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Ecological challenges: how to move from declarations to actions

contaminacionambiental.jpgThese years are decisive: the manner in which the main ecological problems (global warming, deforestation, erosion, soil desertification, the extinction of animal and plant species and the dearth of fresh water) are resolved (or not) will determine the quality of life of future generations. There are countries that have already rolled up their sleeves and gotten to work, but others (such as the United States, Australia and Spain) continue to practice the ostrich strategy; in other words, they hide behind mere rhetoric.

(From Barcelona) REGARDING ECOLOGICAL MATTERS, governments have gone through several stages. Only a few years ago, many of them denied that there were ecological problems on a global scale. Afterwards, they were forced to admit that something was going wrong, but they unfortunately adopted the ostrich’s tactic, diverting the public’s attention to other places.

“Lately there has been a tendency to equate environmental problems with global warming; it is not the only problem” This is no longer possible. The ostrich has gotten up and is facing reality, but while he is saying a lot, he is not doing much acting. The thing is, ecological matters are (for the moment) much more conducive to rhetoric than actual significant decision making.

It is worth pointing out four aspects that can help us move from declarations to action: the main ecological problems; variables and indices of these measurements; certain mistakes from the apparent green discourse given by some businesses and organizations; and taking the necessary routes that could possibly lead to a solution.

THE DIMENSIONS OF THE PROBLEM

Lately there has been a tendency to equate environmental problems with global warming (an increase in the greenhouse effect related to human emissions). However, although this is one of the main manifestations of the problem, it is not the only one (and perhaps not the gravest one).

“The environmental well-being of a country is not simply measured in terms of its level of greenhouse gas emissions” Along with this we must include deforestation, erosion, soil desertification, the large-scale extinction of animal and plant species (loss of biodiversity), the growing dearth of freshwater, the spike in the demand for energy and consumption associated with the Western world and developing countries, as well as the foreseeable increase in the global population (from 6.6 billion to some 9 billion predicted by the middle of this century).

The ecological problem’s dimensions are often very interrelated, but we must set them apart in order to understand them better and be able to devise a more efficient method of combating them.

THE VARIABLES AND THE MEASUREMENT INDICES

“Sometimes, erroneous (and nearly demagogic) arguments are uncovered in the search for new products to achieve a good position in the market. This is the case, for example, with the green cars” The environmental well-being of a country is not simply measured in terms of its level of greenhouse gas emissions. Indices that measure the principle variables at play are necessary.

A recent index that integrates up to 21 different indicators is the Environmental Sustainability Index [1] (ESI) established by Yale and Columbia researchers in 2005. It allows for the establishment of a more informative ranking of countries and regions than one that only measures partial aspects.

According to this index, the countries rated highest that year were the Nordic ones and Uruguay; the ones with the worst ratings were some former Soviet republics, Iraq, Taiwan and North Korea. As for Spain, it placed 76th out of 146 countries, behind 17 African and 21 European countries!

ERRORS

Sometimes, erroneous (and nearly demagogic) arguments are uncovered in the search for new products to achieve a good position in the market. This is the case, for example, with the green cars or certain supposedly less contaminating biofuels.

Although these products effectively contaminate less than the traditional ones, the energetic and environmental process should be examined as a whole, and not just the final product. This means that we should take into account the energy employed and the ecological costs of manufacturing the new cars or producing biofuels.

They involve processes that aside from energy necessitate large quantities of water, materials, etc, and generate waste. The final outcome is sometimes counterproductive, especially when the market gives incentives for the consumption of products following short-term use of the previous ones.

THREE ROUTES THAT COULD LEAD TO A SOLUTION

In general, the three ecological R’s are usually mentioned as routes that could lead to a solution: reduce, reuse and recycle. “In general, the three ecological R’s are usually mentioned as routes that could lead to a solution: reduce, reuse and recycle” The general objective is to reach an energetic sustainability compatible with competitiveness. It is not easy, but supporting this sustainability is absolutely necessary. As for the first two routes, the players that can help bring about change are principally the governments and the businesses.

The objective of reducing is to achieve a much more satisfactory energetic balance: that much less energy and fewer materials be utilized in the manufacturing of products, and that much less waste be generated by the process of production. In turn, reuse means to create and use products with a greater half-life. All of this is technically possible today. Buying fewer products, and ones of greater quality, is a solution that could be used in the future.

“Being a progressive government today involves implementing, among other things, practical ecological measures that are not just for show”Lastly, recycling is where we citizens can have the greatest influence, and it makes the most sense in the cases of non-renewable materials (those derived from oil such as plastics, fertilizers, paints, etc). But recycling is not the route that has the best impact on the environment, given that the task of sorting, retrieving and transforming the used materials into other new ones involves a relatively high consumption of energy. But not doing it is worse, especially because of the greater waste that is generated when it is not done (aside from the importance of progressively instilling a greater ecological awareness in the citizenry).

MORE THAN JUST FOR SHOW

The next decades are decisive. How the main ecological problems are resolved (or not) will determine the quality of life of the future generations.

There are countries that have already rolled up their sleeves and gotten to work, but others (such as the United States, Australia and Spain) continue to practice the ostrich strategy; in other words, they hide behind mere rhetoric.

It is appropriate to remember that being a progressive government today involves implementing, among other things, practical ecological measures that are not just for show.