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Biodiversity
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Introduction

Overpopulation

Overconsumption

Poverty

Negative externalities

Ineffective structures

Chapter 1: Variety of life

Chapter 2: Ecological background

Chapter 3: Adverse human impacts

Chapter 5: Protection of biodiversity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home > Hytertext Book
-Chapter 4: Roots

Introduction

This chapter is focused on some underlying causes or roots of biodiversity loss and degradation of the environment: overpopulation; overconsumption; negative externalities and ineffective structures (institutions, attitudes).

Overpopulation

Demographic predictions indicate that the human population of the world will not be stabilized, even under the best of conditions, before it attains much higher levels. These predictions assume, of course, that there will be no major catastrophes--outbreaks of war, famine, or disease--that would cause drastic reductions in human numbers. There is little doubt that rapid population growth interferes with orderly economic development, leads to a deterioration of the human environment, places a severe strain on human institutions, and constitutes a growing threat to the survival of wild animal and plant life. We are in serious danger of overpopulating the planet. "Overpopulation is not simply too many people but more people than the earth can support".

Although techniques for birth control are highly effective and well known to us in the so called 'first world', they are unknown, unavailable, or unacceptable to those people having the most rapid rate of population growth--the ones who also live in the most precarious balance with their environment. This does not mean that the prospects for controlling population increase are poor; actually, they are better than at any time in the past. But more education is needed to encourage people to limit the size of families, and the prospects for material and economic advancement for those who have fewer children must be made more obvious.

In the future it will be possible that uses of lands and resources will take place in times of population stability, little industrial expansion, and a technology directed toward a reorganization and a rearrangement of activities to achieve a better environmental relationship. Even though certain countries of the world have already reached some degree of population stability--e.g., Ireland, France, Sweden and  Switzerland -- industrial expansion and rapid technological change continue in these countries, in part because of the demands made by other expanding nations. The existing expansionist phase of technological civilization cannot, however, be expected to continue indefinitely. The ecological limitations on growth in a limited space with limited resources lead to predictions of an inevitable end to this expansion, even if our species fails to voluntarily limit its own growth.

In densely populated and technologically advanced nations, such as those of western and northern Europe -e.g. The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany --, most of the land-use decisions that would affect large areas have already been made. Although changes do occur, mostly in relation to growing urbanization and increasing material wealth, it seems likely that the remaining woodlands, wetlands and fields will continue to be devoted to their present uses.

It is in the sparsely populated areas in the underdeveloped countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America as well as in such technologically advanced countries as Canada and Australia, that the greatest range of options and choices for the future is available. Because these areas have yet to undergo drastic environmental change, the need for local and regional environmentally oriented planning for resource and land use is most urgent.

Overconsumption

Many people think that the world could be on the edge of an environmental breakdown due to the overconsumption and misuse of natural  resources. And what's more worrying for us,they believe that technological advance can only ever be a part of the answer to these problems. 

One recent study, 'Beyond the Limits', uses computer modelling to try to predict what the likely effects of our current life-style will be. As a basis for their research the authors took current figures on rates of growth for population, resource use and pollution. They then constructed a computer model and fed in figures for estimated levels of non-renewable resources, land available for growing, the ability of the Earth to absorb pollution, and other limiting factors. Also in the programme was information regarding the way all these factors interact, for example the time delays before effects of pollution occur. The programme was then run several times with differing conditions or 'scenarios' imposed.

What follows is vastly simplified, but illustrates the point. In scenario 1, which assumes that everything goes on as it is, collapse (ie sudden, uncontrolled decline in population and output) occurs largely because of loss of non-renewable resources. So, in scenario 2, it is assumed that the estimates of available quantities of non-renewable resources in scenario 1 are only half the correct values. In scenario 2, the collapse- precipitating factor is not primarily resources running out but pollution, which massively decreases land fertility. So, in scenario 3 it is assumed that pollution abatement technology makes a successful decrease in pollution levels; but this time population grows until it is too high to be fed. In scenario 4 technology to increase land yield of food is assumed ... and... land erosion causes a collapse. And so on...

The only scenario in which collapse does not occur combines a limit to material production and population, and technologies increasing efficiency of resource use, decreasing pollution, controlling erosion and increasing land yields.

While scientists can never predict exactly what will happen in the future, they can usefully show us the likely consequences of our actions and the general direction in which the planet is heading. We can then draw conclusions and take actions based on their findings. 

Poverty (Source of information: Poverty and Environment Initiative)

Conventional thinking on poverty and environment includes assumptions that are increasingly being called into question:
- poverty needs to be eradicated in developing countries before they can turn their attention to environmental protection; and
- poverty and environment are linked in a "downward spiral" in which poor people forced to overuse environmental resources for their daily survival are further impoverished by the degradation of these resources. Population growth and economic change are also seen to contribute to this process.

In addition, many of the environmental problems that have been identified in the international arena as the world’s most pressing are not those that affect poor people in developing countries most severely. For example, lack of sanitation and clean water – rather than issues that preoccupy the North, such as ozone depletion and global warming – are arguably the South’s worst environmental problems.

Many donors and policy-makers – especially since UNCED - have begun to embrace more localized, community-based approaches to natural resource management and sustainable development. This approach is informed by an understanding that the various groups in a society often experience environmental problems in very different ways. Others are advocating an alternative, ‘environmental entitlements’ approach to understanding poverty-environment linkages, which shifts the emphasis from questions of resource availability to those of access, control and management and highlights the role of formal and informal institutions in shaping people’s resource endowments and entitlements. At the root of this entitlements approach is an understanding that poor people’s livelihoods are more likely to depend upon a mix of skills, assets, access to natural resources, social capital, and income-generating activities than on any single income source. Thus, improving their lot will require holistic rather than sectoral interventions

Development practitioners are increasingly searching for ways in which policy interventions can achieve multiple objectives and thus more effectively address the livelihood needs of people living in poverty. The goal of the Poverty and Environment Initiative is to provide a forum for practitioners, policy-makers and researchers working in this area to share their experiences and identify solutions.

To that end, the initiative supports a process that includes: the preparation of a literature review and a series of analytical, in-depth issues papers; The expected outcome of the Ministerial meeting will be concrete recommendations for national-level policies and programs that will promote both poverty eradication and sound environmental management, thus creating "win-win" situations for poor people and the environments in which they live.

Negative externalities

Much economic activity generates significant negative externalities (= a non-priced effect on the welfare of one actor in the economy resulting from the activities of another) connected with habitat destruction (biodiversity loss), pollution, depletion, or degradation of the environment. Why do externalities exist? They are resulting from the absence of property rights, high transaction costs and strategic behavior

Presence of negative externality is indicated by divergence between private cost and social cost, or private benefit and social benefit. Activities with negative externalities will be carried out at a level which is too high from a social point of view. Negative externalities represent or reflect 'market failure'.

Technological externalities arise when the activity of one actor directly affects another actor without operating through the price system. Market failure which affects a third party through the price mechanism (e.g. a fall in the price of an asset owned by the third party) is sometimes called a "pecuniary externality." The latter should not be confused with the "knock-on" (general equilibrium) effects of changes in prices, which represent the normal working of the market in re-allocating resources.

As said before, negative externalities represent or reflect market failure. This market failure can be a persuasive reason for government intervention. It's  believed therefor that government intervention is surely justified, but how and how far can this rationale for government intervention be taken? 

Government responses generally include: rules (standards), negotiations or legal enforcement of property rights, taxes and subsidies, internalization and assignment of property rights and creation of a market.

Ineffective structures (Human institutions, regulations and - moral and religious - attitudes)

Considering the potential of new technology and the accompanying advances in science, it is possible to foresee a world in which a relatively stable human population can live at a high level of material affluence, with wild nature continuing to exist in abundance and relatively undisturbed lands available for human enjoyment. But this optimistic point of view is not supported by existing world conditions. Because knowledge now available is more than adequate to solve most of the world's major environmental problems, the problems are not those of science and technology but of the arrangements and functioning of human institutions and of the attitudes of individuals. Thus, while research in science continues in all the universities and other schools of the world, tropical forests and coral reefs are being devastated in ways that suggest that the science of these natural objects are still unknown. Although the techniques for managing livestock have reached a high level of sophistication, overexploitation continues around most of the world's major pasturelands, deserts and oceans, and animals die of hunger, people suffer from deprivation, and the deserts spread. Obviously, the knowledge available does not reach or influence the behaviour of most of the people on our planet.

Important is the failure of most societies to exercise adequate controls over land, water, and other resource use. Effective means for controlling land use do not exist in most countries; laws and regulations that permit governments to exercise such control, when existent, often cannot be enforced because of the danger of strong public resentment and resistance. Although it is essential that lands and all other resources be used with a view to preserving their future productivity, this view all too often conflicts with present needs or demands of the resource users. The solution to this conflict is not within the scope of science or technology; instead, it is a question of attitudes and values and these are less amenable to sudden change than laws or regulations. 

For many people an environmental crisis of this complexity and scope is not only the result of certain economic, political, and social factors. It is also a moral and spiritual crisis which, in order to be addressed, will require broader philosophical and religious understandings of ourselves as creatures of nature, embedded in life cycles and dependent on ecosystems. Religions, thus, need to be reexamined in light of the current environmental crisis. This is because religions help to shape our attitudes toward nature in both conscious and unconscious ways. Religions provide basic interpretive stories of who we are, what nature is, where we have come from, and where we are going. This comprises a worldview of a society. Religions also suggest how we should treat other humans and how we should relate to nature. These values make up the ethical orientation of a society. Religions thus generate worldviews and ethics which underlie fundamental attitudes and values of different cultures and societies.

 

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