Student Publications


Author: Jorge Arrone
Title:
Sustainable Development and Environmental Issues
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Introduction

This assignment will be composed by two parts. In part 1 I will discuss the concepts of the
physical environment, the major environmental problems facing the world today and the need
for environmental education. In this first part of my assignment, I will discuss particularly our
natural or physical environment and take a brief look at global environmental problems that
face the world and the Mozambican community today.

In part 2, I will discuss the aspects related with the value systems, legislation and global
economics. In this second part I will also look more closely at the relationship between the
social and physical environment.

Part 1 - What is the environment?

Simply put, the environment means our surroundings. At the most basic level, it refers to our
home, our community, our workplace and our world. The term environment also refers to all
the living and non-living things that affect the life of an individual organism or population.
The environment includes natural and social surroundings and conditions.

The natural or physical environment

The natural or physical environment supports all life on earth and has four parts:

1. atmosphere ­ a mixture of gases surrounding the earth, for example oxygen (O2) and
carbon dioxide (CO2)
2. hydrosphere ­ the water on or below the surface of the earth, for example lakes, seas,
rivers and underground streams
3. lithosphere ­ the hard, rigid upper curst of the earth, for example rocks, minerals, soil,
fossil fuel
4. biosphere ­ the zone where life exists, for example plants, insects, animals and of
course people. The biosphere consists of the lower part of the atmosphere, the
hydrosphere and the upper part of the lithosphere. It is approximately 2 kilometers
thick.

An ecosystem

The natural environment operates as an ecosystem. An ecosystem is a usually a usually a
natural, functional unit. In it, livings things such as vegetation, animals, micro-organisms and,
of course people co-exist and interact with the non-living things such as air, water, soil and
minerals to form a stable and self-sustaining system. The interactions are based on the
exchange of materials and energy.

An ecosystem is not always naturally formed. It can sometime be artificially created. An
artificial ecosystem can be a village, a city or even a spaceship. A few years ago, in many
countries, people could even buy a terrarium: a large glass jar with a closed ecosystem of
plants, insects, soil, air and water existing inside.

The interaction of living and non-living things within an ecosystem involves the flow of
energy, the cycling of matter and the regulation of populations of organisms. I will discuss
these processes below.

The flow of energy

All life forms require energy to maintain their bodies and perform their activities. The primary
source of energy is light from the sun. Plants capture and store light energy, and turn it into
chemical energy (carbohydrates, sugars, proteins, waxes and oils) through a process called
photosynthesis. Plants are eaten by animals, which are in turn eaten by other animals.






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Food chain

Energy moves trough an ecosystem via food chains. The energy is converted into living tissue
and used in activity; some energy is lost from the system through heat and respiration.

There may be several levels in a food chain:

green plants are known as producers because they manufacture their own food from
carbon dioxide, water, minerals and sunlight through a process called photosynthesis;

herbivores are known as primary consumers as they eat plants (seeds, leaves, grass,
fruit, etc.)

carnivores that eat herbivores are known as secondary consumers (and carnivores that
eat other carnivores are known as tertiary consumers);

bacteria and fungi are known as decomposers. They break down waste material, and
dead plant and animal tissue into humus and minerals (which are essential for plant
growth);

small animals or detritus feeders are known as scavengers and they feed on
decomposing materials (detritus).

Between one to twenty percent of the energy in plants is passed from plants to herbivores.
Similarly, approximately one to twenty of the energy which is transferred to herbivores is
passed on to carnivores.

Some energy is transferred to bacteria and fungi as they decompose the excreta and dead tissue
of herbivores and carnivores, while other small animals such as worms gain energy by eating
the decomposed material.

The flow of energy is not a cycle process. Energy is not returned to its source. Instead, it flows
through the ecosystem in a straight line or through a linear process.

The cycling of matter

Matter consists of many elements and molecules that make up gases, vitamins, proteins,
minerals and other nutrients of life. The total amount of matter in the world is constant and
cycles through both living (plants and animals) and non-living materials (air, water, rock, etc.).
The cycling of matter is driven by the sun and facilitated by the flow of energy.

When decomposers release minerals that returned to the soil and air, the roots of absorb the
minerals from the soil. Thus, the nutrients are eventually returned to the plants, and the cycle
continues. There are various forms and rates of cycling of matter.

The nitrogen cycle

An important example is the nitrogen cycle. Nitrogen is one of the major elements required for
plant and animal growth. One of the main gases in air, it is transformed into a soluble form by
bacteria living in soil or water. Plants use this form of nitrogen to make protein, which then re-
enters the soil as the plant matter dies and decays. Animals obtain nitrogen by eating plant
material or other animals, and release nitrogen in their excreta and when their bodies decay.
The nitrogen is then returned to the atmosphere as a gas by the action of bacteria ­ thus
completing the cycle. (Earth user's to Permaculture, by Rosemary Morrow, Kangaroo Press,
Austria, 1993).

When rain falls on the land, some of it quickly evaporates back into the atmosphere. There is
constant evaporation from stream, lakes, the oceans and the bodies of plants and animals. The
energy for most of this evaporation comes either directly or indirectly from the sun.

O the rest, some is absorbed by plants or is drunk by animals. Some runs off the surface of the
land into streams and lakes and some percolate down through the soil to accumulate as ground
water. The water in streams and lakes, as well as the surface ground water, eventually find its
way to the ocean.


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The endless cycling of water ­ precipitation as rain, snow and hail, its return atmosphere
through evaporation, its subsequent return to the earth as rain ­ maintains the various sources
of fresh water necessary for life on land. The water cycle also plays a major part in modifying
temperatures and in transporting many chemical nutrients through ecosystems.

This cycling process points to an important characteristic of ecosystems, that is inter-
dependence. The organisms and the non-living things are also inter-dependent. Thus, when an
ecosystem has become established properly, each life from is finely balanced in relation to
those living and non-living forms that relate to it; those living and non-living things from
which it receives sustenance or shelter.

To an extent, these relationships also exist between ecosystems, at the point where one
ecosystem meets another. However, the interchanges of energy and materials between
ecosystems are usually less complex than those within ecosystems.

Population regulation

Population regulation is an important aspect of a balanced ecosystem. Predators are nature's
way of regulating population or controlling the number of any given organism in an
ecosystem. For example, ducks eat snails. Ducks are predators of snails, or perhaps one of
several predators.

It is important to note that:

predators play an important role in controlling the rate at which organisms multiply,
and in maintaining the balance of nature;
when we destroy the predators of an organism, this can lead to the organism
multiplying rapidly ­ a population explosion. This may result in damage to the
environment and/or depletion in the numbers of the animals or plants that organism
feeds on.

In a well-functioning ecosystem, numbers are in balance. For example, by feeding on
producers, herbivores control the population of plants. Similar control takes place at each level
of the ecosystem, with carnivores controlling populations of herbivores and detritus feeders
controlling the level of organic wastes.

Without nature's system of control, populations would grow beyond the capacity of their
environment to support them.

An overview of environmental problems

With Industrial Revolution, humans became capable of dramatically changing the face of the
earth, the nature of its atmosphere, and the quality of its water. Today, because of rapidly
increasing human populations and advancing technology, ever-growing demands on the
environment are causing a continuing and accelerating decline in the quality of the
environment and its ability to sustain life.

We are faced with many threats to our environment. All of these problems are of concern to
young people; a degraded environment is a threat to their future survival.

The greenhouse effect

The greenhouse effect is a term used to describe the role the atmosphere plays in warming the
earth's surface. Short-wave solar radiation passes through the atmosphere and is absorbed by
the earth's surface. Much of this radiation is then re-emitted at infrared wavelengths, but it is
reflected back by gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, halocarbons, and
ozone in the atmosphere. These are often referred to as greenhouse gases because the
atmosphere acts in a similar way to a greenhouse. In balanced quantities, these gases function
to maintain the earth's relatively warm temperature.

This is why the earth is warm enough to support life on its surface. However, this heating
effect is at the root of the theories concerning global warming.




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Global warming

Global warming refers an increase in the earth's temperature. This increase is due to the use of
fossil fuels (wood, coal, oil, petrol, etc) and other industrial processes which have led to a
build-up of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and
chlorofluorocarbons) in the atmosphere.

Since the late 1980s, we known that carbon dioxide (CO2) helps to stop the sun's infrared
radiation from escaping into space. However, the question today is whether the increasing
levels of CO2 in the atmosphere over the last century will lead to higher global temperatures.

A significant global warming of the atmosphere would have profound environmental effects. It
would speed the melting of polar ice caps, raise sea levels, change the climate regionally and
globally, latter natural vegetation, and affect crop production. These changes would, in turn,
have an enormous impact on human civilization. Since 1850 there has been an average
increase in global temperature of about 1ºC (1.8ºF). Some scientists have predicted that rising
levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases will cause temperature to continue to rise, with
estimates ranging from 2º to 6º C (4º to 11ºF) by the middle of 21st century.

However, other scientists who research climate effects and trends dispute the theories of
global warming, and attribute most recent rise to normal temperature fluctuations. This is one
reason why legislation restricting the emission of greenhouse gases has been slow.

Acid rain

Acid rain is also associated with the burning of fossil fuels. Acid deposition is caused by the
emission of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides into the air from power plants and motor
vehicles. These chemicals interact with sunlight, moisture, and oxidants to produce sulfuric
and nitric acids, which are carried with the atmospheric circulation and come to earth in
rainfall and snowfall, commonly referred to as acid rain, and as dry deposits in the form of dry
particles and atmospheric gases.

Acid rain is a major global problem. The acidity of some precipitation in the Northern
America and Europe is equivalent to that of vinegar. Acid rain corrodes metals, weathers stone
buildings and monuments, injures and kills vegetation, and acidifies lakes, streams and soils.
Lake acidification has killed some fish populations and can slow forest growth.

Ozone destruction

In the 1970S and 1980S, scientists began to find that human activity was having a determinant
effect on the global ozone layer, a region of the atmosphere that protects the earth from the
sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Without this gaseous layer, which is about 40 km (about
25 mi) thick, no life could survive on the planet.

Studies showed that ozone layer was being damaged by the increasing use of industrial
chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which are used in refrigeration, air conditioning,
cleaning solvents, packing materials, and aerosol sprays. When CFCs are released into the
atmosphere, they rise and are broken down by sunlight. The chlorine that is released reacts
with and destroys ozone molecules. For this reason, the use of CFCs in aerosols has been
banned in many countries.

It was initially thought that the ozone layer was being reduced gradually all over the globe. In
1985, however, further research revealed a growing ozone hole concentrated above Antarctica;
50 percent or more of the zone above this area of the earth was being depleted seasonally
(beginning each October). Later, a hole was discovered above the Artic.

A thinning of the ozone layer exposes life on earth to excessive UV radiation, which can
increase skin cancer and cataracts, reduce immune system responses, interfere with the
photosynthetic process of plants, and affect the growth of oceanic phytoplankton.

Because of the growing threat of these dangerous environmental effects, many nations are
working toward eliminating the manufacture and use of CFCs at least by the year 2000.
However, CFCs can remain in the atmosphere for more than 100 years, so ozone destruction
will continue to pose a threat for decades to come.


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Synthetic pesticides

Extensive use of synthetic pesticides derived from chlorinated hydrocarbons to combat insect
pests has had disastrous environmental side effects. These organochlorine pesticides are highly
persistent and resist biological degradation. Relatively insoluble in water, they cling to plant
issues and accumulate in soils, the bottom mud of streams and ponds, and the atmosphere.
Once volatilized, the pesticides are distributed worldwide, contaminating wilderness areas far
removed from agricultural regions, and even the Antarctic and Arctic zones.

Although these synthetic chemicals are not found in nature, they nevertheless enter the food
chain. These pesticides are either taken in by plant eaters or absorbed directly through the skin
by such aquatic organisms as fish and various invertebrates. The pesticide is further
concentrated as it passes from herbivores to carnivores. It becomes highly concentrated in the
tissues of animals at the end of the food chain, such as the peregrine falcon, bald eagle, and
osprey. Chlorinated hydrocarbons interfere in the calcium metabolism of birds, causing
thinning of eggs shell and subsequent reproductive failure. As a result, some large predatory
and fish-eating birds have brought close to extinction. Because of the dangers of pesticides to
wildlife and to humans, and because insects have acquired resistance to them, the use of
halogenated hydrocarbons such as DDT is declining rapidly in the Western World, although
large quantities are still shipped to developing countries.

Radiation

Although atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons has been banned by most countries,
eliminating a large source of radioactive fallout, nuclear radiation still remains an
environmental problem. Power plants always release some amount of radioactive waste into
the air and water, but the main danger is the possibility of nuclear accidents, in which massive
amounts of radiation are released into the environment as happened at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in
1986. In fact, since the break up of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the
world has learned that contamination of that region from nuclear accidents and nuclear wastes
is far more extensive than had been realized.

A great problem facing the nuclear industry is the storage of nuclear wastes, which remain
toxic for 700 to 1 million years, depending on the type. Safe storage for geological periods of
time is problematical; meanwhile nuclear wastes accumulate, threatening the integrity of the
environment.

Loss of wild lands

Loss of forests and remaining wild lands, even in those areas once considered relatively safe
from exploitation, is increasing at an alarming rate. Insatiable demands for energy are forcing
the development of artic regions for oil and gas and threatening the delicate ecological balance
of tundra ecosystems and their wildlife. Tropical forests, especially in Southeast Asia and the
Amazon River Basin, are being destroyed for timber, conversion to crop and grazing lands,
pine plantations, and settlements.

It was estimated at one point in 1980Sthat such forest lands were being cleared at the rate of
20 hectares (nearly 50 acres) a minute; another estimate put the rate more than 200,000 sq km
(more than 78,000 sq mi) a year. In 1993, satellite data provided a rate of about 15,000 sq km
(about 5800 mi) a year in the Amazon Basin area alone.

This tropical deforestation could result in the extinction of as many as750, 000 species, which
would mean the loss of a multiplicity of products: food, fibres, medical drugs, dyes, gums, and
resins. In addition, the expansion of croplands and grazing areas for domestic livestock in
Africa, and illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products, could mean the end of Africa's large
mammals.

Soil erosion

Soil erosion is accelerating on every continent and is degrading one-fifth to one-third of the
cropland of the world, posing a significant threat to the food supply. For example, erosion is
undermining the productivity of approximately 34 percent of all cropland in the United States.
In the developing countries, increasing needs for food and firewood have resulted in the
deforestation and cultivation of steep slopes, causing severe erosion. Adding to the problem is
the loss of prime cropland to industry, dams, urban sprawl, and highways; the United States

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alone has lost 1.1 million hectors (2.7 million acres) of farmland to non-farm uses. Soil
erosion and the loss of cropland and forests also reduce the moisture-holding capacity of soils
and add sediments to streams, lakes, and reservoirs.

Demands on water and air

The erosion problems described above are aggravating a growing world water problem. Most
water problems are in the semiarid and coastal regions of the world. Expanding human
populations need irrigation systems and water for industry; this is so depleting underground
aquifers that salt water is intruding into them along coastal areas of United States, Israel,
Syria, and the Arabian Gulf states. In inland areas, porous rocks and sediments are compacting
when drained of water, causing surface subsidence problems.

The world is also experiencing a steady decline in water quality and availability. About 75
percent of the world's rural population and 20 percent of its urban population have no ready
access to uncontaminated water. In many regions, water supplies are contaminated with toxic
chemicals and nitrates. Waterborne disease debilitates one-third of humanity and kills 10
million people a year.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the United States improved air quality by reducing
particulate matter and toxic chemicals, such as lead, but emissions of sulfur dioxide and
nitrous oxides, which cause acid deposition, still remain. Massive air pollution occurs over
much of Eastern Europe and the former USSR. (Microsoft Encarta 1994, Microsoft
Corporation ­ 1994, Funk & Wagnall's Corporation).

Environmental education

If we are to use the environment wisely and protect it, we all need environmental education.
This part of my assignment aims to give the background knowledge needed to understand the
environment, and the environmental problems that the communities are facing in the two
district of Morrumbene and Maxixe today. It also aims to provide the material that can be used
to start an education program for the civil society in the above mentioned communities to raise
their awareness of the environment.

A basic program in environmental awareness provides a sound foundation for communities to
participate in projects that address environmental problems.

Inter-connectivity

There is a familiar saying: No man is an island. In fact, our earth can be viewed as a whole,
where everything is connected to everything else. According to Meadows (1992) in Beyond
the Limits, with every breath we inhale, a part of environment becomes a part of us. When we
exhale, a part of us becomes part of the environment. There is a direct connection between the
air we breathe and our lungs or more generally, our human health. As humans, we are
connected to all the cycles ­ water, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen etc.

Our link to the environment can be seen as a system. Two important characteristics of a
system are that:

each part has a function to play;

each part is connected to another one;

Therefore, thinking of our connection to the environment in systemic terms is important. It
reinforces the point that each component of a system has a special function to carry out
and that each component is connected to another component.

Interfering with, or disrupting, any part of the environment will seriously affect the
functioning of the whole system. For example, imagine the effects of polluting the water
on which all living things depend for their life, or the effects of polluting the air.






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Sacredness
This concept refers to the fact that as part of our spiritual relationship with the biosphere,
there are instances when we must value nature for its own sake or when we should not
attempt to attach a commercial or materialistic value to it.

Many indigenous people, such as those from Amazon and Australian aborigines, view
their relationship with nature as that of a car-taker. This belief meant that they were able to
live as part of a relatively balanced ecosystem, without dominating or over-exploiting it.

For our own well being, we could learn from them to value, consider sacred, beautiful
healthy and safe environment. While our survival depends on exploiting other species, we
need not use them successfully. We could learn from observing how predators behave with
they prey.

They do not destroy their supplies. They use only what they need. As a result, the
population of animals on which they prey can replenish itself.

At the individual level, we must ask ourselves some important questions about the way we
behave toward nature. Among these are:

Is my action morally right?

Will what I do jeopardize the lives of future generation?

Non-renewable resources

When we talk about sustainable development, we need to be aware of the concept of
renewable and non-renewable resources. Continued exploitation or destruction of resources
that can not be replaced is not sustainable.

For example, a 200-year-old rainforest tree that is cut down for firewood or building materials
may be considered non-renewable resources because of the time it would take to replace it.
However, planting timbers that are fast growing may considered renewable, because they are
grown for a specific reason such as for building materials, and they are often replaced after
harvest so that there is an on-going supply.

Sources of energy

The sun is a renewable energy source whereas oil and coal are non-renewable sources of
energy. For this reason, people who are interested in sustainable development must look at
alternative sources of energy, such as hydro, solar and wind generated electricity, for heating,
domestic, agricultural and industrial power. Energy sources that are alternatives to the burning
of fossil fuels not only save our non-renewable resources, but also they are much kinder to the
environment. One of the biggest consumers of non-renewable energy is fuel for transport.
Many of the everyday things we use or consume come from far away, even other countries.

Sustainable Development and Environmental Issues ­ What causes Environmental
Problems?

In this part of my assignment I will discuss the relationship between the social and physical
environment. I will define the social environment and examine those aspects of it that can
affect the physical environment:

Value systems

Legislation, and

Global economics.

I will also consider what concerns communities as I examine some of the issues that were
raised at a world youth environment meeting, Juventud (youth)´92 held in San José, Costa
Rica.




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The social environment

The social environment consists of systems that groups of people have organized to satisfy
their needs. The social environment includes all skills, all man-made structures, all means of
agricultural and industrial production, all tools, all means of transport and communication and
all social activities. Therefore, when we speak of the social environment, we generally think of
such things as families, religion and values, law, education, economics and politics.

Whatever happens in our social environment affects the physical environment, but this is not a
one-way relationship. Without the natural environment, human beings would not exist. As I
have already mentioned before, people have had a dramatic affect on the environment.
Conversely, our now degraded environment can no longer support the economic development
that we desire. Indeed, if we don not start to consider environment, as we plan our
development activities, the survival of future generations will be threatened.

Now I will try to examine the manner in which some of our social systems affect the
environment.

Value systems and environment

Because of their traditional values systems, some societies do not destroy or deplete the
resources in their natural environment. The people in these societies live more or less in
harmony with their environment, as a part of their ecosystem. Some indigenous societies, for
example the North American and Amazonian Indians and Australian aborigines, held the
belief that their did not own the land, but that they had to protect it. Some groups in India
believed that the trees in the forest were gods. As a result, they protected al trees.

Other societies do not hold the same beliefs about their natural environment. People in these
societies tend to see the living and non-living elements in their environment as resources to be
used rather than protected. They may be unconcerned about their environment. This lack of
concern, embodied in the value system of the society, will probably lead to environmental
damage. Many people living in cities, for example, may simply be too far removed from
nature to understand and value it. They may not even be aware that their lifestyle degrades the
environment.

In extreme cases, this lack of concern may be symptomatic of deep sociological problems
within a society. For example, Edwin Small, writing in the April/May, 1994 issue of journeys
suggests that a drug addict.... who has come to the stage were doesn't care about himself,
could hardly care less about proper disposal of garbage or depleting the ozone layer.

The value system of a society also dictates attitudes to such things as birth control, which in
turn affects population growth.

Legislation and the environment

The environment is also affected by the existence or non-existence of appropriate legislation,
the quality of existing laws and the extent to which they are enforced.

If there are no laws to protect the environment, degradation is likely to occur. For
example, the Indian River in Dominica, a Caribbean Island was affected by pollution and
erosion caused by tour boat operators and their passengers. This problem was attributed to the
absence of regulations governing tourism activities along the river (OECS, 1993).

If laws exist, but they are week or not enforced, degradation is also likely to occur. In
such a situation, the physical environment is more likely to be greatly affected by large
economic projects. Weak legislation and governmental emphasis on economic growth, without
regard for the environment, opens the flood-gates to developers which may result in severe
damage to the environment. Such damage is even more likely when the enforcement of laws
and the management of the economy depend on very rich, powerful and greedy people.

Following the Kyoto Conference in December 1997, an article appeared in the New Scientist,
January 1998 that further illustrates the difficulty in creating or enforcing laws to protect the
environment when the economic interests of the rich and powerful are at stake. Even when
global agreements area reached, loopholes can undermine their implementation.


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Conversely, if laws were effective and enforced, protection of the environment is likely to
result. For example, the St. Kitts Turtle Ordinance, which was established in 1948 to regulate
the harvest of sea turtles, was effective only in those communities which revealed the
identities of fishermen who were found catching turtles illegally. (Caribbean conservation
News, Issue 1, 1995, p.14)

Global economics and the environment

In the beginning of my assignment I have discussed the main sociological theories. I also
discussed a little about the nature of power, human conflict over resources and global
capitalism. I am going to discuss these areas again in relation to the environment.

Capitalism

Capitalism is no longer controlled by individuals or even governments, but by global stock and
bond markets, and the main concern of those markets is to increase profits. As a result, they
focus only on the economic value of goods and services. Moreover, because of the rapidity
with which information is transmitted by the new electronic communications, markets react to
changes in global conditions with amazing speed. For example, there were a couple of
occurrences which illustrate the nature of the stock and bond markets:

1. The American Wall Street stock exchange experienced its largest single one day loss
over because of two developments. The first was a major crisis in the Hong Kong stock
market. The second was a statement by an American financial administrator about
interest rates;

2. The economies of Japan and South Korea were facing potential collapse because of a
banking crisis, when their real underlying economies were very strong. This threatened
financial systems globally.

The stock and bond markets have a purely financial view and exert far reaching influence.
These two characteristics combine allowing them dominate global economic strategies.

However, strategies that only consider a narrow, financial focus have led to the environmental
degradation we face today. The stress is on the economic value of goods and services rather
than on the environmental damage which is caused in our efforts to produce those goods and
services.

Third word debt

Another important fact about global economic system is that it causes a great imbalance in the
distribution of wealth and has led to what is known as third world debt. Many developing
countries are poor and become indebted to rich countries in an effort to improve their
economies. In most cases, poor countries have found themselves in a cycle of indebtedness.
Because their economies are weak, they must continue to borrow money to keep them
running. However, they can only obtain new loans if they continue to pay off their existing
loans. When caught in this situation, what do poor countries do? They overexploit their natural
resources to meet their debt repayments. For example, in the late 1980s, Burma used over half
its export earnings to pay off its debts. Its second largest export was hardwood. Thus, its trees
were cut down to pay off its debts. In fact, throughout the world, one million acres of tropical
forest are cut down every week. As a result, by the late 1980s, Latin America had lost 37% of
its original tropical forests, Asia 42% and Africa 52%.

Imbalance of wealth within countries

Imbalance in the distribution of wealth is also evident within countries. This, too, contributes
to environmental degradation. In countries were the wealth generated does not benefit a large
proportion of the population, poor people may be forced to plunder their environment to
survive.

What concerns the communities?

At a world youth environmental meeting, Juventud (Youth) ´92, held in Costa Rica (in which I
participated), young people from all over the world discussed their concerns about the
environment. The issues raised at that meeting included:

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Poverty and environment

External debt

Population growth

Natural resources degradation.

Poverty and the environment

The World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) observed that our world has
more hungry people today than ever before in human history. For example, in 1980, 340
million people in 87 countries lacked enough calories to prevent stunted growth and serious
health risks. Moreover, in 1984, differences in annual per capita income at the international
level ranged from $190 in low income countries (other than China and India) to 11,430 in
industrialized market economies.

In developing, the majority of people have very low standards of living. This is often
manifested in the form of low incomes, inadequate housing, poor health, limited or no
education, high infant mortality, low life and work expectancy, and a general sense of
hopelessness and despair.

In India, for example, about 30% of the population fall bellow the generally accepted poverty
line. (The poverty line is the level of income necessities of life). This level of poverty is
manifested in the state of the nation's health ­ for example malnutrition remains a serious
problem. It has been estimated that about 40% of the population below the poverty line are
landless, agricultural labors, urban slum dwellers and remote tribal communities.

Globally, the increase in poverty has come about because of the unequal distribution of land
and other assets, rapid increase in population and low living standards, among other things.

Poverty as an environmental pollutant

Poverty lessens people's capacity to use natural resources rationally. Therefore, poverty
intensifies the pressure on environment. Poor people, who are unable to meet their needs, are
forced to exploit natural resources for income, or for their own use. In countries with large
populations of poor people, this can be devastating to the environment. For example forests
area exploited for food and fuel, pastures for fodder, and ponds and rivers for water. Poverty is
therefore a stumbling block to sustainable development. Most leaders of developed countries
agree that developing countries need assistance in an effort to lessen the impact of poverty on
environment, however, the exploitation of poor countries continues.

In India, because of poverty and population pressure, only 35% of urban households and 18%
of rural households have access to tap water. This means that, all other rural residents are
forced to overuse the water resources, which include wells, rivers and ponds. This practice has
resulted in water contamination.

In addition, urban populations have reverted to the growing use of rivers in an effort to dispose
of untreated sewage and industrial effluent. Consequently, there has been an increase in water
borne diseases as well as overall health risks.

The rural poor also gather biofuel (wood, crop residue and animal dung) from the local
environment and put themselves a risk of diseases associated with using such fuel for cooking
activities. In this case, women and children are at the high risk.

What can young people do?

1. In the spirit of the current GATT agreement on the terms of trade, lobby international
and government institutions to encourage economic growth that will, in turn, provide
employment in your country. Growth can be attained if industrialized countries reduce
trade barriers against goods from developing countries. The reduction of tariffs on
agricultural produce would be especially beneficial;


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2. Your national youth division, with support from your national government, can create
special financial initiatives that will provide seed money and training for youth to
become self-employed so that they can generate their own income.

The bottom line is that the poor in societies have become both the agents and victims of
environmental degradation, although not the cause. The cause seems to lie with international
trade agreements, the free market approach to development and external debt.

External debt

At Juventud ´92, young people expressed their fears and concerns about:

1. the causes and impact of external debt;

2. their dissatisfaction with the approach of developed countries to development. That
approach includes using financial institutions such as the World Bank and giving
priority to transnational companies and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which
have contributed, in part, to the depletion of the resources of developing countries.

At the Juventud meeting, it was observed that the heaviest burden in international economic
adjustments has been carried by the world's poorest people in Latin America, the Caribbean,
Africa and Asia.

Causes of external debt

The young people at Juventud ´92 felt that a combination of factors has contributed to the
rapidly growing debt that confronts many developing countries:

gaining political independence without corresponding economic independence;

local autocrats;

corruption;

the poor management of developing economies;

flawed development strategies;

the fact that poor counties are encouraged to imitate the free market development
model of industrialized nations.

How the free market model contributes to the debt problem

First, the free market model contributes to the debt problem because it forces poor countries to
focus on short-term, export-oriented production for the global market. This has caused
accelerated extraction of raw materials from developing countries. Ultimately, this leads to the
depletion of natural resources and, in many cases, a reduction of income earning capacity of
the affected countries.

Secondly, the focus on the export of raw materials has contributed to the gap between rich and
poor nations. Developing countries export their raw materials at relatively chap prices and
import costly manufactured goods from the industrialized nations. Thus, there is a continuing
and growing imbalance in income between developed and developing countries.

Effects of external debt on the environment

What are the main consequences of huge external debts?

1. The rapid exploitation and depletion of natural resources
This gives rise to chemical pollution, large scale mineral and forest exploitation,
the establishment of hydroelectric dams and, ultimately, environmental degradation.





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2. A level of exploitation which can cause irreversible environmental damage
This occurs because there is marginalization of large sectors of the population. In order to
ensure their short term survival, many of these people must over-exploit their natural
surroundings.

3. Disregard for conservation
Planners of development projects tend to ignore environmental planning and conservation.

4. Economic adjustments
These result in high unemployment rates among youth, budget cuts in the social sectors of
education and health care and, as a result, human suffering.

Loss of control to multinational corporations

In addition to increasing the debt burden and degrading the environment, present development
approaches have caused many poor countries to lose control of their natural resources to
multinational corporations.

Quite often, developing countries do not possess the financial and other resources needed to
exploit their own natural resources. As a result, multinational corporations, which do possess
the necessary finances, purchase the right to do so. They then become owners of a large
percentage of the forest and other resources in developing countries. In many cases, the
accelerated extraction of natural resources, which the free market model demands, has led to
increase ownership of developing countries by foreign multinational companies.

In the pursuit of sustainable development, developing countries must find alternative
development models.

What can young people do?

1. lobby for debt forgiveness;

2. Begin a research and discuss among themselves the possibility of creating alternative
models of development which take into consideration the cultural, social, economic
and political values and nurtures the environment while delivering economic benefits
to the people.

Population growth

One of the factors that add to the problem of poverty, external debt and their effect on the
environment is that poor countries tend to have large, rapidly growing populations of people
who are competing for limited resources. In this part of my assignment, I will take a brief look
at the mechanisms of population growth, and the history of human population growth in
developed and developing countries and how this affects the environment.

The factors that limit the growth of populations are referred to as environmental resistance.
The maximum number of an organism that an environment can support is called carrying
capacity.

Environmental resistance

If a population of animals in the wild has plenty of food, shelter, and fertile mates, its numbers
will increase rapidly until overcrowding causes competition for food and space. An
overcrowded population is more susceptible to a reduction in fertility and attacks by predators,
as well as disease and parasites. These factors which limit population growth are referred to as
environmental resistance.

Human populations are different from wild populations in that humans have learnt to protect
themselves from predators, diseases, bad weather, and other factors that tend to limit the
growth of wild populations.

Carrying capacity

As environmental resistance builds up, growth rate slows down because birth rate decreases
and death rate increases. Animals may also migrate to other areas. As the population reaches

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the maximum number that the environment can support, it is said to have reached its carrying
capacity for that species.

Human population trends

Until the late eighteenth century the world's human population grew slowly because the death
and birth rates were almost equal. The child mortality rate was high and adult life expectancy
short because of disease and poor nutrition.

From the beginning of the nineteenth the population began to grow faster mainly due to
improved agricultural methods which led to better food supplies. In many places, houses were
built with piped, fresh water, and efficient sewage disposal. Advances in medicine greatly
reduced death from diseases such as diphtheria and cholera. When conditions became
crowded, there were still countries with ample space to which they could migrate.

From about 1940s, different trends started to evolve in developed and developing countries.

Trends in developed countries

In developed countries, such as Britain, the US and most European countries, population
growth is slowing down. With greater mechanization in agriculture and industry, fewer people
are needed to produce food and other goods, and large families are no longer needed to ensure
survival. The average family has two children.

In some countries, due to the use of birth control, the population is almost stable, or may even
be declining. People are living longer and having fewer children, with the result that there are
fewer young people and more old people.


Trends in developing countries

In developing countries such as those in Africa and Asia, the death rate has dramatically
declined. This is due to better health care and access to medicine for diseases such as malaria
and yellow fever. However, these countries still have a very high birth rate. This is largely due
to the cultural need to have children to guarantee survival as an older adult.

Approximately 80% of the world's population lives in poorer, developing countries. The
growth rate in these countries is much faster than in developed countries. It is estimated that it
will double in the next few years. This will put an immense strain on countries that are already
finding it difficult to support their people.

The only long-term answer is population control, but family planning programs have been
relatively ineffective without improved education.

Exponential growth

Populations have capacity to grow exponentially. That is, the population grows by geometric
progression, for example 1:3:9:27:81. The number added to a growing population is a function
of the quantity already there.

The table that I am presenting below a simple illustration of what the world faces today. The
human population growth rate has been exponential, taking less and less time to double. At
present the population will double every thirty-five years and is estimated to be over 6,000
million by the year 2,000. This table illustrates the exponential growth of human population.

Year
Global Population (millions)
Approximate doubling rate
6,000 BC
6-10
Every 1,700 years
1,000 BC
70

Birth of Christ
150
Every 1,000 years
1,600 AD
500

1,800 AD
900
Every 100 years
1,900 AD
1600

1,970 AD
3600
Every 35 years
2,000 AD
6000


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Consumerism

Over-exploitation of resources no only occurs to satisfy the basis needs of people in countries
with large populations, but also too satisfy the consumerism of the elite in richer countries.

It estimated that 80% of the world's resources are consumed by 20% of the world's
population. In fact, free market development models and multinational companies promote
consumerism by the wealthy, with little concern for the rest of humanity. They contribute
significantly to environmental degradation, thereby jeopardizing the future for generations to
come.

Through intelligent management, human beings can live simple and balance lives and give
back to the ecosystem as much as they take from it. Subsistence farming communities have
done this for centuries.

A minority of people in the upper-income countries enjoys a high standard of living and
consumes a great amount of available energy, food, water, mineral and other resources. One of
the recommendations for dealing with this problem is for people to lessen their consumption
patterns, change their style of living and learn to do more with less.

Over exploitation of environmental resources can come about because of, among other things,
overpopulation or the desire to maintain unsustainable life-styles. People planning
development activities need to be very sensitive to issues related to carrying capacity, and
global, economic inequalities.

National resource degradation

One of the most devastating forms of natural resource degradation is deforestation. Combined
with air and water pollution caused by industrial waste, deforestation compounds the problem
of ozone depletion and global warming. It results in erosion, the loss of topsoil so necessary to
agriculture, and has many other environmental harmful effects.

It is, however, an issue that young people can become involved with directly, and it can be
rewarding because every tree that is planted is a positive action.


Deforestation

15% of the earth's land surface was originally covered in tropical rainforests, but at present
less than half of it is left. The depletion of these forests is due to widespread destruction which
has been caused by commercial logging, among other things. The best estimates based on a
survey by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of United Nations suggested that
some 11.4 million hectares of tropical forests are being felled each year.

Youth from various regions of the world have expressed their growing concerns about the
devastating effects of deforestation.

These include:

1. loss of natural homes/habitats;

2. loss of forest species and biodiversity;

3. loss of soil;

4. a direct loss of livelihoods. This situation mainly affects the vulnerable (women, youth
and children) in developing countries. Research has shown that the poor in developing
countries often supplement their income with locally available natural resources. Thus,
a depletion of tropical forest resources may ultimately threaten the continued survival
of poor families.

Main causes of deforestation

The main causes of deforestation are:


16
 


commercial logging;

farming to survive;

cattle ranching.

Commercial logging

It is thought that the timber industry is directly responsible for approximately 40% of the
tropical rainforest destruction.

The worst affected areas are in West Africa and South East Asia. However, the industry is
now making rapid inroads into the forests of Central Africa and Amazonia. Logging
companies, such as those in Amazon region, build access roads into pristine rainforests to
extract timber.

Forests of the Pacific are also affected. In fact, has been reported that, because of commercial
logging operations, most countries of the Pacific region are experiencing great losses in their
indigenous culture which depends on their relationship with the forests.

Farming to survive

Millions of poor people have basically no alternative but to destroy tropical rainforests in
order to survive. Once the land is cleared, poor families will settle in and begin to farm
according to the traditional practice of slash and burn agriculture. In slash and burn
agriculture, the forests are cut and burnt, and then crops are planted. However, the burning
process causes the soil to become infertile within two to three years. Thus, at the end of that
period, the farmers abandon the lands and clear another patch of forest in an effort to keep
producing food for their families.

Sometimes farmers are forced away from their homes by wealthy landowners, large
development projects, population pressures or poverty. Eyre (1989) recorded in The
Caribbean Environment: Trends Towards Degradation and Strategies for their Reversal that
the demand for agricultural land has been so great that the steepest of mountainside plots have
been titled. This has resulted in complete removal of virgin forest.

Cattle farming

A beef cattle farming is one of the main causes of deforestation, especially the rainforests in
Central America and Amazonia. For example, in Amazonia, it has been estimated that
approximately US$8 million worth of timber has been destroyed to create pastures for beef
cattle.

The vast herds that are grazed are not used to feed the local populations. Instead, they are
regarded to provide cheap meet exports which are mainly consumed in affluent countries.
Thus, this aspect of deforestation is largely linked to consumerism.

Protecting the world's forest

Protecting the world's tropical forests is critical since, as indicated by UNEP, the forests
fulfill several vital functions. Here are a few of those functions:

1. Forests provide rural populations with many of their subsistence needs, including fuel
wood, charcoal, building materials, fodder, fruit, nuts, honey medicines and dynes;

2. Forests are critically important for topsoil and water conservation. Specially, they
prevent the soil from being washed away by the agents of erosion, protect the
watersheds, provide shade and shelter from winds, prevent floods and landslides and
retain water. Forests also increase the fertility of soil.

3. Forests harbor vast, but so far little known and documented, genetic storehouses. For
example, according to the WWF Winter issue of 1994/1995, in a 2,500 acre patch of
tropical forest, you could find 1,500 species of flowering plants including 750 kinds of
trees. These include strains for crops, medicines and industrial chemicals;

17
 


4. Forests fix carbon dioxide. In other words, the trees in forests use and store carbon
dioxide (CO2), one of the greenhouse gases, thereby stabilizing the global climate.
They also produce oxygen.

5. Forests are an important source of industrial products including poles, plywood,
veneers, paper and boards, gums, resins and soils.

The causes of the upland migration

I am now going to discuss the causes of upland migration:

A downturn in the economic environment;

Limited access to land;

Widespread poverty;

Government resettlement programs;

Timber policies:

A downturn in the economic environment

In the 1980s, the Philippines experienced a downturn in the economic environment, as did
many countries. During the 1970s, the predominant flow of immigrants was towards the cities.
Manila was the most popular destination because of the city's employment opportunities and
the government's aggressive program against illegal forest occupants in 1976.

However, during the 1980s, the migration pattern changed. Employment opportunities in
Manila reduced sharply and, as a result, migration to the upland increased. What caused the
shift in the pattern of migration?

The Philippine government experienced an economic crisis which was triggered off by:

Its domestic economic policy;

Excessive bank landing;

Changes in the international market which led to the collapse of the sugar industry in
the Western Visaya islands.

Limited access to land

The arable lowlands were fully cultivated by the mid-1970s and growing numbers of people
had their access to agricultural land limited. One of the reasons for this problem was the
inequitable distribution of land. In 1980, only 3,4% of the farms occupied 26% of agricultural
land, often the country's most productive.

The rapid population growth and the land distribution combined to bring about a large increase
in the number of landless farm workers in the agricultural labor force grew from 40 to 56%.
Over 60% of landless workers were employed on sugar and coconut farms at less than
subsistence wages.


Widespread poverty

In the Philippines, particularly in the rural areas, there exists widespread poverty. In 1985,
about 28% of the population had incomes below the subsistence level; about two thirds of
those people lived in rural areas.

Government's resettlement programs

To deal in part, with the population growth and migration problem, the Philippines
government established resettlement schemes. These efforts brought about 200,000 families
into upland areas in the 1960s and 1970s. However, road building and other support programs

18
 


attracted many more resettlement migrants to the upland areas. Thus, eventually 1.3 million
migrants occupied forest land that had become accessible trough the resettlement programs.

Timber policies

The government's timber policies contributed to the upland migration.

Timber licenses were awarded for a period of 25 years. This was well short of the time needed
for forests to regenerate. Thus, timber operators logged forests and then left to find new areas
for their logging operations. The result was the establishment of a network of roads and logged
land.

Timber activities contributed to upland migration because migrants provided a source of cheap
labor for logging activities. Moreover, the logged land was much easier to clear for cultivation
and was farmed by migrants. Because of these factors, by 195, 62% of the upland population
resided in timber concession areas.

The environmental impact of the upland migration

As a result of the upland migration:

1. forest cover declined from 50% of the national territory in 1970 to less than 21% in
1987;
2. cultivated uplands increased significantly;
3. soil erosion was estimated at about 122 to 210 tons per hectare annually for newly
established pasture, compared with two tons per hectare for land under forest cover;
4. many upland sites had a population density of 300 per square kilometer in the 1980s.
These sites also suffered a high rate of deforestation and soil loss due, in part, to
greater demand for fuel wood.

What can communities do to protect forests?

1. Support local organizations concerned with protecting forests and planting trees;

2. Plant a tree whenever an opportunity arises;

3. Lobby their government and local authorities to protect the forests in their countries;

4. Become involved in the various awareness campaigns and spread the word about the
need to protect the earth's forests.


References and bibliography:

Adds, J et al (1997), The Organism and Environment. Thomas Nelson.
Melbourne, Australia.

Asimov, Dr I. (1978), Asimov's guide to Science 2. Penguin books Ltd.
England.

B.S. Beckett (1986), Biology ­ A modern introduction, GCSE edition.
Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Caribbean Conservation Association, Caribbean Conservation News,
Issue # 1, 1955, Barbados.

Chinnery, L. et al (1992), CXC Biology. Cambridge University Press,
London.

Commonwealth Secretariat, Commonwealth Currents, June/July 1992,
London.

Marval, Journeys, Issue 5, April/May 1994, Barbados.

Meadows, D.H. et al (1992), Beyond the Limits. Earthscan, London.

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Herbert Altrichter, Peter Posch and Bridget Somekh (1993), Teachers Investigate Their
Work: an introduction to the methods of action research.
Rutledge, London.

Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (1993), Environmental and Coastal
Resources Project (Encore), 1993 Annual Report.

Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (1993), Environmental and Coastal
Resources Project (Encore), 1992 Annual Report.

Morrow, Rosemary (1993), Earth's User's Guide to Permaculture, Kangaroo Press, Pty
Ltd, Australia.

Commonwealth Secretariat; Commonwealth Currents, October/November 2002,
London.

Global Warning ­ Europe Turns the Heat on Clinton in The Times, October, 1997.

World resources Institute (1994), World Resources: A Guide to the Global
Environment, Oxford University Press.

Todaro, Michael P. (1989), Economic Development in the Third World, 4th Edition.
London, New York.




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ATLANTIC INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY AIU

A New Age for Distance Learning


_______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Jorge Arrone, Student ID #. UD335BMN8078; Assignment 4 ­Phase II (Courses from my CURRICULUM PROPOSAL) ­
Working With People in Their Communities
 

 
 
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