Environmental Technology – Top 10

As the pace of the course picked up and my exams drew close the blog entries reduced and my attempts to share what I had learnt took a bit of a dip!  So now, emerging from exams, Christmas and too much turkey I set myself the task of summarising what I learnt in a top ten list of facts, thoughts and images… I fear none can do the huge topics they refer to justice, but hopefully they might get a few people thinking and I’ve included some links etc for anyone who is interested to know more…

1 – Limits to growth and boundaries? A key area of discussion cutting across ecology, economics and policy is whether the environment and the ecological services we receive are an endless resource which can sustain continued growth, or one where any loss is tragic and devastating – or more complicatedly a chaotic system with unpredictable boundaries and non-linear, unexpected affects.  It seems intuitively clear that there are limits, but what they are, which key ones we should be focusing on and what the effects will be if we pass these limits is far less clear – one interesting and widely taken up answer to this question is here:

rockstromFor those who’d like a bit more about Rockstrom and his ideas – see the very accessible lecture he gave at TED, well worth 15 minutes with a cup of tea…

2 – What creates change? – we have been quite successful in dealing with certain environmental issues such as factory emissions, acid rain and CFC damage on the ozone layer, but much less successful in dealing with climate change – there is a finely balanced cocktail of self-interest, clear cost benefit data, convincing science and perhaps most crucially viable alternatives creating market solutions which seems to drive and enable political consensus and major change… but where there is a lack of one or more of these elements, achieving this change is a huge challenge which seems beyond the leadership abilities of current institutions.

3 – The environment has huge economic value… and no economic value – there is general agreement that the environment has a considerable value – it provides raw materials, regulating services and the underlying provisions; water, climate etc on which all of our economic systems rest. At the same time, in the majority of situations market values for these services do not exist, and attempts to create values are riddled with difficulties.  Perhaps one of the most famous examples, Constanza et al, evaluated the annual value of ecosystems at approx. $33 trillion – approx. twice the annual GNP of the planet.  In strict economic terms this calculation and its assumptions have been highly questioned but at the same time it seems to give an order of magnitude scale which has some credence and a correlation with other studies suggesting we need two planets to support the lifestyle we are developing.  There is a danger in using these highly controversial and debated figures but perhaps a higher danger in using no value at all.

4 – Poverty, development and the environment The interdependence of poverty, development and the environment is a huge topic and I could point to endless reports and surveys making this link, notably the Millenium Ecosystems Assessment, the WWF Living Planet Report, Brundtland’s ‘Our Common Futures’ and many more… but I think a graphic representation is perhaps best – an aerial photograph showing the deforestation in Haiti set starkly against the lush protected forest of the Dominican Republic:

dominican5 – What to conserve and why – if the key to finding solutions is defining the problem, and a problem is the need to move from one unwanted situation to another preferred one – then what is the destination of environmental problem solving? Are we on a moral crusade to protect and conserve, are we just looking to protect the environment as a means to an end, a provider of ecosystem services and a supporter of human wellbeing. What is natural, what is wild, and what does mankind want or need…

Next 5 in the top 5 to follow in the next few days!


About domhall

I have spent the last 15 years juggling careers in education publishing, expedition leadership and safety training. It has involved a careful balancing act of dreams of expedition travel, a love of climbing, walking and the outdoors and the the realities of life - and the later has definitely come off worse. I've run an adventure travel and expedition training business and lived in the sometimes sunny Lake District. Having taken a year out to complete an MSc in Environmental Technology I am now working for The Conservation Volunteers, working on engaging communities in their local green spaces.
This entry was posted in The Environment. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s