Top 10 continued!

Here’s numbers 5 to 10 of my top ten facts, thoughts and meanderings:

5 – 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…

6 – Economics Vs the rest The development of environmental thinking can be seen as three epochs (Mazmanian and Kraft).  The first saw the introduction of centrally led command and control measures such as the introduction of air pollution controls, Environmental Protection Agency etc brought in to deal with a ‘wild west’ of unregulated use of chemicals, pesticides and industrialisation.  As this command and control was increasingly seen as overbearing, expensive and restrictive we saw a move to the markets – a reliance on market incentives, privatisation and a balance between environmental and other factors. Finally we find ourselves in a third epoch, a complex blend of institutions and concepts with over-arching ideas such as sustainable development, as wide reaching and powerful as they can be confusing and wooly.  Creating the right blend of concepts, agreeing and developing understanding of what they mean and building political institutions capable of delivering them are perhaps the keys to successful environmental policy in future.

7 – Decoupling growth from damage Perhaps the most fundamental question facing environmental economists and all of us more generally is can we continue to grow but reduce the harmful effects we have on the planet.  The concept of the Kuznets curve is one theory to suggest we can – that we develop to the point that we have the technology, wealth and demand for more environmentally friendly industry, a move to more service based industries and less pollution – but can this be achieved, is there real evidence of it happening, or is it just the result of developing countries exporting their dirty business to other poorer parts of the world.


8 – How do we decide policy? Getting insight into how government policy is made has been one of the really interesting elements of the course – particularly looking at the badger cull but also other areas such as biodiversity offsetting as part of the planning process and the government’s response to ash die back, it has been fascinating to see how science, public opinion, the immediate demands of policy to make decisions and the acceptance of uncertainty of scientists combine. It has really got me thinking about effective interaction between science, economics, environmentalists, the general public and others across the multidisciplinary scale.  This is crucial if we are to make good, sensible decisions and policies – but this is far from being as easy as I may have naively thought – many stakeholders just aren’t sure what should be done, and for the others who think they do there is the difficulty of making, proving and arguing their cases in ways that others with a completely different background, social influence and even way of thinking will understand and accept.

9 – Is population really the problem? It seems a simple argument – there are just too many people… and if we have too many people – we cause too much damage to the environment.  Whilst this argument is not completely wrong – clearly population growth is part of the problem – it is far from the whole picture.  For starters, the Limits to Growth style argument that we are stuck in perpetual exponential population growth is not really borne out by the figures – we are reaching the point already where more than 50% of the population of the earth live in a country where the birth rate is below the replacement rate – and most predictions agree that whilst we will continue to see growth for a while yet, population will flatten off at around the 10 billion mark.  This is a lot of people – but it is not un-supportable – what is, is the rate of consumption and that rate of consumption is far and away greater in developed countries.  One striking example is car use.  China is developing rapidly. In 2015 they will have as many cars as the US, but if they were to reach the same per capita car ownership as the US, they would need to import more oil per day than the current global daily production…

Two great further reads / watches on this subject: A video about overconsumption Vs overpopulation (if you can’t manage the whole thing I recommend my new favourite science presenter at 12mins 40secs in!), there is also a great blog by George Monbiot on this subject.

10 I am fascinated by facts, science and numbers – concrete information and proof which allow us to know what we should do.  I also love debate, discussion and big ideas.  But over the course I have also started to think a lot about the need not only to educate, to discover but also to move people.  Real change comes from not only understanding, but from believing and from feeling and sometimes a picture paints 1000 words… whilst I will take away many facts and figures from this first terms and many more ideas and thoughts – I think this image will still be the most lasting thing…

Kevin Carter


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.
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