The natural environment, an asset

Nature, the basis of existence for all living things, not only provides us with various blessings such as food and energy, but also has maintained the balance of the natural environment by a circulatory process of breaking down and recycling unnecessary waste substances.

Now, this huge “circulation system” is beginning to collapse.

Depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, the progress of desertification, and the frequent occurrence of abnormal weather – phenomena occurring in all parts of the world now give us reason to fear that the structure of the natural environment has undergone a great change.

Inasmuch as these phenomena are said to have their origins in human activities, we must recognize our dual position as both “victim” and “violator.”

Without the asset of a stable natural environment, the development of science, technology, and an industrial economy becomes unachievable. This is a problem that requires all of us – not only specific countries, regions, industries, or enterprises, but also individuals – to work toward a solution.

Re-framing the issue from pollution tu the global environment

ne increasingly hears mention of “environmental issues” these days. Most likely, the area of concern that first comes to mind is global warming.

The Kyoto Protocol went into effect in February, 2005, bringing demands for the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide both at home and abroad. We have thus entered an age in which we must address environmental problems from a different point of view than before.

The causes for concern expressed in the single phrase “environmental issues” have changed with the times.

With the emergence of environmental pollution problems such as Minamata Disease and Itai-Itai Disease in the 1960’s, corporations came under pressure to prevent pollution and to make compensation for the harm already done. It was at this time that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in the United States.

Regardless of any ethical culpability connected with the causal relation, these environmental pollution problems do have clear victims. The violators have been held responsible, and an attempt has been made to solve the problems by investigating their causes and taking corrective action.

The 1970’s brought new initiatives to control and monitor the environment, such as the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control (Amendment) and the Environment Agency (now the Ministry of the Environment) in Japan; the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States; the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNEP); the Washington Convention (*1); and the London Convention (*3). It was a time of increasingly vigorous international action on environment protection.

In the cases of environmental pollution accompanying industrial development mentioned above, since harmful effects and their causes clearly existed, it was possible to minimize the damage by taking steps at once.

However, with environmental issues it is not uncommon that clear damage cannot be confirmed, and consequently causes cannot be identified.

In the case of global warming, although clear causes were at last demonstrated with the publication of the latest report (*3) in February, 2007, they were not due to the activities of a particular “violator” but of the entire human race. The damage could go on for thousands of years.

It’s characteristic of environmental issues like this one that serious damage, progressing almost indiscernibly, can be assumed even though the damage and its causes are unclear.

[* 1] Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (effective 1975)
[* 2] Convention on the Prevention of Maritime Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (effective 1975)
[* 3] IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

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