The destruction of the environment:An unfolding tragedy for humanity

11Apr 2019
The Guardian
 The destruction of the environment:An unfolding tragedy for humanity

The natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things occurring naturally, meaning in this case not artificial. The term is most often applied to the Earth or some parts of Earth.

This environment encompasses the interaction of all living species, climate, weather and natural resources that affect human survival and economic activity.  

In contrast to the natural environment is the built environment. In such areas where man has fundamentally transformed landscapes such as urban settings and agricultural land conversion, the natural environment is greatly modified into a simplified human environment. Even acts which seem less extreme, such as building a mud hut or a photovoltaic system in the desert, the modified environment becomes an artificial one.

Though many animals build things to provide a better environment for themselves, they are not human, hence beaver dams, and the works of mound-building termites, are thought of as natural. 

People seldom find absolutely natural environments on Earth, and naturalness usually varies in a continuum, from 100 per cent natural in one extreme to 0 per cent natural in the other. More precisely, we can consider the different aspects or components of an environment, and see that their degree of naturalness is not uniform.  If, for instance, in an agricultural field, the mineralogic composition and the structure of its soil are similar to those of an undisturbed forest soil, but the structure is quite different. 

Natural environment is often used as a synonym for habitat. For instance, when we say that the natural environment of giraffes is the savanna.

Late last year the World Wide Fund for Nature released their Living Planet Report for 2018. WWF’s estimates were stark: populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians have, on average, declined by 60 per cent between 1970 and 2014.

The Earth is estimated to have lost about half of its shallow water corals in the past 30 years. A fifth of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years, and 2018 marked the worst level of deforestation in history.

This is a tragedy for nature. And an unfolding tragedy for humanity: the destruction of the environment is threatening the planet’s life support systems that we all rely on every day for our air, water and food.

The impact on people’s lives is already apparent with 3.6 billion people facing water scarcity at least one month a year, and 3.1 billion people drinking water with a risk of contamination.

The 2019 Global Risks Report from the World Economic Forum identified “Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse (terrestrial or marine)” as both one of the most likely and most serious global risks with “irreversible consequences for the environment, resulting in severely depleted resources for humankind as well as industries.”Fortunately, there is already a good deal of work underway to develop “nature-based solutions” that harness the power of nature to tackle social and economic challenges.

UNDP has been working around the world with partners to trial these ideas and many have significant implications for human development work. Environmental concerns often hit the poorest the hardest.

Not only are poor communities most vulnerable to crop failure or flooding, because of climate change for example, but they are also less resilient – or unable to recover from – such natural disasters.

Moreover, protecting nature is of critical concern to those who care about equity between generations, and it is clear from the data that the challenges faced by the current generation dwarf in comparison to those that the next generation will face if most environmental indicators continue their current trajectory.

For World Wildlife Day, the Human Development Report Office has released guidance to both inspire and assist UN country teams to investigate how nature-based solutions could help a nation’s human development.

The material looks at solutions that can help tackle climate change, improve the management of land and water (both fresh and marine), and help maintain biodiversity directly. We use case studies to show how nature-based solutions can help promote human development and help wildlife. 

Top Stories