Are development and conservation truly compatible?

In many instances, development that is designed to help humans imposes on the environment. What should we do?

Photo Credit: Pedro Szekely

The world is plagued by many issues - that fact cannot be disputed.From a human perspective, many people throughout the world still live below the international poverty line (less than $1.90 per day.) On the other end of the spectrum, the environment is continually degrading, with tropical rainforests being cut down at a tremendous rate and coral reefs dying. In many instances, development that is designed to help humans imposes on the environment.

Hydroelectric dams are a prime example. In some cases, they are built to provide electricity for isolated, rural villages, yet their construction pollutes waterways and blocks the flow of water. This negatively affects migratory fish species, or any aquatic organism living in the developmental area.

The Yangtze River is one of the most developed waterways in the world. As a result, many species such as the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle, Rafetus swinhoei, and the Yangtze Sturgeon, Acipenser dabryanus, are critically endangered. On the other end of the scale, many conservation efforts affect human activity. In the case of the Vaquita, Phocoena sinus, conservation methods such as the removal of illegal gillnets are causing disputes with fisherman who rely on these nets for income. There are often deeper issues of governmental corruption in this case, but the concept remains the same.

In an ideal world, we would be able to eradicate poverty and mitigate the effects of climate change at the same time. However, our world is far from ideal. This then raises the question: which should be our priority? On the face of it the answer seems simple: neither. To prioritise one over the other seems like a fallacy. If we prioritise humans over the environment, then it’s plausible that the environment would become so degraded that there would be nothing left. If we prioritise the environment, then it is likely that poverty-stricken countries will still exploit their natural resources to try and improve human quality of life.

The answer appears not to be a simple one after all. The industrial revolution of the Western world had little consideration for the environment. As time has progressed, we have become more aware of the importance of protecting the natural world. Yet with other countries attempting to develop much the same way as we did, who are we to say that they cannot because it is damaging the environment?

Developing countries don’t need to follow the same path we did. Instead of a country investing in fossil fuels, they could in theory invest in green sources of energy. They could provide power to their population while also having little impact on the environment. The technology is there and they could utilise that availability. As we start to shift to more environmentally-friendly options, it could be entirely possible for other nations to skip the damaging steps we took and jump straight to the good technology. This might require help from more developed countries to implement, but surely it is worth it.

Although there is not a simple solution, there are still options available. It is possible for human development and environmental conservation to co-exist, but we all have to work together and be dedicated to achieving it.

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