One of the greatest challenges of our time has been how to effectively manage, protect and develop our natural resources in ways that create value for the society – value in the sense of optimum utilization of air, land, water and other natural resources. Improving the quality of the individual members of the society entails building up those values and regard for what is right in terms of our disposition towards the preservation of our most important asset – planet earth.
Emphasis on Preservation
The concept of the Environment, the Economy and Equity, often referred to as the 3E’s, describes the relationship between the world we live in, the well-being of individuals, and our responsibility to preserve earth’s resources for the future members of our society – our children (born and unborn). The Trust Concept founded on equitable principles lay down the simple basis of holding something on Trust – It means holding assets for the benefit of another. In relation to the environment, we are the Trustees, holding our most important asset (planet earth) on trust, for the benefit of the future generation.
This writing looks at our responsibility to protect and preserve the natural assets provided on Planet Earth, for our benefit and the benefit of our children. We would look at Nigeria and the West Coast of Africa, and see what positive values that the society’s stakeholders (i.e. government, communities, companies, individuals, etc.) can place on the environmental. There is ample literature on the degradation of the environment, particularly in the Niger Delta Oil rich areas of Nigeria, as a result of oil prospecting and related activities. These are willful activities or omission on the part of some of the stakeholders, which in absolute terms break the 3E-chain. The challenge of keeping the 3E-chain intact is to my mind that of ensuring development that is sustainable, which would remind us of our responsibilities as individual and collective trustee(s) of the environment. Thus the theme: “Planet Earth: In trust we hold”.
The focus, to my mind, should therefore be on preventing those willful actions or omission that deplete or degrade the environment. In addition, incidents of natural depletion of the environment should be viewed with all seriousness particularly because there is no apparent offender to hold responsible, e.g. cases of erosion, and desert encroachment. I believe the strategy should be to take proactive steps rather than be reactionary on matters of the environment, for the simple reason that the resulting damage to the environment is not something that can in all cases be repaired or replenished.
Developing, with the Future in Mind
Matters of the environment should not only center on lip-service compliance with the numerous trusties and conventions on environmental protection, such as the 1972 Convention for Preventing Dumping of Wastes in the Sea, or the Nigerian Environmental Impact Assessment Decree. For example, although most of these conventions operate the “polluter pays” principle, it is not just enough to function of that principle. This is because most times the penalty paid by a polluter is recycled by that firm into its operating costs, and ultimately passed on by product pricing to the consumers. So who really pays?
Emerging values being placed on the preservation of the environment have led to the use of environmental regulatory management tools for environmental preservation. For example, Environmental Impact Assessments, Environmental Insurance Programs, the “Polluter pays” principles, etc. The strict enforcement of environmental laws has been employed towards preserving the environment. To the extent that these tools punish environmental mismanagement and perhaps effectively deter further or future mismanagement, it may appear on the surface to be adequate. However this is not the case when one looks at some irreparable consequences of environmental mismanagement, for example the total wipe out of the ecosystem following, careless deforestation or pollution of a river, can hardly be repaired by the payment of a monetary fine as penalty.
Here lies the essence of preserving for the future – a shift from the reactive to the preventive approach. Sustainable development is the goal, and preservation of the environment is the key aspect of the development process. The focus should be on development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations (beneficiaries of planet earth) to meet their own needs. Thus the concept of the 3E’s is a timeless one. It should continue ad-infinitum.
The consequences of not planning for the future are both immediate and futuristic. For example, the current degradation of the oil areas of the Niger Delta creates an economic gap and inequalities in resource utilization. The effect is large-scale poverty that dovetails, to civil unrest and high volatility in the ecologically devastated areas of the West Coast. Whilst not justifying some of the modes of agitation for environmental responsibility on the part of Government and companies operating within the area such as kidnapping and hijacking, these acts may not be unconnected with the buildup of resentment of the society. Resentment at not only not being able to survive today, but also not being left with clean air, land, and water to bequeath to their future generation. The future effects are obvious – a destruction of the entire ecosystem in the area, and nothing to bequeath to the future generation.
Another area to look at is the depletion of the environment by natural (other than by the willful activities of men) causes such as surface soil erosion in the South Eastern parts of Nigeria, where large areas of arable land are lost each year to erosion. The effect again is the breaking up of the 3E-chain, thus resulting in poverty and homelessness of the people. This is a good example of where the preventive approach can help preserve the environment. By strategically embarking or anti-erosion or erosion control programs, this great threat to the environment can be effectively checked or perhaps reduced to the barest minimum.
Sharing Values on Environmental Issues
I believe the value system should enter on what is good, and necessary for the greater good of the society in terms of environmental preservation. When this value system is shared and not imposed or “enforced”, then will it become ever clearer that penalties for environmental degradation, building of schools, and hospitals to appease the communities (not necessarily to improve the environment) cannot suffice to preserve the environment. The environmental development strategy should be one of preservation by prevention. Economic rights, human rights, and indeed all other rights rest on the existence of our most important asset – the environment we live in.
The environmental problem is ours, and ours alone to solve! With the right values on preserving the environment being shared, we will be able to preserve and hold planet earth in trust for our future generation.