AJC Prelim 2012 – Efforts to save the environment are no more than empty promises. To what extent is this true?

As climate change begins to rear its ugly head, the call for environmental conservation has grown louder. If everyone consumed as many resources as Americans did, we could need 4.1 Earths to sustain the population of seven billion. Thus,environmentalists have been relentlessly campaigning for companies and countries to switch to green technology to satiate their energy or financial needs. However, some pessimists still concur that these efforts are futile, but I remain optimistic that humanity has realized the implications of global warming and is taking small steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Hence, I provisionally opine that efforts to save the environment are certainly not merely empty promises.

Prima facie, it may seem obvious that the sheer number of international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are empty promises – as evident in the major fiasco of the Kyoto Protocol and Copenhagen Accord. However, while international cooperation may be hard, regional bodies have been taking steps to be environmentally friendly because regional cooperation is more effective due to the fewer number of countries involved in the treaty. This is best manifested in the European Union’s (EU’s) environmental policies. Having the world’s largest and wealthiest consumer base, the EU has rolled out regulations on efficiency of motor vehicles and their emissions. Car makers seeking to enter the market must meet these regulations. Toyota and Ford are forced to develop new technology to meet these regulations. Additionally, these regulations are applied to vehicles from the same manufacturers sold in other countries for product consistency, thus reducing worldwide emissions. Hence, it is conclusive that although international cooperation may come off as an ’empty promise’, pragmatic regional bodies like the EU have found ways to seize their opportunity to salvage this planet.

Besides regional cooperation, small communities in countries have come together to make changes in their ways of living to protect the environment, rendering the phrase ’empty promises’ fallacious. Benjamin Franklin once said,’when the well is dry, we will know the worth of water’. This quote has resonated well with many rural communities in developing countries that rely on agriculture or fishing for a living. In Thailand, depleting fish stocks in the Mekong River have severely affected the livelihoods of numerous Thai fishermen, driving home Franklin’s point about scarcity, prompting them to stop taking the environment for granted. Together with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), 14 villagers in Northern Thailand participated in the Thai Boon programme by setting up conservation zones around Mekong. Fishermen of villages like Ban Muang Choom observed that fishes were able to spawn inside the conservation zone, aiding in the historic protection of the ecosystem, resulting in significantly increased fish yields for fishermen. The economic benefits were a great incentive for the fishermen in Thailand, hence delivering promising benefits to the environment. It would thus be highly skewed for one to assume that humanity is completely incapable of saving the environment because of how multi-faceted this issue is, because even small communities like those in Thailand are doing their part to protect and conserve the environment.

More importantly, it is imperative for us to understand that the quest for environmental conservation has become even more possible in the present epoch because of the rapid advancement of technology. This has allowed us to turn to other green methods of satisfying our energy needs. For instance, Norway is investing billions in developing carbon capture and storage technology. Southern cities in France like Bordeaux and Marseilles use nuclear energy to fuel 40% of their daily energy needs. In comparison, traditional fuel sources like oil and coal produce carbon dioxide when burnt, a greenhouse gas that would further exacerbate global warming. The concepts of geothermal and wind energy are also gaining traction globally. Thus, one can see the correlation between the rapid advancement of technology and its unprecedented positive impact on the environment. Hence, it would be ignorant of one to claim that all efforts to save the environment are just ideas with no concrete action because governments have been actively trying their best to exploit whatever resources at their disposal to ensure that at least some of these promises made translate into action and not just blame it on the complexity of this global issue.

On a less hopeful note, some detractors think otherwise. Playing the role of the devil’s advocate, they believe that while efforts to save the environment are not largely empty promises because of the aforementioned points, there are some instances in which we have to concede that these efforts are in fact empty promises. This is because governments have many trade-offs to make when pursuing environmental policies. These trade-offs often conflict with their economic policies, and hence regardless of the number of treaties that they sign, both the people and the government are innately profit-oriented and would disregard the environmental damages that they inflict. In March 2015, then US President Obama submitted and Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to the United Nations that would commit the US to reaching a 26% to 28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. This led to the US Environmental Protection Agency passing the Clean Air Act. However, would factories actually be willing to cut emissions, by increasing their cost of production by employing green technology, albeit at the expense of their profits? The answer is a resounding no, because of the inherently selfish desires of people. Thus, insofar as the people are not willing to work with their governments to save the environment, any form of intervention by the government would be merely an empty promise. Nonetheless, as I have elucidated earlier, it would be unfair to generalize all efforts to save the environment as purely ‘talk with no action’ because we must concede that in this interconnected world of today, countries are starting to get less self-centered, albeit obvious exceptions from emerging countries like China, and are trying their best to contribute to environmental efforts. Though it would indubitably take time for environmental promises to be translated into action, I believe that humanity is on her way to a green planet ion the distant future.

To sum it all up, the threat that humanity is posing to the environment is certainly a worrying one. We are constantly plagued with a myriad of humanitarian problems, so it would be harsh for one to assume that all our environmental efforts are just empty promises because we are tirelessly trying to deliver some of these promises, in small ways. International and regional cooperation is a sine quo non to addressing our environmental woes. As long as we can cooperate in small ways, like Thailand and Europe, I remain optimistic that efforts to save the environment are largely not empty promises.

Score: 38/50




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