Environmental degradation: more than just climate change

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Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier

The determination of a Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, has made climate change the leading international news item. Certainly, it’s a major threat to our planet. Here in Canada, the issue has a direct political significance. All major parties made climate change part of their platform so Canadians can hope for some real action in the near future. Some form of political action at the federal level, even if inadequate, is expected. But there’s a much more significant issue that receives scant attention – the environment as a whole, not just isolated issues of climate change or just plastics, or just waste disposal.
Some environmental issues that can match climate change in severity and need of immediate attention include availability of potable water, plastics pollution, waste management, population, resource depletion, species extinction, rain forest destruction and many other local and global disruptions to the earth’s ecosystem. Water resources may be the most significant environmental issue facing humanity. The World Economic Forum lists water as one of world’s greatest risks for the next decade; by 2025, two-thirds of the human population will face significant water shortages. In addition, 2.4 billion people live with inadequate sanitation and face diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever. Many specialists believe the next major conflict will be over water, not oil.
Of course, Canadians claim this isn’t our problem. Canada boasts 20% of the world’s fresh water and only 0.48% of the world’s population. But Canada ranks amongst the wold’s most prolific water users and amongst the lowest in enforcing water quality management.  Any conflict over water will involve Canada.
Waste and especially plastics are additional crucial issues.  Sadly, our record for waste management is no better than our record for water management. Canada again ranks high on per capita waste generation, and, within Canada, the province of Quebec tops the list.  The story repeats itself for pollution from plastics.
Human activities, such as habitat destruction to accommodate the ever-growing population, account for 99% of species extinction. There’s a natural “background” extinction rate of about one to five species per year, but our planet is losing species at one thousand times this rate; that is, dozens per day. Bird populations provide
an example of extinction caused by human activity. North America’s bird population is down by about three billion (29%) from 1970, due mainly to urban expansion (especially high-rise buildings), loss of habitat, decline in food sources such as insects (due to widespread use of pesticides), and increase in domestic cats. But birds are not the only species in decline.  Currently there are 521 plant and animal species listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and the list is growing.
Rain forest destruction is another major environmental issue. Brazil and Indonesia have policies directed at deliberate destruction of large portions of their rain forests for narrow, short-term economic benefits of large multi-national corporations. Canada’s response to this preventable disaster is to do nothing. By failing
to take action against these destructive practices, Canada partakes in these same activities.
Climate change has gained some attention and we wait for action from our political leaders; while action on climate change is necessary, it alone isn’t sufficient. To be meaningful, action must be directed at the entire ecosystem at local, national and global levels.