by Gunnar Eigener

The environment is changing. All across the globe, weather patterns have shifted, resulting in abnormal meteorological behaviour and pushing society towards conditions it is not used to. The UK has just come out of a record-breaking heatwave. Japan declared a national emergency after heatwaves there killed 65 people. Wildfires in Greece left over 70 people dead and in California, over a dozen people are missing as fires spread. Visitors required evacuation from Yosemite National Park and wind threatens to fan flames in Sweden’s forests.

However, should we be surprised by these events? The environment constantly suffers attacks and its resources are depleted to provide for the human global economy. Yet, as citizens, we share a contract with our governments who are duty bound to provide their society with certain services, paid for through taxation of both individuals and industry. Therefore, in order to finance those services, a government relies on money and so, the environment will always come behind the economy in terms of priority. As a result, money and commercial interests inevitably decide environmental legislation.

money and commercial interests inevitably decide environmental legislation

Nevertheless, there is a problem of balance. Governments, while prioritising the economy, still have a duty to protect the well-being of its citizens and a big part of that should be protecting the environment, the life-system for humans on this planet. Yet the environment is being stripped of resources at a higher rate than can be sustained, contributing to its overall decline. There are indications that something might be done, of course. The UK government recently announced that it would be creating a new Environmental Bill in addition to it 25-year environmental plan. Ireland’s government recently voted to divest from fossil fuels. Switzerland, France and Denmark lead the Environmental Performance Index; perhaps, then, no surprise that Denmark and Switzerland feature in the top five of the World Happiness Report.

Is actual progress really being made in protecting the environment? Government policies and legislation continue to favour industry and commercial interests. The US is set to weaken fuel emissions standards and would like to make changes to the Endangered Species Act, putting animals at higher risk of extinction. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will create vast new infrastructure across a lot of land that, while good for business and transport, risks damaging the surrounding environment not just through construction but also through the potential of future pollution. The Chinese government is also increasing its business interests in coal plants in the Balkans, with five new plants scheduled for construction in the next decade. The Democratic Republic of Congo is set to grant logging licences to Chinese companies and oil drilling rights in World Heritage sites.

( Belt and Road Initiative map )

How many numerous deals go through that benefit business compared to the few moments of victory for environmental groups and charities? Our baseline for appreciating the services that nature provide for us free and acceptance of destruction of the environment for industrial purposes is continually changing. What was unacceptable last decade is now dismissed with a mere shrug of the shoulders. Society’s tolerance of wanton destruction so that it can benefit is growing year after year. The issue of climate change is becoming less important to people the world over coupled with the distraction of politics, technology and entertainment. The money spent by environmental lobbying is dwarfed by the sheer amount of money that industries can donate and lobby with. Money holds a value that persuades those in authority and have the ability to make changes, to preside over the death of an environment that keeps us alive.

So what can we do? This is the only planet we are aware of that can sustain human life. It seems crazy that politicians and corporations can decide our future while we are distracted by something else. It is no longer enough to simply try and halt the destruction. We have to apply ourselves to the restoration of nature, to punish those who start wildfires, to punish those who cheat on fuel emissions testing, to bring public attention to those who actions endanger and wipe out numerous species. And, crucially, we have to look at our own actions and see where we are able to curtail our activities that enable these business to continue. Learning about what the environment and science have to offer us is an important first step. That way we can justly criticise the policies that governments try to put upon us, hoping that we won’t argue too much. In truth, the future is up for grabs, it just depends what kind of future – if one at all – we really want.

Featured image CC0


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