Definition and Issues of Environmental Sustainability
The concept of environmental sustainability refers to the preservation and maintenance of natural resources for the benefit of future generations.
The topic of environmental sustainability is discussed in relation to all aspects of our lives, from the creation of eco-homes and environmentally conscious communities to the sourcing of sustainable food, renewable energy furniture, and clothing. What does it actually mean to be environmentally sustainable? Green groups, politicians, and businesses can use a variety of definitions to describe environmental sustainability. In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development prepared the report “Our Common Future”, which first introduced the concept of sustainable development. They were aware of the connections between poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation and sought a way forward to create a more equitable world that does less damage to the environment and supports people. It established sustainable development as the path forward to a more equitable society that takes care of its resources. According to the report, sustainable development is “Development that meets current needs without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their own needs.” Therefore, environmental sustainability means that we do not damage the environment or deplete resources that aren’t renewable.
Environmental sustainability issues
The environmental sustainability of the environment is concerned with:
- The long-term health and well-being of ecosystems. Protection of long-term productivity and the health of resources in order to meet future economic or social needs.
- Intergenerational decision making. We should consider the implications of economic decisions for future generations when making economic decisions. While coal may offer a short-term advantage in terms of lower energy costs, it can also cause pollution that will have a negative impact on the future.
- Renewable resources: Diversifying into sources of energy that are not dependent on non-renewable sources. Solar and wind power are examples. Energy storage systems are required for storing solar energy.
- Prevent the effects of man-made climate change. Policies to prevent the planet’s environment from becoming too dry, extreme weather, or excessively hot. – These are all factors that can make it difficult, if not impossible, to live in certain parts of the globe.
- Conservation of biodiversity and ecological structure. Sometimes, medicines need elements from specific plant species. Future technological innovation is limited if certain species are lost.
- It is important to treat environmental resources as if these resources have intrinsic rights and values. We shouldn’t rely solely on the monetary value of environmental resources. We should be protecting rainforests because they are worthy of protection, not because we can gain financial benefits from it.
- Prioritizing social welfare/happiness and environmental sustainabilityover crude measures of progress like GDP. Economic welfare measures policies that promote environmental sustainability
- Carbon tax – a tax placed on production/consumption of carbon – e.g. burning fossil fuels. This is so that users are exposed to the entire social cost, not just the private.
- To limit harmful emissions, government regulation is required. Some cities, for example, have committed to banning diesel cars by a specific date.
- Subsidising/encouraging more sustainable environmental practices. For example, focusing on renewable energy like solar and wind power instead of relying upon non-renewable sources that can pollute.
- In the cost-benefit analysis of decisions, it is important to consider all environmental implications.
- Persuasion and behavioural economics can be used to influence consumer/firm behavior. For example, discouragement of the use of plastic taxes.
The Tragedy of Commons for environmental sustainability
Another example of unregulated markets that can lead to market failures and declines in sustainability is this. The tragedy of Commons can be best described as “overgrazing and overfishing.” Garret Hardin (1968) was the first to recognize the tragedy of commons. Hardin observed:
Individuals will be motivated to maximize their harvest if there is a common area with natural resources (North Sea, Land). If several people maximize their harvest of this limited resource, it could lead to a point where fish stocks become unsustainable. Fish species can be threatened or even extinct.
Individual fishermen can limit their catch to reduce fish stocks. If there is no common approach, then there might not be much incentive to reduce overfishing.
Voluntary cooperation is more difficult for shared resources between nations. To address the problem of overfishing in the North Sea, the European Union implemented a Common Fisheries Policy. Although it was not popular, it was quite successful in controlling over-fishing.
Renewable vs Non-Renewable resources
- Non-renewable resource: Once used, it can’t be used again. Oil, for example, is not renewable. Once coal has been burned, it is no longer possible to use the resource. Although there is limited coal and oil available, new sources can be found.
- Renewable resources. Resources that don’t decrease in use. A wind generator, for example, doesn’t decrease wind power – it does not affect future wind energy supplies. Similar to solar power, it doesn’t decrease the energy from sunlight.
- Semi-Renewable resources. If used at the right level, some resources are renewable. Farmland, for example, should be considered a renewable resource. Crop rotation ensures that the soil’s fertility does not decline. The soil’s quality can be affected if it is intensively farmed using pesticides and artificial fertilizers.
- Research has shown that trees are a good way to keep the soil structure intact. It is more likely that nutrients in the soil will be washed away if all trees are removed. The soil’s nutrients and structure are slowly being removed, which means that the soil will become less fertile in the future. Some areas have become deserted and farmland is gone.
What are the benefits of environmental sustainability practices?
Although many people and communities have recognized the dangers to the environment and the health of the animals and plants we share the planet with, this is only recently being acknowledged worldwide. Our air and rivers, as well as our oceans and seas, don’t recognize national or continental borders. We must all care for them. Air pollution episodes in the UK can be exacerbated by pollution from Europe. Litter that travels the oceans on ocean currents for decades and industrial pollution, as well as fertilizers, has led to toxic algal blooms in rivers and seas, including the US, China, and Europe.