Reversing environmental damage in an industrialised world

Reversing environmental damage can be achieved by a process that returns a site to a state it was before we intervened. Imagine watching a construction movie in reverse. Rather than go from soil removal to laying of concrete foundations to building on top, we opt for the removal of the built structures, clearing out the concrete foundations and putting back the soil. Beijing, Helsinki, Greece, Munich, Sarajevo are cities that now have abandoned Olympic villages which fall into this category. Countries have ghost towns that came into being because of population migration, a change in the economic environment or bad business/political decisions. Even Malta has its fair share of such structures. 

When looking to develop new venues, emphasis should be on using existing derelict buildings rather than always opting for virgin tracks of land. The Zonqor saga is a case in point; 91,000 square meters of ODZ land would have been wiped out. Likewise, the common practice that certain entities can only be attracted to Malta provided they are given (cheap) ODZ land to build their shops is anti-environmental besides being anti-competitive.

We can reverse environmental damage by reducing the rate at which we are altering the environment.  The environment has built-in self-healing and adjustment capabilities but we’re causing damage, depleting resources and polluting habitats at a rate far greater than the planet can fix, replenish or adapt to. If left alone the environment will recover. It has done so a numerous times, the last being around 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs were wiped out and our mammalian ancestors were given the breathing space to evolve. The use of energy efficient products and clean energy alternatives reduces the damage to the environment thereby helping it recover quicker. Imagine millions of people walking or biking to the shop in the next street rather than use the car. Imagine them opting for products that do not have excessive packaging (to fill our landfills) and that the wrappings are biodegradable. If these same millions stopped buying products with palm oil in them we would be stopping mass deforestation and habitat destruction of thousands of living organisms including well known creatures such as orangutans, elephants, and tigers. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally simply because it is “ugly”, not perfectly shaped and of the right size. If this practice stopped we could effectively give the environment a third of this cultivated land allowing natural ecosystems to thrive.

Opting for products that do less harm to the environment over cheaper or “better” ones is something under our direct control. The phasing out of incandescent light bulbs in the majority of industrialised countries demonstrates the power of the people when governments take action. No one can deny the fact that the first energy efficient light bulbs required a considerable amount of time to reach peak performance, produced a hue that wasn’t anywhere as beautiful as incandescent, had the wrong shape, could not be used with dimmer technology and costing a lot more, but once the energy friendly alternatives become the norm, improvements addressed all of these issues.  If there is demand for a product or technology competition will ensure that all glitches are resolved.

Many industrialised nations have channels that allow politicians to decipher what citizens want and desire. Citizens must push the environment to the top of their leader’s agenda if the environmental issues are to be taken seriously. Thanks to the campaigning facilities available through the internet it is now possible to influence decision makers in other counties. Campaigns relating to sustainable fishing, neonicotinoid insecticides and GM products are three of the hundreds people can participate in. 

photo credit: Houston Zoo via photopin (license)

What is paramount is that we must stop expecting everyone else to do our bidding while we stand on the side line moaning and complaining.  


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