The Global Citizen

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Category: environmental conservation

The UN Voice for Environmental Action

Maurice Strong (Photo: Philip McMaster, http://bit.ly/flickr-maurice-strong)

Just on the eve of the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21) and the coming discussions on climate change and a sustainable world society, Maurice Strong died (November 29, 2015).

More than any other person in the UN system, Strong had been the driving force to put environmental action on the “world agenda” for both governments and NGOs. For Strong, to protect the earth’s environment, its biodiversity and life support system was a cause for cooperative action to transform society—a cause for which government and business leaders could rise above their disagreements and act together to protect the planet.

Before a topic becomes the focus of the world agenda, there is a good deal of intellectual preparation needed, and it usually begins outside of governments. Kenneth Boulding, a Quaker, economist, and peace researcher started writing what is now called “ecological economics.” Boulding helped develop the concept of “Spaceship Earth,” stressing the need to modify education in light of ecological realities. He wrote,

…the principal task of education in this day is to convey from one generation to the next a rich image of the total earth, that is, the idea of the earth as a total system…What formal education has to do is to produce people who are fit to be inhabitants of the planet.

Protecting Our Global Habitat

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The United States and the global community currently face a variety of challenges, and it is becoming increasingly clear that no one actor is capable of solving all of our global problems. In particular, issues related to the environment need to be resolved collectively, since many environmental concerns do not respect borders or sovereignty. 

These issues range from the preservation of biodiversity to the maintenance of clean watercourses. Many natural resources are labeled as common-pool resources, since single proprietary ownership is not possible and many different groups of people are able to use the same resource simultaneously.1

These resources often face collective action problems due to actors' inability to work together for a common purpose due to self-interest. Moreover, there are also free-rider issues; it is difficult to force all actors to follow actions beneficial to the group if they can receive benefits without doing so.2 This issue is often conceptualized as the tragedy of the commons, which is defined as "the degradation of the environment to be expected whenever many individuals use a scarce resource in common."3

However, these results are not inevitable and can be avoided with effective governance strategies. These strategies need to incorporate the wide variety of actors that use the same resources, and in cases of transnational resources (such as trans-boundary river basins), it is important to coordinate actions between state actors. 

Global Ocean Commission: "Our Oceans Are in Decline"

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"Plastic is everywhere in the ocean."

"87% of the world’s marine fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted."

These are just two of a number of very troubling statements concerning our world’s oceans, as outlined in a report released last Tuesday by the Global Ocean Commission. The report, which comprehensively details the issues that pose a threat to the health of our oceans, asks that countries cease turning a blind eye to the immeasurable harm that they inflict regularly. It demands that countries make the rectification of our oceans’ health an immediate priority, or else face the risk of causing irreversible damage.

The report cites a rising demand for resources, new technological advances, the depletion of fish stocks, climate change, and weak high seas governance as the most prominent reasons for the decline in the health of our oceans. It explains that the world’s immense growth in population-- reaching 7 billion people in November 2011-- has driven the demand for the ocean’s treasure trove of resources to naturally unsustainable levels. It warns that a failure to address climate change would have a calamitous effect on the world’s oceans, potentially wiping out as much as 60% of ocean species by 2050.

The report goes further than simply identifying the root causes of the ocean’s demise; it offers up a series of important steps, most notably Proposals 1 and 2, which would help remedy many of the ocean’s issues.