The purpose of Lieutenant Planet is to ring the environmental alarm bells while learning and teaching and fighting for a healthier planet. It is, then, absolutely necessary to talk about environmental equity. Environmental equity involves the level of positive environmental progress made and how its benefits spread across the socioeconomic plane of a community or nation. Some might argue that it’s more important to just make whatever progress we can, wherever we can. While I understand and agree with that sense of urgency, I would argue that not paying attention to environmental equity as we progress could prove to be catastrophically short-sighted and eventually counterproductive.
It goes without saying that wealthier communities waste and consume a lot more than their poorer counterparts. There is absolutely a need to replace wasteful consumer practices in these areas with more sustainable ones, as it is in these communities such practices will provide the greatest impact for the survival of the planet.
But as necessary resources inevitably grow more scarce, the price of said resources will grow past being accessible to the poor. It is important to focus some funding for the under-privileged before food and clean water shortages become desperate crises. Desperation does not leave room for respect for protective regulation, and will serve to undermine policies put in place to protect the environment. It will also lead to worldwide refugee crises, as are already starting to be seen.
It is now painfully easy to imagine a world where the wealthiest have walled themselves off from the rest of the population, and afford their luxury through military conquest while the world around them is eaten alive by the poor in a desperate bid to survive. But it is also easy to imagine a world connected by the common cause of survival through sustainability. While we focus on cutting carbon emissions and consumer pollution from wealthy areas, we must not forget to start putting in place sustainable technologies in underprivileged areas that provide a continuous supply of nutrient-rich food and clean water. To do that, we also must make sure that corporate interests aren’t making it impossible to do so. From deforestation to fracking to pipelines, ruining land and water resources that the wealthy are uninterested in serves none of us in the long run.
So what do we do to help maintain environmental equity as we strive for independence from unsustainable practices and consumption as a whole?
- Protect fresh water sources.
A lot of time and energy is being used to treat fresh water to make it viable for agricultural applications and consumption. But such treatments usually occur near the end-market. That is, it stays dirty until it gets to a place with enough resources to clean and use it. This is awful for the environments the polluted water runs through, degrading and destroying the ecosystems that prop up the planets basest food chains- the ones the unindustrialized poor rely on most.
Major sources of water pollution are often industrial- water used for transport, cooling or cleaning is often discarded back to the source it came from with the expectation that it will be diluted enough to not impact the environment. This thinking is fundamentally flawed, and the practice should be outlawed. It is financial concerns for other methods of waste removal that keep this practice in play.
But fret not! For there are options for cleaning waste water before it re-enters the environment. One option in it’s infancy is called Phased Transaction Extraction, which is being tested in Israel. Israel Science Info magazine writes,
“The two-step customizable process uses lightly heated solvents to extract organic compounds, while simultaneously removing heavy metals with one or more chelating agents — large molecules that bond to the toxic metals and separate them from the source medium.”
This process would remove organic and inorganic impurities from their medium- whether it be water or even contaminated sludge, and the agents used to do so would be 100% reusable. This process would, on a large scale supported by international policy, drastically reduce the worlds industrial wastewater impact without requiring an unrealistic expenditure on wet-waste removal. This would mean that the natural fresh-water sources that the worlds unindustrialized peoples rely on would remain cleaner and safer from upstream contamination.
2. Protect arable land
It is unconscionable that while in some places of the world we are bulldozing through viable farmland for pipelines and industry, while in other places we are bulldozing through rainforests for farmland. With the human population rising at an exponential rate, we have to prepare for a future that is sustainable with the land we have, while recognizing that a lot of that land will be taken up by a living populous. So how do we do this?
One option lies in agricultural streamlining and integration. We have the technology! Wide expanses of rural farmland are, in some cases, completely unnecessary. Vertical farming, a technique that employs hydroponic growth in vertical layers, exponentially decreases the amount of land needed to grow food. It can also be integrated onto existing buildings in urban areas, meaning that a considerable chunk of the food supply for urban areas, including poor urban areas, would be produced without the need for costly transit, all while taking up relatively insignificant quantities of land and simultaneously improving air quality in an urban environment.
3. Strictly regulate commercial fishing
Many indigenous peoples are located near water by necessity. Fishing, then, is often a major source of food for such people. Fishing for daily use does not have a heavy impact on marine life. Commercial fishing, by comparison, has a catastrophic effect. Firstly, a significant amount of marine life is lost to “bycatch” in commercial fishing. Bycatch is marine life that is caught unintentionally. Secondly, even within the realm of commercial seafood, another significant amount is wasted before it is sold or eaten. Thirdly, overfishing changes entire underwater ecosystems that we are woefully inept at understanding. The loss of biodiversity destroys food-chains, meaning the “bycatch” we see is actually just a small portion of the marine life we are affecting. It has been predicted that, at current rates of fishing and ocean warming, all seafood with run out within the next 50 years.
These are three ways to keep the sustainability movement in full swing, while maintaining long-term economic feasibility and environmental equity. There are many more! There are an infinite number of ways to keep our world healthier for all, we have only to keep using our creative forces for the cause and stop letting the industrial giants fill us with the fear that employing these ideas would cripple our economies. We have the means to provide food and water for every person on Earth, it’s just a matter of putting better techniques into practice- Ones that work for everyone instead of a select few.