Going Beyond Statistics: We Need Real-Time Action Against Environmental Damage

Posted on January 1, 2011 in Environment

By Tong Niu:

As nations industrialize and expand, altering the natural structure of ecosystems, the environment is the most damaged bystander. This undeniable fact is certainly tragic but what is more tragic is that we lack an efficient method to alleviate this unintentional destruction. Current activist groups denounce things like deforestation and factory production of fossil fuels, but they rarely give consideration to the causes of these events. The focus is placed on stopping the destruction of natural resources when it should be placed on uncovering the cause for it. The slow progress we’ve made on the global warming and deforestation front is not because people are greedy or apathetic, but because our approach is all wrong.

Though population growth rates have begun to decrease, the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base predicts that by 2050, the world population will have exceeded 9 billion people. With an increase in population there arises an increase in demand of resources. More energy must be produced to heat homes, more paper to produce everyday products. It becomes necessary to cut down more trees, to produce more fossil fuels. And while everyone can agree that deforestation and global warming are threatening ecosystems around the world, no one has yet proposed a suitable, applicable alternative.

Currently, our planet has lost 80 percent of its trees to deforestation, according to the World Resources Institute. The West African region alone has been stripped of over 90 percent of its forests over the past century. But if you look underneath the typical statistics, you uncover something more shocking than the fast deforestation rate: agriculture is the most important cause of all this tree-cutting. Close to 50 percent of all deforestation is due to subsistence farming. In poorer countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, it’s necessary to clear the land in order for small farms to develop. These aren’t large corporations demolishing forests for profit; these are small family farms whose produce directly feed families.

Now let’s turn our attention to an even bigger threat: global warming. According to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 400,000 square miles of the Arctic sea ice have already melted, and by 2050, an estimated 15 to 37 percent of plant and animal species could be wiped out completely. The statistics are overwhelming, but if we analyze the causes of global warming, we can see that it goes beyond excessive energy use. Much of greenhouse gas production is caused by use of coal-fired power plants, and the leading producer of carbon dioxide emission from coal combustion is China. But in China, coal-fired power plants have been used for decades. Why? Because coal is the cheapest source of energy, cheaper than oil, gas, wind, and solar energy sources. With one of the largest populations in the world, it’s simply more economical to use coal, not to mention China has one of the largest coal reserves in the world.

When coming up with solutions to stop environmental damage, we need to look beyond statistics. It’s not a coincidence that developing and developed nations are the most environmentally unfriendly. If you have a growing population to feed, house, and clothe, environmental concerns might not be your most crucial concern. More prosperous nations must also consider these challenges when asking developing countries to become more environmentally aware. Recycling isn’t a viable solution when small family farms clear forests for subsistence farming, and solar power isn’t a feasible answer when its costs far outweigh its immediate benefits. To actively solve these environmental challenges, nations must understand each others’ positions and come to a workable solution together.

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