Last week developments in 3 stories came to light- that while geographically separated by thousands of kilometres, are connected by very similar themes. They highlight an ongoing conflict that exists in many places throughout the world- whether to conserve or exploit the natural environment. Specifically, in all 3 of these cases, the exploitation is directly related to fossil fuels (oil and coal). The cases are:
There are various/multiple perspectives and arguments, depending on your viewpoint and opinion, which might be taken on these stories. These include:
- Energy companies are part of the market economy, with a primary objective to create profits through their business activities for their owners and shareholders.
- Energy companies create employment and income for nations and individuals, allowing for social development and wealth creation.
- Oil and coal are necessary to meet growing global energy demands for economies and society, and therefore new sources and supporting infrastructure need to be developed.
- While the exploitation of these locations might provide some shorter term economic benefits through income from fossil fuels sales, the negative impacts on the natural environment are likely to lead to significant longer term cots, or a loss/reduction in other economic incomes (e.g. from tourism, agriculture, etc.) and social benefits (e.g. clean water).
- The significant economic incomes and benefits from fossil fuel exploitation will only be reaped by a minority of people- such as shareholders in the energy companies- rather than local populations, who are, furthermore, likely to bear any social costs and impacts (displacement, pollution, etc.).
- Fossil fuel energy companies are a driver of significant social, economic and environmental problems- from income inequality to climate change- and their current, and future, activities should be prohibited.
However, taking a step back from these specific arguments and perspectives- I think it is worth considering how these 3 cases might represent a stage that we have reached in human development. [I’d argue that] We are at a point where we are truly beginning to understand (and generally agree), both scientifically and politically, on the long term negative impacts, and imperative to act upon, our unsustainable resource use- and, in particular, fossil fuels. Nonetheless, we largely continue to pursue a path of development that supports and facilitates the continued exploitation of the environment to extract and consume these resources.
This contradiction is quite tragically captured by the scenario in which we are endangering some of the most beautiful and extraordinary natural landscapes of our planet for the sake of sourcing more fossil fuels- no more clearly exemplified by the 3 cases highlighted here of Virunga, the Arctic and the Great Barrier Reef.
He/she who dictates the narrative sets the agenda
Significant, and far reaching, shifts are required in international politics, finance, development and industry to move towards a long term path of more sustainable development. Changing these will take time, effort, and substantial cooperation across groups and nations. However, such longer term agendas are often shaped and influenced by the prevailing narrative of the present. These cases from Africa, the Arctic and Australia exemplify a continuing narrative in which we are risking our environment- including some of the most beautiful, unique and important landscapes on our planet for the sake of fossil fuel resources.
If such stories of the here and now are allowed to continue, will we ever change our long term agenda?
I’ve written a number of posts about the Virunga case in previous posts:
You can read about and support WWF’s campaign to protect Virunga here: http://www.wwf.org.uk/how_you_can_help/virunga
Top: The Arctic via The Telegraph
Left: Great Barrier Reef via National Geographic
Right: Virunga via WWF