Environmental Issues From the 1990's Term Paper

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Green vs. Green

Environmentalists vs. Corporations in the 1990s

It is a sad fact, that the word "green" means different things to different people. For some, "green" is the color of leaves, and of grass, and of hillsides and forests. It is the symbol of a vibrant and flourishing Earth. For others, however; "green" is the color of money, and of profits, and of big business and unbridled capitalism. It is the keystone of corporate America. The 1990s, in particular, were a period in which these two definitions of "green" came into often bitter conflict. Environmental groups became increasingly alarmed at what they saw as the destruction of the natural habitats of many animal, bird, fish, and plant species. The Amazon rainforest, for example, was being cut down at an alarming rate by companies that appeared concerned only to make use of its natural resources -- wood, agricultural land, and mineral resources underground. Scientists worried that we were using up one of the Earth's primary sources of fresh air. They pointed to the importance of the Amazon forests as a natural "factory" where carbon dioxide was turned into oxygen. For many activists the worldwide destruction of physical environments -- rainforests, wetlands, floodplains, etc. -- was symptomatic of human overpopulation. Too many men, women, and children were simply eating up, and using up, the planet. In the interests of human safety, and greater productivity, mankind had destroyed many natural predators thereby upsetting the delicate balance among species. With no animals to hunt them, many herbivorous creatures became uncontrolled pests. Worse still, the environmentalists claimed, modern farming methods, and big industrial corporations were poisoning the Earth with dangerous chemicals, creating toxic wastelands that would last for decades, if not centuries. For almost the first time, in the 1990s these issues were coming to a head. Yet, others argued that the environmentalists were exaggerating the situation. The Earth was much more resilient than the Greens maintained. So, who was right? What would be the outcome of the war between the environmentalists and the non-environmentalists?

As for preserving the rainforests, many Third World governments began, in the 1990s, to respond to the concerns of the environmentalists. As almost all rainforests are located in developing countries, this seemed a bright prospect for protecting the Earth and its resources. However, in most developing nations, the enforcement of environmental regulations presents a very serious problem. In the case of Native Peoples, and of local peasant societies, there is often little understanding of modern science, or of the nature of the interaction between human needs and desires, and the natural world. As well, large corporations frequently view environmental regulations as a bar to progress in industrializing areas. Politically, the dilemma can be represented as the Developed World vs. The Developing World, with environmental regulations as just another tactic to keep down much of the globe's population. Whereas, on an economic level, such strictures can be interpreted as prohibitive costs in countries with little financial capital, and a poorly educated populace.

Lack of uncontaminated water, raging forest fires, severe air pollution caused by soft-burning coal for heating homes and industrial emissions, mountains of untreated waste, squatter settlements and rapid population growth which places even more severe stress on the environment, combine to create both a sense of urgency for resolving the problems and a feeling of frustration at the enormity of the task. All three sectors of the global triad have been engaged in the question of how best to assist the developing countries, especially the poorer ones. Their concern will intensify as the problems of poverty in the third world continue to affect business, governance and quality of life in the developed world. In turn, as developing countries try to solve environmental and development problems through privatization strategies, private firms will play an ever-increasing role, sometimes with mixed results.

(Ledgerwood and Broadhurst 51)

The need to balance profits against protecting the environment becomes even more difficult to resolve when environmental concerns are brought down to the level of individual species. While a nation can commit itself to preserving the rainforests per se by limiting logging, or teaching Native Peoples the use of more modern agricultural techniques that do not depend on slash-and-burn, the situation is far more complex when it involves a specific, and geographically-limited ecosystem. A particular species of bird may only live in a certain narrow territory; protecting that one species would mean closing off an entire forest, and not simply limiting its exploitation. Even a highly-industrialized country like the United States faced this identical issue in the famous case of the Spotted Owl, and the logging industry in the Northwest.

Another battle over protection of a species is going on today in the northwestern section of the United States. In 1990 the Fish and Wildlife Service identified the northern-spotted owl as a threatened species, and 6.9 million acres of old-growth forests located on federal lands were set aside to ensure the owl's survival. An intense conflict developed between environmentalists, who wanted more acres set aside, and timber-dependent communities, who argued that thirty-three thousand jobs would be lost if the forest were protected from timber harvesting.

In 1993 President Bill Clinton convened a Forest Conference in Portland, Oregon, in order to resolve the old growth-spotted owl controversy .... An interdisciplinary Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team formulated ten management alternatives for the region. From these options, Clinton selected the watershed-based plan. This plan included three key provisions.

First, a planning and monitoring program would be established in order to manage the old-growth ecosystems in the public lands concerned. Second, a complex of old-growth reserves, riparian reserves, Adaptive Management Areas, and forest management matrix would be established across the twenty-five million acres of the region. Third, the plan provides for sustainable annual sales of 1.1 billion board feet of timber. Clinton hoped that by adopting these provisions, a satisfactory compromise had been reached.

(Santos 52)

While this American case is almost entirely one of profits vs. preservation, in many developing countries, the issue is not so simple. Often, environmental concerns can pit people directly against the animals and plant with which they share the world. The past century has witnessed an incredible population explosion throughout the globe, one that has been largely the result of modern medicine, sanitation, and so forth. Yet, vast numbers of people in industrializing nations have barely enough food and fuel to survive. They live, every day, on the edge of starvation. In such a situation, the only option for these people would seem to be the continuing rape of the Earth's limited resources. Environmental policies are interpreted as yet another challenge to traditional ways of life, and age-old religious beliefs. "Certain groups within religious traditions share similarities that add up to challenges and resistance to the values, practices, and ways of life associated with secular societies and cultures." (Twiss and Grelle 156) The Indian mother who has ten children is conforming to the long-held ideals of her people. More than likely, she, her husband, and indeed all of their family, will be opposed to any changes they perceive as counter to their conception of morality and ethics.

India again, furnishes a fine example of the extreme difficulty that exists in restoring natural conditions. Historically, the tiger was a deadly threat to human beings and their livestock. India's Vice-President, Krishan Kant, stated in The Hindu that, 'The local people are the best guardians and we must facilitate their role ... The protection of the tiger cannot be a function of a few concerned individuals, organizations or a project. It needs to be protected in the very implementation of a country's socio-economic policies and plans', continuing to lay the blame on 'progressive commercialization of global society'.

(Shurmer-Smith 162)

Here it is the local Indian traditions of vegetarianism, and non-violence that work toward the tiger's preservation as a species. The Vice-President of India's statement underscores the need for local peoples to look toward their own traditions for answers to environmental and other questions. Problems are seen as being imposed from the outside, and thus, to be successful, the solutions must not be viewed in the same way. By appealing to traditional Hindu values, the current Indian government can counter the conflicting claims that some tigers turn man-eater, or that old and weak tigers decimate the small flocks and herds that are among the few possessions of impoverished peasants.

Lastly, there are environmental problems the effects of which easily alter conditions throughout the entire planet -- air and water pollution. In both the developed, and the developing worlds, environmental pollution is a looming disaster. Many localized areas have already been destroyed through the effects of toxic chemicals, and industrial and household waste. Modern farming methods saturate the soil with noxious chemicals, chemicals that frequently kill many more species than they were intended to and, which find their way into the water system. These concerns are generally taken as a battle between two conflicting and mutually exclusive goals…[continue]

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