Why Environmental Conservation Matters

The Congo Rain Forest credits :Hear Congo

By Pauline Kiamba

The other day I overheard a group of some elderly people talk about how in recent years seasons had changed and how this was attributable to global warming and climate change. I was impressed.

The truth is that concern for the environment should be at the core of our conversations, our plans, our lives. After all, we experience the environment, in all its dimensions (biophysical, social, political and economic), every moment of our lives.

Environmental problems have always existed. However, current awareness of the problems has increased due to the fact that environmental issues have begun to take on crisis proportions.

Due to the sophisticated social, political and economic systems of modern societies, environmental problems are complex and interlinked. The environmental crisis can be linked to the modern way of living. Modernization is a development process that has changed the way people live, bringing with it a cash economy and the rise of industries, sophisticated technologies and scientific advances. This has caused man to develop an attitude of invincibility and total control over nature.

Due to technological and scientific innovations, man is now more able to manipulate Earth to extract even more resources from it than in previous times. Humans are considered the only animals not bound by their environment. They are able to change it. Man’s ability to manipulate nature has never been clearer than it is in the light of what Ken Conca, in his book “Governing Water: Contentious Transnational Politics and Institutional Building” refers to as “pushing rivers around.” He explains that man has been able to manipulate rivers and water sources through damming, diverting and draining them.

Through technology, man has been able to construct large dams for various purposes, ultimately disturbing different ecosystems and compromising their ability to provide essential ecosystem services. Through river diversion, it has become possible to supply water to areas that had no prior access to it, but in the course of doing that, downstream communities have been denied the right to water.

Wetlands, the so-called “nature’s kidneys” have been drained to create space for settlements, farmland and industries. This has resulted in lower water table and a declining quality of the water replenishing ground natural reservoirs.

Human demand for natural resources has increased tremendously as the global population expands. Human population dynamics are a driving force in environmental pressures. The global population has more than doubled since 1950, rising to 7 billion in 2011 and is projected to exceed 9 billion by 2050.

The current model of human development, based on increased consumption and poor management of natural resources is unsustainable. Many countries and populations already face a number of risks from biodiversity loss, degraded ecosystems and climate change. The pressures include scarcity of food, water and energy, increased vulnerability to natural disasters, health risks, population movements and conflicts resulting from competition for resources.

Those challenges are disproportionately faced by the most vulnerable communities, even though they bear the least responsibility for the environmental changes.

Unsustainable production and consumption patterns are creating ecological impacts that compromise the planet’s capacity to sustain life for future generations. Man’s thirst for material wealth at the expense of the environment seems unquenchable.

In 1972, the Club of Rome, a global think tank, published a report entitled “Limits to Growth” in which the experts pointed out that growth could not continue indefinitely because of the limited availability of natural resources.

And in the documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth” about former United States Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to educate citizens about global warming, he posits that there is a general misconception that people have to choose between Earth and the economy. Mankind has no choice, Gore asserts. Without the planet there will be no resources for economic development.

There are many ways of tackling the environmental crisis. They include changing attitudes and behavior, adjusting consumption patterns, and formulating development policies that protect human health and that of the environment.

Whatever befalls Earth will affect its inhabitants. It is time that man considered himself not as a master of nature, but as its steward.

Our moral conscience should guide us to do what is right -- regardless of what others might say or what we fear might be done to us for taking action or speaking out. We can draw inspiration from the late Wangari Maathai, conservationist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She overcame great odds -- including physical assaults -- in her tenacious and successful campaign to raise public awareness on the need for environmental conservation, especially the preservation of forests.


Pauline Kiamba is a water resources management professional with interests in governance, urban and regional studies. She is currently involved in a governance and consumer engagement initiative of Kenya’s Water Services Regulatory Board.

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