Environmental degradation is no longer a new topic. Many air, water, and land environments in many societies (worldwide) are heavily polluted to such an extent that they’ve become unsustainable and need urgent attention so they can be transformed from unsustainable environments to sustainable environments: the types of environments that are part and parcel of environmentally sustainable societies.
But how can environmentally unsustainable societies move from an unsustainable level to a sustainable one? What important measures must be put in place before such a great challenge can be surmounted—especially when an appreciable amount of time, human and natural resources are needed in transforming a society and its environment?
This article will provide very important strategies that could help to transform environmentally unsustainable societies into environmentally sustainable ones.
But first, what is an environmentally sustainable society?
An environmentally sustainable society is one that has enough natural resources that can cater for the needs of its present and future population(s) without threatening the ability of its future generations to meet their own basic needs.
Environmentally sustainable societies conserve, manage and protect their natural resources (or natural capital) properly, and live on the income that their natural resources generate.
Environmentally sustainable societies know that if they waste, excessively deplete and mismanage their natural resources/capital, they will deteriorate from a sustainable level to an unsustainable one.
Environmentally sustainable societies exploit natural resources (i.e., the Earth’s natural capital or fund which nature provides for all human beings, plants and animals), and use them to enhance their environments and increase their present and future ability to meet human, animal and plant needs.
Sustainability of the environment is in the hands of mankind, and it needs to be properly implemented and maintained
On the other hand, environmentally unsustainable societies also exist, and there is growing evidence that some environmentally sustainable societies are showing signs of becoming environmentally unsustainable—i.e., they are living unsustainably and their environments are degrading.
What are some major characteristics of environmentally unsustainable societies?
- their air is highly polluted with smoke from indigenous industries; it’s at such a degree that people have to turn on vehicle headlights during the day in order to see what is in front of them.
- their lakes, rivers, seas, oceans, or water bodies are polluted because they contain various types of toxic solid and liquid wastes that have been dumped or discharged by people.
- their lands are highly polluted with wastes from factories; this has happened to such a degree that people and industries have abandoned certain polluted wastelands. Why? Because they are unproductive and have recorded high rates of unemployment and crime.
- etc.—many other unsustainable characteristics.
Now, what are the most important steps that can be taken in order to transform an environmentally unsustainable society into an environmentally sustainable one?
(1) Establish, or improve existing social capital: Everybody in each society has to put hands together in order to solve environmental problems—this needs to start at the grassroots
In order for an environmentally unsustainable society to become environmentally sustainable (or much less environmentally unsustainable) it has to build or improve on what sociologists call “social capital”.
Each society has a social capital—its own citizens.
In order to establish or improve social capital, people from different backgrounds, with opinions and characteristics have to come together, communicate with each other, understand each other, and find a common ground to work together in order to solve existing societal or environmental problems.
In this regard, indigenous local society leaders, learned people, government officials, business leaders, and all citizens have to come together, discuss, work out modalities and look for high- and low-cost options that can be used to transform ailing and highly polluted unsustainable societies into sustainable and livable ones.
The solutions to environmental problems are easier to implement if every single person in a society—regardless of age or background—is carried along.
Important questions that should be asked during meetings—when establishing or improving social capital:
- is there pollution in the environment—air, water, and land?
- is there too much pollution? What is the presumed level of pollution?
- what are the causes or existing sources of pollution?
- how can pollution be eradicated from the society or environment?
- should the sources of pollution be regulated or eradicate, even if it will affect the economy/standard of living, but end up preserving health?
- etc.—many other important questions.
If citizens of societies do not put heads together, and reason together, it will be difficult to eradicate environmental problems because, naturally, without discussions, enlightenment and leadership, many people tend to neglect Mother Nature’s call of duty to protect the environment.
(2) Once respective leaders can summon people together and address environmental issues, a timeline should be set—as agreed—in which it is believed that most important goals would be achieved; for example: environmental clean-up, closure of polluting factories, etc.
(Also, there should be a plan, not only for a few meetings, but a continuous series of meetings, as agreed by all members of a society or community.)
All citizens, especially leaders and learned people, should be allowed to contribute as much as possible so that environmental problems can be identified precisely and goals/solutions can be proffered after members of society brain-storm all important solutions, or ideas provided by citizens.
Examples of some important goals that environmentally unsustainable societies could proffer
- enforce or encourage reduction of air pollution from industries—from high emission rates to low or even zero-emission rates, if possible.
- stop or discourage littering/open dumping of solid waste on land, and in water bodies.
- stop construction of structures, building or factories that encourages increasing discharge of waste into air, water and land environments.
- launch a recycling program in order to conserve certain resources, and recycle and re-use others that are recyclable and reusable.
- replace some high carbon-emitting factories and vehicles that use more fossil fuel, with those that use more electricity, and give off low- or zero-emission discharges. Note: replacement could only be a good option if there is sufficient funding to do it.
(3) Implement goals
All stated goals that have been agreed on, should be zealously and vigorously implemented, and effectively monitored from inception to completion.
If goals are properly implemented, then air pollution and environmental degradation levels will gradually become much lower than the minimum levels recommended locally, or internationally.
(4) Exercise patience
It takes time and patience to get things done in today’s world. Government leaders, society leaders, learned people and citizens have to exercise a lot of patience because transforming an environmentally unsustainable society into a sustainable one would involve a lot of human resources, natural resources, energy, and a lot of time as well. It is not such an easy task as stated on paper, but it can be done.
If patience is not properly exercised, the dream of a society can be forgotten, long before a single step is taken.
- each individual in a society matters a lot. Most environmental damages are results of social changes due to each individual’s action—which could be excessive burning of combustible fuels, dumping of solid wastes on land, and in water, etc.
- Each individual’s action at grassroots can lead to massive changes in overall environmental conditions—either positively or negatively.
In fact, research conducted by social scientists suggests that it takes between 5% and 10% of the population of a society, community, country, or the whole world to bring about a “major social change”.
- human history and research have proven that significant social and environmental changes occur in a shorter time than many people think—especially if goals are pursued with the type of vigour and zeal that is necessary.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead once summed up the ability a group of people could have if they desire to make a social change: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
- If societies start now, rather than later, they will still have enough time to change from environmentally unsustainable societies to environmentally sustainable ones.
Recommendations for sustainable living
There are some recommendable strategies that can be used to reduce negative environmental impact and create more environmentally sustainable environments/societies.
The following strategies can help to sustain the Earth’s natural capital and create more sustainable environments:
1. Carry everybody along—as stated at the beginning of the article.
2. Rely more on renewable energy from the sun, and indirect forms of solar energy such as wind and flowing water. Solar energy can provide most heating and electricity needs without emitting health-deteriorating carbon compounds into the atmosphere.
3. Protect the biodiversity of nature by preventing pollution and degradation of air, water bodies and land—since pollution affects the health of animal species, natural processes and ecosystems.
4. Sustain the Earth’s natural chemical cycles by reducing pollution, production, and mismanagement of solid wastes; and preventing natural systems from being overloaded with harmful man-made chemicals.