Is Environment a Prestige, an Obligation or a Belief ?

By Mr. Rachid Rahim
November 2003

The Author, an MSc in Environmental Engineering, is responsible for studies at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion et de Planification (ISGP), in Algiers, Algeria.

Nowadays we hear too much about the term "environment" in different places, topics and issues, in the media reports, government plans, leaders speeches and private discussions, but the perception of the meaning of that term differs from one person to the other. It can be perceived as a prestige, conditions for the noble families of England who want to set up wild conditions in Africa so that they can have a month of holiday there to experience an untouched nature and see for themselves the primitive life as if watching a documentary on television and escape the complexity and noisy western life for a short period. Ignoring the African people and their rights to have the minimum necessities of a comfortable modern life. Environment also can be taken by some people as the presence of ecological vegetables and fruit in the super market because they can afford that, forgetting the harsh conditions for the farmers producing them, the best example for that is the south of Spain and Morocco where farmers are living in extremely difficult conditions in the total shadow far from the international concern.

Then how can the environment be a prestige when it is a misery for others? If it is not a prestige then is it an obligation? But by whom? If we say by governments, we know for sure that any policy that is not based on public support will fail in the end. Then to succeed in improving the environment, governments have to put in people´s minds that the environment is not only an issue of governments, organizations or conferences, but also it is an individual issue, it is a personal every day struggle. A single citizen has to believe that he is responsible for the environment and he is able to bring contribution for the improvement of the global environment conditions, then and only then, we can say that we are on the right path.

During the last decades the world has seen an increasing interest in some environmental issues from Governments, NGO´s and individuals. The interest in how the environmental issues in all different dimensions can be approached arises from the point of view of each of these organizations based on their own understanding. Some understand it as a necessity for a balanced economic development by slowing down the excessive consumption of natural resources and reserves and thinking about the coming generation. Others understand it from an emotional and more idealistic perspective through which they want to go back to the simple life of olden days and avoid the complexities generated by the recent developments and the damage caused by it to the nature like global warming, pollution and ozone depletion, and also the damage to human rights.

A third principle taken as a basis to struggle for a better environmental condition, can be the belief that every thing in this universe is created in an extraordinary harmony and that a human being with his invaluable gift, the brain, can make things change. But his sacred role is to develop the life style to a better one without effecting the existing equilibrium, the "Ecosystem" in the universe, which generates the marvelous harmony between livings and inanimate bodies. This harmony can, then, be translated or felt by the human as a huge wave of happiness and acceptance to be in this life.

The above might be the three basic principles taken as a base for working and activating for an environmental development of societies.

In this perspective, in 1992, the United Nations organized "the Earth Summit", a conference on environment and Development (UNCED). One of the main questions asked by different groups after the summit was: Did we save the earth? And the answers varied from one group to another, from yes to no, from maybe to it is too early to tell [1]. A decade after the earth summit we can see that not much improvement has been done. On the contrary, during that decade, when much advocacy of saving the environment was being done, increased human activity damaged the environment more than in any other era.

All governments include a ministry for the environment or have at least an agency for the protection of the environment. But still at the same time the global environmental situation is deteriorating more and more. Two causes can be thought of. One, that the governments are taking the environmental issues as the last of their priorities, lined up only after the economical and social development in the short term by providing the necessary goods and conditions despite the knowing of the surely coming environmental catastrophe in the long term. Two, that they are taking these environmental issues as a prestige and a tool to stand against the environmentalists without taking any serious measures to fight the root causes of the problems which threaten the global and local environment. In fact they are destabilizing the ecosystem by their development plans that were supposedly established for the welfare of the human being and also affecting negatively the social justice locally and globally in most instances just to acquire political or economical gains.

Governments have put the environment among the last priorities, in their plans for development the first being the pursuit of economic growth, industrialization and resource consumption which lead to problems that are threatening the future of the humanity in its existence. These problems include the existence of weapons of mass destruction, the increasing level of poverty, environmental pollution, ecosystem destruction and the human rights abuses [2].

To find solutions to the dangerous problems above, governments have to choose the right way and the right processes based on a solid understanding and belief of the outcome of any policy applied. Most of the governments´ policies are a continuous run after the economical growth and political goals without any looking at the consequences of that on the environmental sustainability and the social justice locally or globally. Energy production has increased by a factor of 4.5 between 1950 and 1985, the world oil production increased by a factor of almost 6 and the fertilizer used increased ten-fold in the same period [1]. The environmental impact of these activities and many others has been widespread. One-third of the world´s land is threatened by desertification, 80 countries especially from the third world are facing water shortages [1]. These and many other consequences are becoming standard features of many countries in the world. This is in the case when we talk about results generated by normal economic development and normal industrialization. But if we are in the case when the political issue is present, the national security is given as an argument, then, the destruction process of the environment and the human lives, even for the coming generations, is a very fast process. This process can be seen as a fight against evil as in Afghanistan or fight against the enemies of freedom as in Iraq or as tribes conflict in Africa and in many other places in the world. Actually, the real reason and driving forces behind all those wars in the world are in most of the cases economical, for oil, diamond, gold or any other natural resources.

The question that we have to ask is that: can we preserve the national security by destroying the global security in all its dimensions? In the short term, those policies can succeed but in the long term the whole world will collapse, because humanity has a common future that will be bright for all or dark for all. Humanity has a common earth and therefore common resources that it has to share in equity and not as they are now, 80% of resources for 20% of the world population. That leaves the third world population (80%) to feel subjected to a horrible injustice not only because it is not getting its part of resources but also because the poor population in the world is paying the price of the environmental destruction caused by the rich countries during the last century. That feeling of injustice, in turn will lead the developing countries to not caring at all about the environment and the sustainability of it because they are missing the most important right, the right to live, which, if taken out nothing else has a value.

Then as a result both categories in the world rich and poor are on the same path to destroy the future of their generations, the rich because they want more resources in order to keep up with the level of their lifestyle and the poor because they are dying and they have nothing to lose.

Both of them are blaming each other for the negative result of the environment, the rich are saying that the poor should have more environmental policies and regulations for their developments based on cleaner technology and that they should not follow the same steps as the developed countries did. Many developing countries are opposed to that and see in that an obstacle for their development because of the expensive cost of the cleaner technology. In fact one can suggest that the cost of the cleaner technology has to be paid by the rich countries as a price for what they have done to the environment. This would seem quiet fair as this solution gives the developing countries the necessary development they need and protect the world from further environmental deterioration.

But even if the first world accepts to do so, still a lot of work has to be done to preserve the environment in future which means that the present and the future generations have to be brought up and educated in a way that they will be conscious about the environmental issues and understand them based on the right principles. This education has to serve societies by adopting the transformations needed to put the coming generation on the path to sustainable development. This has also been stated in the Agenda 21, the document produced at the conference on the Environment and Development, that education is critical for promoting sustainable development. [3]

Understanding the principles of sustainability and the interdependence of the environment, the economy, and social systems can help societies learn to make the changes necessary to become effective stewards of natural resources and the environment. [4]

If our generation understands that interdependency and has a broad picture about the global system in which we live then they can preserve the existing balance in it. But the human does not yet have an exact knowledge about the global system and how its parts affect each other. All what he has is conjectural information about it, which gives him the ability to destabilize the global system balance and not to have the control of it. As an example of this is the threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons which didn't disappear with the end of the Cold War and will not in the near future [5]. These threats are becoming more and more dangerous. Depleted Uranium has been used in classical wars like during the Gulf and Balkan wars, which, left a large area contaminated with uranium that is affecting badly the population there and their coming generations and this is really a huge crime against humanity.

The depleted Uranium has affected even the US solders, and now the Veterans of the Gulf War and the Balkans are standing against sending the same kind of ammunition to the Middle East for the war against terrorism [6]. We can see how the human is killing all living things surrounding him including himself because he took the wrong path for the development and at the same time he cannot be safe from it himself.

Then to be on the safe side the humanity has to rely on the common moral orders and behaviors that came down from its Creator, the best example for that is the cloning issue on which the most part of the world population agreed that it is immoral and opposite to their common moral orders and behaviors. By making the biodiversity of the humanity in danger and entering a field, where the human do not have, at least for now, the knowledge and the tools to control it, makes him look like a child plying with a nuclear bomb, which can explode at any time with a simple touch of finger. All that puts the humanity common destinies in danger. So if the world can perceive the devastating effects of a degrading environment then perhaps it will works towards its sustainability.

Yet while, many books and studies are produced each year about the environment, the reality shows the continuous degradation of the global environment. The most part of responsibility is on the developed countries. They have to take the initiative seriously and for the common interest, before it will be too late for everyone.


  1. Lorraine Elliott, 1998, The Global Politics Of The Environment
  2. Paul Ekins, 1980, a New World Order grassroots for global challenge
  3. United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Agenda 21: Programme of Action for Sustainable Development (New York: United Nations, 1992)


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