“Environmental protection is a job for wealthy nations.”
This is a phrase that you will hear repeated to the point of platitude by the affirmative speaker in the upcoming STOA season. It’s a sensible argument and, based on the research I’ve done for this resolution, it is one of the most common for prioritizing growth in developing nations. The logic behind it dictates that we leave the environmental pick-up for when 2.2 billion people no longer live on $2 a day. Once a nation’s most basic needs have been met, then it can worry about saving the whales. So how do you beat it?
Not, I can assure you, with the vague threat that today’s actions will come back tomorrow. The environmental impacts of your case must be felt here and now or else you will be outweighed by the immediacy and scale of global poverty. While all your judges will understand the urgency of poverty, few are aware of the immediate and human toll of disregarding the environment. This is because the type of environmental problems we deal with in the West are far different from those faced by the global South. As The Economist reported: “The environmental problems that developing countries should worry about are different from those that western pundits have fashionable arguments over. They are not about potential problems in the next century, but about indisputable harm being caused today by, above all, contaminated water and polluted air.”1
There is more ground than you think on the negative side. If you put in the time and effort to research below the surface and into the ways in which environmental problems tangibly affect people in developing nations, it will pull your disadvantages out of future tense and make them matter in the moment.
Take for example deforestation. We in the West see deforestation as a problem because trees reduce carbon emissions and hold intrinsic value and beauty. These arguments are true, but try telling them to the farmer in Brazil who struggles to feed his family and needs open land to survive. Consider instead the immediate impacts of deforestation. When large swathes of trees are cut down there is no longer anything holding the soil that was previously contained by tree roots in place. When the rain comes that soil is washed downstream straight to the nearest body of water. In fact, the Water Encyclopedia reports that deforestation has resulted in a fivefold increase in sediment carried in the world’s rivers2. But so what?
Well once the sediment reaches the river or lake, ocean or sea, things get messy. The consistency of the water becomes too filthy for fish and aquatic life to survive and they are suffocated by dirt. This wipes out the livelihoods of any fisheries based on that body of water and any other business or family who built their homes on the banks or beaches. This problem becomes much more dire when pesticides used for farming are introduced. For then not only is the soil uninhabitable to fish, it is poisonous to humans. Not only are local businesses shattered, but any unaware person who drinks from the pesticide-contaminated water is at risk for acute poisoning, damage to immune and nervous systems, birth defects, and cancer. Knock down one domino and the delicate balance of the ecosystem topples after, bringing down every life which depended upon it.
Now the farmer is listening.
Surely though the scope and scale of suffering caused by poverty outweighs the lives of those affected by deforestation. Well of course, but I only outlined one example of the millions of ways in which humans turn nature against us themselves and each one has its own harm. Be it oil drilling, air pollution, loss of coral reefs and other animal habitats, fracking, or litter, behind every vague threat of environmental ill there is an immediate and devastating impact. Go find it.
According to the Blacksmith Institute, “Significant environmental health risks are responsible for as much as one-fifth of the total burden of disease in the developing world – more than the combined impacts of malnutrition and all other preventable risk factors and groups of diseases.”3 Find the reasons behind this study, find the situations where humans can’t live without environmental regulations, and you will be able to show that environmental problems are everyone’s problem.
Clean up is not a luxury to be afforded by rich nations, it is not some far away issue that will patiently wait a century before impacting us; it is a dire and immediate necessity for all.
1“Dirt Poor”, The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/157999
2Water Encyclopedia http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/Da-En/Developing-Countries-Issues-in.html
3“The Hidden Tragedy: Pollution in the Developing World”, Blacksmith Institute http://www.blacksmithinstitute.org/files/FileUpload/files/Additional%20Reports/hidden.pdf