Earth in the balance

Al Gore, Vice-President of the United States in the Clinton Administration, entitled his book on the environment Earth in the Balance,1 implying that there are balances in the environment that need to be maintained. A small area of a tropical forest possesses an ecosystem that contains some thousands of plant and animal species, each thriving in its own ecological niche in close balance with the others. Balances are also important for larger regions and for the Earth as a whole. These balances can be highly precarious, especially where humans are concerned.

One of the first to point this out was Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring,2 first published in 1962, which described the damaging effects of pesticides on the environment. Humans are an important part of the global ecosystem; as the size and scale of human activities continue to escalate, so can the seriousness of the disturbances caused to the overall balances of nature. Some examples of this were given in the last chapter.

It is important that we recognise these balances, in particular the careful relationship between humans and the world around us. It needs to be a balanced and harmonious relationship in which each generation of humans should leave the Earth in a better state, or at least in as good a state as they found it. The word that is often used for this is sustainability - politicians talk of sustainable development, a concept defined in Chapter 9 (box on page 272) and further analysed in Chapter 12 (page 393). This principle, and its link with the harmonious relationship between humans and nature, was given prominent place by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in June 1992. The first principle in a list of 27 in the Rio Declaration adopted by the Conference is 'Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.'3

However, despite such statements of principle from a body such as the United Nations, many of the attitudes that we commonly have towards the Earth are not balanced, harmonious or sustainable. Some of these are briefly outlined in the following paragraphs.

0 0

Post a comment