental degradation that is occurring across the world is pandemic and with governments and activists climbing over each other to push their cause it makes the scenario even more precarious. However, I sometimes get the sense that we are missing something. Despite our huge brains and our ability to split up genes and do other amazing things it still feels to me like we are not on the right track. Environmentalism can sometimes feel like another dead-end towards real reparation of the planet. Unfortunately the common denominator in all of this mess and confusion is us, humans. Our psychological state is the driving force behind all that is before us and so logically there can be no real halt to any of the environmental problems that confront us without a clear and simple understanding of ourselves and our condition.
About the Author
Jake Cunningham is interested in discussing and writing about the deeper questions facing humanity. Obviously the environment is one such issue but the greater psychological reason behind our behaviors he believes is the real question. If we can solve the riddle of the human condition, why we are the way we are — why we are destructive and selfish then possibly that will be the answer to all the problems in the world…