Current environmental issues seem to change almost daily.
This is partly due to our attention span. We focus for such a short time that nothing sticks for too long. The veracity and drama of the news cycle is a classic symptom.
Except that none of these issues went away, they are still as acute as they ever were [with the possible exception of ozone]. But they did go out of mind.
Then there is the sheer volume of issues — 7 billion people are changing the world at such a rate that problems pop up everywhere. There are so many to choose from, it is hard to make a list of environmental issues let alone decide on major environmental issues.
Some issues will always be current — they simmer along like a good stew and never go away. Here are the most likely suspects…
These issues are relevant everywhere and will persist because their drivers are ever present...
World population growth | human population growing at 9,000 per hour
Affluence | the fundamental desire to improve one’s lot
Economic growth | the requirement keep exchanging of goods and services so as to create jobs and wealth to keep up with growing human numbers and that desire for a better life
Market inefficiency | waste, time lags and fiscal inequality that compromise the best use of resources
Chance | random things always happen
External forces | patterns in nature that we know about [and some that we don’t] that affect how resources and ecosystem services are renewed
Value judgement | each aspect of the environment has a value and each value is perceived differently depending on your point of view
Once we get past these likely suspects and their drivers it is human nature to focus and be most aware of issues that are
Therefore, current environmental issues are those that affect us here and now.
Not in my backyard.
On 18th October 2013 we had a current environmental issue in our backyard. The NSW bushfire crisis became very real as wildfire consumed the trees in the forest beyond our back fence and burned steadily toward our home. Fantastic work by firefighters saved our house and those in our street but nothing could prepare you for the immediacy of the threat.
A combination below average rainfall, drying winds and a heavy fuel load was always going to be a risk. The previous day the first fire front destroyed 193 houses just to the north of us.
We accepted the wildfire risk when we chose to live in a world heritage area by balancing it against the many benefits of the bush. But when the threat becomes real the instinct is to fight it and make it go away.
Who knows what we would think about heritage and control of fire if we had lost our home and all our possessions.
Nobody wants an environmental issue in their backyard — so when they do appear on your doorstep they automatically become current.
All the talk after the NSW bushfires has been about climate change, an issue that had previously lost its currency.
One of the IPCC predictions for climate change effects is that sea levels in many parts of the world will rise.
The impact of sea level rise can be modeled so that we know where along coasts and estuaries there will be increased flood risk from both higher tides [the trend effect] and from storm surges [the acute effect].
Local authorities that choose to heed these scientific predictions can grant planning permission for sites that are above these new flood limits.
But they will be under pressure to ignore them because the issue is in the future. Right now these sites are high and dry, even when ties are strong. And anyway, what’s insurance for?
The chance of a current environmental issues usually means that it isn’t one. The effect has to be felt now before we do anything about it.
What matters most is in the here and now.
They are the challenges we both know about and are being felt by someone.
This is why issues like biodiversity loss that erodes the ability of natural capital to renew itself and provide us with goods and services are not given the attention that they should be — precisely because they are hard to pin down in space and time.
If we are wise we will continue to pay attention to the things we can see and feel. Including those, like the wildfire, that pitch up in our backyard.
But we must also become more aware of the diffuse problems [those that occur everywhere and trend rather than spike] and be prepared to do something about them too.
Confused Confucius spurned the monastic life for the world of work, moral conundrums and mobile devices. His sayings, questions and incongruous idioms on the environment and modern life bring delight and bafflement in equal measure... check out more Confused Confucius sayings.
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