The goal of environmental stewardship

Early in this chapter I invited you to imagine a voyage on Spaceship Earth. Let me leave you with two further metaphors to provide some perspective on sus-tainability especially as it is seen from the rich developed world.

The first metaphor represents unsustainability; I owe it to Professor Bob Goudzwaard20 of the Free University of Amsterdam. He asks us to imagine our position in the developed world to be like that of a passenger in a comfortable seat on a high-speed train - a train a grande vitesse (TGV) - rushing along its tracks through the villages and countryside. Our view from inside the train seems stable, smooth and peaceful. Looking through the window beside us we perceive movement, the landscape seems to be moving backwards - staying behind. That, of course, is an illusion; the speed of the train provides for us our different but seemingly fixed frame of reference. Now imagine another position in relation to the TGV. We are standing in the open air just by the tracks as the train passes by. The view from outside is very different. The train is going fast, rushing by -perhaps too fast! We look anxiously ahead of the train to where some children seem to be trying to cross the tracks.

We, modern human beings, tend to take the inside view, from where the dynamic patterns of growth, consumption and progress seem completely normal. We are constantly stretching to increase the speed and dynamism of these technological and market-driven patterns. From this inside view, we see poor countries as underdeveloped and lagging behind. We also see the natural world and the environment as unable to move fast enough, too restraining - we want them out of the way. We want to speed on with our own conception of progress as if the landscape were not there.

A second metaphor - of positive sustainability - comes from the natural world itself - that of a tree. For the firstpart of its lifea treeputs all its available resources into growth. It needs to grow upwards as fast as possible to r each the forest canopy to compete for its share of light that will bring more e ffective growth. But then the tree matures. It has grown to its full size. It has no drive to grow taller or wider. Its efforts and use of resources are now directed into a different activity, that of producing fruit. It is the fruit that will guarantee the future for subsequent generations of its species and a lso provide sustenance for a wide range of other species of both plants and animals - so enabling the tree to fulfi l its purpose within the total ecosystem wh ere it resides.

A point that is frequently made about such stewardship is that many of the actions that must be taken to combat global warming are good to do anyway because they will lead towards the sustainability that is essential if we are to live in a world where happiness and justice thrive - the sort of world that most people long to see. Seeing action on climate change as a catalyst for these other changes provides even more impetusfor immediate andaggres-sive action.

In our modern world we tend to be obsessed with material goals: economic growth, the latest gadgets, more leisure and so on. But for our fulfi lment as human beings we also desperately need challenges of a moral or spiritual kind. Caring for the Earth, its peoples and its futurecould provideacommonpur-p ose uniting the world's peoples in a cooperative enterprise bringing value far b eyond the immediate tasks. There exist strong connections, that I drew out in Chapter 8, between our basic attitudes and beliefs and environmental concern. I presented a picture of humans as stewards or gardeners of the Earth. Many people in the world are already deeply involved in a host of ways in action towards greater sustainability. Such concern could, however, with benefit to all, be elevated to a much higher public and political level both nationally and internationally. In an article in Time Magazine at the time of the Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations presented 'Competing Futures' in the following terms:21

Imagine a future of relentless storms and floods; islands and heavily inhabited coastal regions inundated by rising sea levels; fertile soils rendered barren by drought and the desert's advance; mass migrations of environmental refugees; and armed conflicts over water and precious natural resources.

Then, think again - for one might just as easily conjure a more hopeful picture: of green technologies; liveable cities; energy-efficient homes, transport and industry; and rising standards of living for all the people not just a fortunate minority. The choice between these competing visions is ours to make.


1 List and describe the most important environmental problems in your country. Evaluate how each might be exacerbated under the type of climate change expected with global warming.

2 It is commonly stated that my pollution or my country's pollution is so small compared with the whole, that any contribution I or my country can make towards solving the problem is negligible. What arguments can you make to counter this attitude?

3 Speak to people you know who are involved with industry and find out their attitudes to local and global environmental concerns. What are the important arguments that persuade industry to take the environment seriously?

4 Al Gore, Vice-President of the United States in 1996-2000, has proposed a plan for saving the world's environment.22 He has called it 'A Global Marshall Plan' paralleled after the Marshall Plan through which the United States assisted Western Europe to recover and rebuild after the Second World War. Resources for the plan would need to come from the world's major wealthy countries. He has proposed five strategic goals for the plan: (1) the stabilisation of world population; (2) the rapid creation and development of environmentally appropriate technologies; (3) a comprehensive and ubiquitous change in the economic 'rules of the road' by which we measure the impact of our decisions on the environment; (4) the negotiation of a new generation of international agreements, that must be sensitive to the vast differences of capability and need between developed and developing nations; (5) the establishment of a cooperative plan for educating the world's citizens about our global environment. Consider these five goals. Are they sufficiently comprehensive? Are there important goals that he has omitted?

5 How do you think governments can best move forward towards strategic goals for the environment? How can citizens be persuaded to contribute to government action if it involves making sacrifices, for example paying more in tax?

6 Can you add to the list in the box at the end of the chapter of contributions that the individual can make?

7 The Jubilee 2000 campaign has worked towards the cancellation of Third World debt possibly in return for appropriate environmental action. Discuss whether this is a good idea and how it might be made more successful.

8 Millions of people (especially children) die in the world's poorer countries because they lack clean water. It is argued by Professor Bjorn Lomborg that resources that might be used in reducing carbon dioxide emissions could be better used in making sure that everyone has access to clean water.23 Do you agree with this argument? If so how could the result be realised in practice?

9 It has been suggested that anthropogenic climate change should be considered as a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Discuss the validity of this comparison.

10 Consider the requirements for the conception and conduct of research that are detailed on page 401. Do you consider that they could be components of a checklist against which research proposals might be judged? How far does the research in which you are engaged or do the research programmes with which you are connected fulfil these requirements?

11 Analyse and compare the three metaphors introduced in the chapter -Spaceship Earth, the TGV and the Tree. Are they helpful in providing perspective and vision? Define the ways in which they might be misleading.

12 In 2000, at the Millennium Summit, the UN agreed eight Millennium Goals with targets for achievement by 2015. Look up these goals.24 Comment on how each of the goals might be connected with the issue of climate change. Look up the further commitments, relevant to the environment and climate change, made at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002.25 To what extent are these adequate to meet the challenge of climate change? What are the prospects for the goals and commitments being achieved by 2015?


Metz, B., Davidson, O., Bosch, P., Dave, R., Meyer, L. (eds.) 2007. Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 13 Policies, instruments and cooperative arrangements IPCC AR4 2007 Synthesis Report

World Wildlife Fund 2006. Living Planet Report. Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC).


1 Sustainability not only concerns physical resources. It is also applied to activities and communities. Environmental sustainability is strongly linked to social sustainability - about sustainable communities and sustainable economics. Sustainable development is an all-embracing term. The Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, of 1987 provides a milestone review of sustainable development issues.

2 Michael Northcott in The Moral Climate, (London: Dorton, Longman and Todd, 2007), Chapter 4, calls it frontier economics.

3 Kenneth Boulding was Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado, sometime President of the American Economics Association and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His article, 'The economics of the coming Spaceship Earth' was published in 1966 in Environmental Quality in a Growing Economy pp. 77-82.

4 See, for instance, UNEP, Global Environmental Outlook 3, London: Earthscan, 2002 and Berry, R. J. (ed.) 2007. When Enough Is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability. London: Apollos.

5 See World Wildlife Fund 2006. Living Planet Report:

6 The United Nations predicts a rise from 6.7 billion in 2006 to 9.2 billion by 2050.

7 HRH the Prince of Wales, in the First Brundtland Speech, 22 April 1992, published in Prins, G. (ed.) 1993. Threats without Enemies. London: Earthscan, pp. 3-14.

8 Many of the world's national academies of science led by the Royal Society in London have joined together in a report pointing this out. See Appendix B in Towards Sustainable Consumption: A European Perspective. 2000. London: Royal Society.

9 The former United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, has said that 'the next war in the Middle East will be fought over water, not politics'.

10 Oswald, J. 1993. Defence and environmental security, in Prins, Threats without Enemies.

11 Synthesis of Scientific-Technical Information Relevant to Interpreting Article 2 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. 1995. Geneva: IPCC, p. 17.

12 Tickell, C. 1986. Climatic Change and World Affairs, second edition. Boston, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

13 For instance, two of the largest oil companies, Shell and British Petroleum are taking action to reduce their internal carbon dioxide emissions and are also putting strong investment into renewable energies. Lord Browne, former Chief Executive of BP, said in a speech in Berlin in 1997, 'No single company or country can solve the problem of climate change. It would be foolish and arrogant to pretend otherwise. But I hope we can make a difference - not least to the tone of the debate - by showing what is possible through constructive action.'

14 The International Red Cross/Red Crescent has set up a Climate Centre based in the Netherlands as a bridge between Climate Change and Disaster

Preparedness. The activities of the Centre are concerned with Awareness (information and education), Action (development of climate adaptation in the context of Disaster Preparedness programmes) and Advocacy (to ensure that policy development takes into account the growing concern about the impacts of climate change and utilises existing experience with climate adaptation and Disaster Preparedness).

15 Some useful websites: Sierra Club USA,; Union of Concerned Scientists, www.ucsusa. org; Energy Saving Trust,; Ecocongregation,; Christian Ecology Link,; John Ray Initiative,

16 With changes in the organisation of electricity supply companies in some countries, it is becoming possible to purchase electricity, delivered by the national grid, from a particular generating source, see for instance for the UK www.greenelectricity. org or

17 See for instance Climate Care website:

18 Clark, W. C. 2003. Sustainability science: challenges for the new millennium. An address at the official opening of the Zuckerman Institute for Connective Environmental Research, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, 4 September 2003. http:// opening030904.pdf.

19 This is illustrated by the experience of the IPCC, as described on page 266.

20 See BG111.pdf

21 Kofi Annan, Time Magazine, 26 August 2002.

22 Expounded in the last chapter of Gore, A. 1992. Earth in the Balance. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Company.

23 Lomborg, B. (ed.) 2004. Global Crises, Global Solutions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

24 UN Millennium Goals: millenniumgoals

25 Earth Summit 2002:

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  • almaz
    Which of the following is not a goal of environmental stewardship?
    4 months ago

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