In the last century we have passed, our economy has led us to an edge regarding to our environmental and natural bounties. As the result of this crucial moment, human societies came to the conclusion that if they don’t do something urgently about this situation, they would probably lose everything they have gained so far.
In 1987, United Nations invited world leaders and organize World Commission on Environment and Development which during it, they represent the concept of “Sustainable Development”. In this article, I am trying to represent this concept as well as deforestation, soil erosion and pollution production as some of the serious stumbling blocks which we are encountering with in our international effort to achieve sustainable development.
What is sustainable development?
To start with this concept I prefer to define ecology in the first step since it is related to sustainable development. According to Ernst Haeckel “Ecology is the study of our physical environment; more precisely the study of distribution and abundance of organisms and also the relationships between these organisms with their physical environment (Cary Institute:1). Human society as part of this planet has an influence on its physical and biological components. So As Cornwell and De Beer (2004:80) pointed out, in studying issues regarding to environment, we should consider human society, its cultural, economic and political backgrounds as well as delicate interconnectedness between different organisms in the environment.
This approach will help us to prevent one dimensional analysis and conclusion. According to Miller (2011:9), organisms and physical environment have provided us with ‘natural resources’ which consist of all materials and energy that is vital for our survival and ‘natural services’ which are functions of nature that support our lives and economies such as nutrient cycling. These natural resources and natural services make up our natural capital.
During the last century our economy has bloomed by ravaging this capital; but if we continue with this trend, the degraded environment begins to feedback on economic wealth and the result is not only declining our economy but also losing our environmental resources. So managing this capital as the foundation and provider of material and energy for our development has become one of the challenges of this century. To deal with this dilemma, international organizations and scientist have presented a new term in development which is regarded as “Sustainable Development”.
According to 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainable development is defined as a kind of “…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Regan 2006: 64). In other words it is a kind of development which allows us to use natural resources and benefit from natural services in a protectable and manageable way without depleting and degrading the natural capital itself.
It doesn’t involve rescuing nature from environmental disasters but it involves long-term planning to prevent any possibilities of such emergencies from occurring. In order to control our manipulations in every area, ecologists present a concept regarded as “carrying capacity” that “indicate the point at which human use of an ecosystem can reach a maximum without causing degradation” (Middleton 2008:53). So to live and develop more sustainably, our economic growth, our levels of resource consumptions, and our population should remain below the earth’s carrying capacity.
According to Cornwell and De beer (2004:82) we can also try to use our technological innovations and well-designed environmental management to improve Earth’s carrying capacity and establish a sustainable access to resources without depleting its natural capital. Otherwise once the threshold has been reached, we will definitely loose much of our natural capital and the carrying capacity of the planet earth begins to decline and won’t be able to support our lives anymore.
As Cornwell and De beer (2004:82) mentioned, deforestation, soil rosion and pollution, which will be discussed later, limits an area’s carrying capacity which leads to a damage that the environment can no longer be able to recover from and finally nations will be confronted with the problem of bankruptcy. Therefore these issues are among the greatest stumbling blocks to establish and maintain sustainable development.
Deforestation and its influence on sustainable development According to scribd (www. scribd), “the term deforestation is used to describe the process of removing the trees in forests and woodland and converting the land to other use”.
Forests play and important role as part of hydrological cycle and human life-support systems by regulating local climate, water flow and nutrient cycles as well as providing us with ecosystem services. They also work as reservoirs of biodiversity and habitats for species (Middleton 2008:63). Deforestation can lead to an increase in runoff that will deteriorate and degrade the soil and wastes freshwater, as well as increasing flooding; because the water can no longer be able to percolate through the soil.
Also this could result a decrease in water tables (Middleton 2008:65). Besides, deforestation in larger scales can have an impact on the hydrological and carbon cycles which in total can lead to climatic impacts. A deforested area can hardly save moisture and have higher daytime temperature; hot and dry air over a deforested region cannot be able to form clouds and result in lower the amount of annual precipitation (Middleton 2008:67). According to Persian part of VOAnews (2011:1), Iran has encountered severe deforestations after the revolution of 1979.
Despite natural forces, like fires, droughts and climate change; government policies and legislation has had a role in illegal logging practices, timber smuggling, severe cattle ranching in forests and pastureland, constructing unnecessary roads, selling ranges and forests by governmental ministries; furthermore, clearance of the forests for the expansion of agriculture, then converting that agricultural fields to residential areas are among other reasons for deforestation. All of these activities have been done to the extent that now Iran is among the first six countries with the most severe deforestation. The proportion of forested areas had fallen to about 50% since 1979. If this trend is continued, there will be no forests left in the next 30 years.
Deforestation preventing, controlling or mitigating strategies Dealing with deforestation issues needs an international effort. fuelwood collection and agricultural expansion in Africa, fast-growing market for soybeans and beefs in Latin America, and agricultural expansion and oil palm plantation for fuel use in Asia are among the reasons for deforestation (Brown 2011:137).
I think in these cases, developed countries could assist these regions with providing better agricultural technologies, funds for intensive planting programs, and in the case of Africa more appropriate stoves; which not only will reduce the levels of fuel consumption, but also would decrease indoor pollution. However, developing countries should not simply wait for aids; they must also act themselves by implementing stricter controls of deforestation, encouraging tourism and possibly using debt-for-nature swaps.
In Latin America, this trend could be decreased for example by eliminating government subsidies for forest clear cutting which provides land for agricultural and cattle ranching activities. In Asia, timber industries could be properly managed by considering stumpage tax for each tree cut (Brown 2011:186), and cutting only mature trees on a selective basis (Brown 2011:138).
Soil erosion and its influence on sustainable development “Soil erosion is when the soil is blown away by the wind or washed away by the rain” (www. calloway). This is a natural geomorphological process that has been occurring for millions of years on the Earth’s surface. In recent decades these processes have been accelerated by human activities, which adversely affect both agricultural areas and natural environment and is considered an environmental problem. Soil takes millions of years to form and if we don’t try to tackle this problem in a sustainable way, we will lose this valuable resource and all the services it provides us. This phenomenon has both on-site and off-site effects.
Among the on-site effects are changing in physical and chemical structure of an area which present problems for farmers in the use of machinery. The top organic-rich layer is blown 5 away by the wind and will render the soil less productive with few nutrients; Sand-blasting of crops by wind-eroded materials can damage plants and impoverish soil structure which can intensify soil erosion in a reciprocal process. The soil can no longer be used for cultivation and as our population rises we will encounter food shortages if we continue this manner (Middleton 2008: 283).
Off-site effects are caused by transport and deposition of eroded soil. It can damage structures and cause problems for transportation, communication, siltation and restriction of visibility. Eroded soil can be deposited in reservoirs, harbors and lakes and impose severe economic costs by limiting the storage capacity of reservoirs, leading to siltation of irrigation systems and also can adversely affect marine ecosystems and environment. Moreover, inhalation of suspended particles can intensify respiratory diseases (Middleton 2008:284).
According to Forests, range and watershed organization’s administrators, Iran ranked worst in the world for soil erosion; the exact number is not clear, because the officials refuse to publish the right number, but estimation is from 1 to 4. 5 billion tons a year. One of the reasons is changing functions of land. For example changing forests to agricultural land, and changing those agricultural lands to residential and industrial land without any technical and scientific monitoring. Other reasons are severe deforestation and the process of drying wetlands and ponds (Khazr Heidari 2012:1)
Soil Erosion preventing, controlling or mitigating strategies There are several methods we can use in dealing with soil erosion. One of the most natural ways is planting vegetation. Vegetation can establish root systems which in turn, stabilizes the soil. We can use geotextiles that can stabilize the soil; or use both of these techniques to intensify their effectiveness. Another widely used agronomic technique is mulching; plant components residues can prevent soil erosion.
Furthermore we can use walls, fences, windbreaks and shelter belts which will act as barriers to the wind. Using appropriate soil management techniques and mechanical methods can be beneficial either (Middleton 2008: 2912).
Pollution and its influence on sustainable development “Pollution is any in the environment that is harmful to the health, survival, or activities of humans or other organisms” (Miller 2011:16). Pollution can enter the environment naturally or through human activities; the latter has posed severe environmental problems.
With our today’s exponential population growth and ingrained materialistic and consumerism culture, the levels of pollution production has reached far beyond the earth’s capacity to absorb and treat it. So we use the earth’s natural capital (renewable and non-renewable) in such an unsustainable rate that cannot be recovered by the earth’s natural systems . This could overset the ecosystem’s natural 6 equilibrium and is threatening the biodiversity of the earth, which is one of the factors by which the Earth has sustained itself for millions of years (Miller 2011:23). Iran is suffering severe air and water pollution.
Air pollution in major cities exceeds WHO safety threshold in a way that it kills more than 10,000 people every year. The main reasons are overpopulated urban areas, millions of old vehicles, thousands of companies and refineries around cities (BTI 2012:24). According to World Bank (2003:1), the water quality of the rivers and groundwater is also deteriorating. For example river Karoon which accounts for 30 percent of Iran’s total surface water suffers severe pollution due to untreated municipal wastewater, agricultural drainage and untreated industrial wastewater.
Pollution preventing, controlling or mitigating strategies According to Thompson (2011:1), In dealing with pollution we can pursue two approaches; pollution prevention and pollution cleanup. Pollution prevention in much more economically viable; in some cases cleanup can cost 200 times more than prevention. Almost always cleanup strategies are temporary bandage and it is just displacement of pollution rather than complete annihilation. For example not producing waste is much more effective than producing waste and disposing them in landfills or burning them which imposes another kind of stress to the environment.
Our main polluters are fossil fuel-powered vehicles, agricultural activities, fertilizers and pesticides use, industrial activities, residential, commercial and hospital’s wastes. For all these categories we can provide and implement different prevention strategies. This can lead us to more sustainable ways of resource use and will minimize our health problems relating to the environment.
In the last century, wealth is accumulated largely by degrading the environment. We have realized that this method will cross an environmental threshold and the degraded environment begins to feedback on economic wealth.
In order to prevent such emergencies, the concept of sustainable development has been represented; which provides us with methods and strategies that help us to use natural resources in a protectable and manageable way without depleting them. By implementing this wrong system, we have encountered some environmental hazards so far; among them are deforestation, soil erosion and pollution production. In order to reach sustainable development goals we need to tackle with these issues to recover what we have lost so far. Then we need to begin planning long-term strategies to prevent any possibilities of such emergencies occurring.
I think reaching to this eminent goal would not be an easy one and it requires awareness and responsibility of each and every one of us who lives in this planet. As a passenger in this planet, we should actively think about the consequence of our behavior. What would be happened to this world and the next generations to come, if we didn’t look more responsibly in the way we live in this planet?
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- Khazr heidari, F. 2012. Soil Erosion In Iran. Available at: http://www. radiofarda. com/content/f4_erosion_soil_iran_top_rate_world/24543053. html (accessed on 16/3/2013)
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