Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Fragile environments and sustainability

Our living standards and health may depend on the quality of the Earth's physical environment, but we are destroying it. There's a delicate balance between non-living (climate, rocks, soils) and living (plants, animals) parts. 

And natural environments are fragile. That means these places are sensitive to the presence of people, and are easily abused and harmed by us. 

Though natural hazards like forest fires and volcanic eruptions have always disturbed environments, these places have always managed to recover. 
But now, the growth of the world's human population is what threatens the fragile balance of the environments the most. 

We have disturbed 90% of the Earth to some degree or another. It's hard to find truly wild and natural areas that are untouched by human activity. 

There are three important processes that are responsible for making environments more fragile:
  • soil erosion
  • desertification
  • deforestation 
They not only damage natural environments, but are linked to global warming and climate change too. In fact, they are both causes and consequences of climate change. 
I will discuss them in later posts. But keep in mind they are not the only ways in which natural environments are being upset, but for this course, they are the 3 processes focused on.

Understand that most processes that upset the natural environment relate to us humans exploiting the land. We cause a lot of land, air and water pollution.

Two terms you must know when studying fragile environments: ecological footprint and sustainability. 

Ecological footprint: this is a measure of the mark we humans make on the world.
It considers how much land and sea are needed to provide us with the water, energy and food we need to support our lifestyles. 

If the Earth's resources were shared equally among everyone, we would each have a little less than 2 hectares of the globe! However, the UK has an ecological footprint of about 5.5 global hectares per person. This means that if everyone in the world consumed resources at the rate people in UK do, we would need 2 more planets to sustain our present population. 

Sustainability: 'actions and forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without reducing the ability of future generations to meet their needs'. 
That's the textbook definition, but I like to think of it as the following just so I understand it better:
"The ability to meet the needs of the present while preserving the environment so future generations can meet their needs too. 
Try explaining 'sustainability' to someone else in your own words, to see if you truly understand it. 

Global variations in the ecological footprint

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So if we are to continue using the natural resources in the global range of different environments, we need:
  • to do so with much more moderation
  • to be aware of how easily the balances of those environments are upset
  • to reduce our ecological footprint to a minimum
It's very idealistic, and may be what we need to do, but in fact it'll be very hard to do so.

It could mean that some places cannot have economic development. Which really should be the case in the few remaining truly wilderness areas, like Antarctica, the tundra of Siberia and the Amazon rainforest. 

It's vital that the biodiversity and pristine nature of such environments are protected for the general 'health' of the Earth and its people. If not, our present abuse of the planet promises an unsustainable future. :/ 

The link between ecological footprint and sustainability is that the ecological footprint theory helps us to judge how sustainable our lives are now. It helps us to make judgement about the future too.

We know that global population will continue to grow for at least the next 50 years. It warns us of the extent to which the world's environments will become even more fragile. It advises us as to what is sustainable. 

1 comment:

  1. GREAT NOTES THANKS A LOT FOR HELPING ME WITH MY EXAMS

    ReplyDelete

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