In a report posted at the official website of CNN – posted last February, 02, 2007 – the world’s leading climate scientists have expressed in the gravest of terms the problem with global climate change. Their report can be summarized in the following phrase: global warming is very likely man-made. The more technical wording could not hide the urgency of their plea for immediate action as seen below:
The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice-mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing […] warming and rise in sea-level would continue for centuries because the process has already started… (see CNN. com). If global climate change is not enough of a problem there is also another environmental problem that is more immediate and can be felt locally and is much closer to home.
This is the degradation and destruction of ecosystems brought about by excessive exploitation of natural resources. This is mostly brought about by businesses that do not consider sustainable practices that would ensure a long-lasting relationship between commerce and the environment. This is also brought about by man’s obsession with progress and having things that are novel, never been tried before. There are other causes for this; but in general the reason is the same with that of global warming – the sheer impact of human activity on the earth.
This study aims to present a basic understanding of two major environmental issues faced by humans living in the 21st century. The first one is global climate change and the second deals with the destruction of the earth’s ecosystem and the necessary step that must be done which is aptly called: ecosystem restoration. After presenting the basic premise for both issues. What follows would be a simplified presentation of common problem solving approaches to said environmental problems.
At the end a decision will be made as to what environmental problem can be best solved by either regulatory, economic incentives, or human rights approaches. Global Climate Change The problem associated with global climate change is linked to aberrations in the earth’s temperature. And because of this James Griffin remarked that global climate change is the “mother of all problems”. Griffin (2003) expounds this by saying that there are two reasons for this: 1. An apocalyptic rhetoric is common when discussing this issue.
For instance there is a common notion that when these harmful practices continues unabated it will trigger end of the world scenarios. 2. Climate change is the “mother of all problems” due to its complexity. To those who are well-informed regarding the topic and those whose mindset forces them to imagine the worst case scenario there is nothing more as threatening as the issue of global climate change. Everybody is interconnected and one dramatic change on one side of the ocean can cause catastrophic after effects on the other side.
The scope is also staggering imagine changes occurring in continents and oceans. Imagine the damage done on the fauna and fauna of the affected regions and how it would spill out into habitable communities where human lives are at stake. This is indeed a serious threat that must be taken cared of before doomsayers will be proven right. Regarding complexity, thinkers like Griffin are correct in the assessment that an accurate assessment would be almost impossible and therefor it is difficult to ascertain the exact problem.
It is this complex nature that stymies any serious attempt to solve it. It is also this complexity that makes it difficult for concerned groups to create any sustainable drive that can hopefully snowball into something significant and not just something that is a flash in the pan – starts with earnestness and then sputters in the long run. If there are still those who are in doubt as to the mind-boggling scope and complexity of the global climate change phenomenon, then the following ought to convince them. Anyone who has attempted to understand the carbon cycle, the climatological interactions of CO2 in the atmosphere, technological options to abate carbon emissions, or how a market based trading system of CO2 permits might work usually comes away frustrated” (Griffin, 2003). And if the above is not yet enough, Griffin adds, “Climate change brings together the discipline of botany, climatology, biology, atmospheric and oceanic chemistry, glaciology, systems modeling, cloud physics, statistics, economics, and political science” (2003).
This is just the beginning when it comes to the issue of global climate change and one can already make the conclusion that awareness and informed understanding regarding the issue is already a problematic starting point. Ecosystem Restoration With regards to the issue of restoring the ecosystem, it is not as difficult to understand as global climate changes. Yet, the challenge lies in properly defining it. Others have questioned its basic premise and asked up to what point in time is the reference point for restoration. This simply means does one strive to restore the environment before the Native Americans came to America?
The simple answer of course is no – since it would be absurd to aim that high. Still one needs some kind of a standard and the following ideas taken from Lawrence Earley’s work on American forest ecosystems could be the answer. Earley quoted an ecologist named Cecil Frost who gave a profound yet sensible answer and he said, “Our climate has been relatively stable for about 8,000 years […] and most contemporary plant communities have been in place for 6,000 years. Given that these natural communities existed for all of human recorded history, it seems reasonable that these are the communities that we would want to perpetuate” (2004).
It is difficult not to appreciate the logic with which Frost created a standard for ecosystem restoration. No one could argue that for a very long time, man and the environment was able to co-exist. It is therefore easy to conclude that flora and fauna found in the environment does not go extinct all by themselves and that it is man’s activities that curtail their existence. The only problem with Frost’s argument is that the layperson could scarcely understand the almost poetic way he delivered an environmental strategy guide. In this regard, Joan Walker, a Forest Service researcher gave a more down to earth explanation.
She was able to present, “…landscapes between highly modified (e. g. parking lot) and the very natural” (as cited in Earley, year). Walker’s continuum is very helpful because of two reasons (see Earley, 2004): 1. She was able to show that restoration is any action that moved a site closer to the natural end of the continuum. 2. The model Walker presented avoids the problem of precisely defining natural or specifying a point in time as the restoration point. Solutions Now that both global climate change and ecosystem restoration were clearly defined it is now time to look at some generic solutions that has been tried.
There have been many solutions in the past and in the present to solve the problem of Global Climate Change and a deteriorating environment. Most of the solutions can be classified into three major groups. The first one is of course laws or regulations and even industry policies set by the government to curb the wanton destruction of nature. There is still much to be desired with regards to laws and policies. It is helping but looking at the rate of destruction of the ozone layer, those who are responsible must become more aggressive in desiring to see change. The second group falls into the category of economic incentives.
This simply means that since businesses are destroying the environment to earn a profit then why not use this same motivation to save the earth. The third one appeals to human rights and the responsibility of every man and woman to help others in need. Inadequacies With regards to both approaches Eileen Claussen made the following remarks: Many promising and proven strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions […] However, too little attention has been given to ‘what works’ in mitigating climate change, leaving the public and many politicians with the idea that we don’t have the slightest idea how to solve the problem (2001).
Now it is time to use the three approaches and see how these would match-up with global climate change and ecosystem restoration. Addressing Global Climate Change Using the regulatory approach – creation of laws and policies – in solving global climate change is almost impossible. One only has to remember the complexity of this issue as discussed a while ago. But there is another reason why it would be impossible to create a comprehensive ruling that would address this problem. Ray Oglesby, the Interim Director for Global Environment Program of Cornell University explained why:
Uncertainty in all long-range climate predictions is frequently cited as a reason for doing little or nothing in the way of adaptation and control […] Add to this the sheer complexity of climate prediction mechanisms and the many determinants of climate still poorly understood… (as cited in Claussen, 2001) With regards to using the economic incentive approach, one only has to remember that this problem has a global scope and therefore involves all economies of the world. Now, how can one create an incentive program for everybody?
In simpler terms leaders of US manufacturing companies will not implement expensive procedures in favor of the environment when its CEOs knew fully well that Chinese firms halfway around the world would never submit to such incentive program. With regards to using the human rights approach it would be difficult for people from one locality feel for someone they do not know – people who are of different ethnic background or culture. Addressing Ecosystem Restoration Using the regulatory approach, economic incentive and human rights could still be problematic considering that its scope is much smaller than that of global climate change.
The reason for possible resistance can easily be understood when one has understanding of how humans behave. This is seen in an observation made by Mangun and Henning who wrote: In many subcultures the value of progress in any form is unquestioned. This includes a short-range orientation […] concerned with quantity-economic benefits, newness, and expediency and not with long-range quality or environmental considerations (year). Still, compared with global climate change, ecosystem restoration is something that could be readily observed and measured.
Moreover, restoring ecosystems is a local event and the scope is much smaller. Conclusions With regards to two environmental issues – global climate change and ecosystem restoration – there can be three major solutions that could be used to address said problems. These approaches are as follows: a) regulatory; b) economic; and c) human rights. Applying these approaches to the two major environmental issues the proponent was able to conclude that all three can be easily applicable to ecosystem restoration rather than to global climate change.
A survey was made on the following approaches and it was found out that each approach is strongly limited by scope and the agencies that are supposed to enforce them or regulate them. For example, when it comes to the regulatory approach, who will be able to formulate and enforce laws that will be followed by all the nations of the world. When it comes to economic incentives, again it is almost impossible to create one that suits all businesses in the world.
When it comes to implementing such a scheme it was also found to be impossible and impractical to convince one manufacturing company to adhere to the principles of saving the environment when halfway around the world a competitor can easily break the rules and make more money doing so. With regards to human rights issues and applying it to a global scale, it would be difficult for one group of people to feel any empathy for those living halfway around the world – people having an entirely different set of beliefs or culture.
Now, taking all these three approaches and applying them to ecosystem restoration, the proponent can see practicality and feasibility. This is due to the fact that ecosystem restoration like those being done in the Everglades of Florida (see Mitch and Jorgensen, 2004) is of a more limited scope as compared to the global dimensions of global climate change. When it comes to the regulatory approach, local governments can enforce the law and punish those who break it. When it comes to economic incentives the firm operating in an ecosystem that will be restored can easily see the benefits of a more sustainable practice.
By helping the environment, it ensures the continuos profitability of the firm. This is impossible to do with businesses that could not see the direct relationship between their bottom line and something that happens in the Antarctic regions. Going to the human rights issues, it would be easier for local businesses and local people to understand the importance of caring for the environment because it results in a better life for their neighbors. It is almost impossible to make one person feel responsible for someone living halfway around the world.