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Citizen responsibility for the environment


Published in

The Conversation

Enrique Baquero

Biologist, researcher of Biodiversity and Environment Institute and professor of the School of Sciences, University of Navarra.

The Environmental Responsibility can be defined as the "imputability of a positive or negative evaluation for the ecological impact of a decision", generally for damage caused to other species, to nature as a whole or to future generations, by the actions - or non-actions - of another individual or group. Imputability is the "capacity of human beings to understand that their conduct harms the interests of their fellow human beings and to adapt their actions to this understanding", and also to attribute the consequences of their actions to someone else.

When human beings began their journey on Earth, they had little impact on the environment: few individuals, non-sedentary habits, leave relationship between demand and supply of resources (which are the goods or services provided by nature). The relationship between people and the environment was based on the use of these resources and, at that time, they were not very diverse and very abundant. These resources can be Materials (air, water, minerals or derived from the biosphere) or energetic, and these can be renewable (solar, wind, hydraulic or geothermal) or non-renewable (fossil fuels and nuclear). Renewables are those that are regenerated at a rate comparable to their consumption. And the consumption of a resource can exceed its renewal and cause its disappearance. All this has a lot to do with the concept of Sustainability, which, as currently considered, implies the triple interaction between the ecological, economic and social spheres.

Human impact on the environment occurs on many scales. There are very specific actions (such as throwing a cigarette butt on the ground) but we are also facing a scenario of great challenges: we generate large amounts of garbage (and a lot of plastic); fresh water is becoming scarce and status may worsen; greenhouse gas emissions - and accelerate global warming - have been running rampant for many decades and are not decreasing; as a consequence there are catastrophic climatic effects and, in some habitats such as the sea, imbalances are occurring that cause effects such as coral bleaching; soil degradation due to unsustainable agricultural practices has enormous dimensions and there are serious erosion problems; deforestation of large tracts of tropical rainforest is accelerating; and as a consequence of all of the above, we are heading towards an accelerated loss of biodiversity. These last two problems are the most serious, as they directly affect the survival of the human species.

These problems have an individual or community dimension, and the latter has two distinct components, the business and the administration. On the one hand, the Administration has responsibility in relation to the management of: the environmental rules and regulations (environmental impact; control of air, water or light emissions); land occupation (grade; urban green infrastructure); waste (MSW, CDW and others); large-scale energy management ; water (rain, waste and drinking water); the mobility; and natural resources (parks, ecosystems, species). A good e-administration and a good role as an enhancer of the citizens' environmental Education can be good allies.

On the other hand, the business, or the economic-industrial sectors, have responsibility in relation to: their emissions (quantity and quality); and the way in which they occupy the soil, especially the agricultural and livestock sector - by extension - but also the fishing, petrochemical and mining sectors due to the seriousness of the modification of the environment that their activity entails. The business -if it practices a good environmental Corporate Social Responsibility- must have a strategy for the implementation of a good conduct in relation to the environment, respect the laws in force, establish rules and voluntary commitments, analyze its impact, have a department specialized in environment and select staff suitable to work in it, develop programs of environmental Education for all its workers, carry out environmental improvements in its products and services, and save energy.

For its part, each citizen can contribute by being manager with its energy consumption, the austere acquisition of other resources, practicing a respectful diet (moderate consumption of meat and acquisition of food of proximity or Km0), collaborating in the reduction and recycling of waste, with a mobility manager , contributing to the conservation of Biodiversity (for example by not releasing invasive species in the natural environment), and contributing to the non direct degradation of the habitat (fires, correct behavior when in the natural environment, etc.).

Educational centers should become focal points for the emission of good environmental awareness and the promotion of good practices, turning future citizens into solidary actors that ensure a scenario in which all humanity coexists in conditions of environmental, economic and social justice.

In conclusion, the human species is part of the system. At present, its capacity to impact the environment is greater than that of other organisms, and it must therefore be very aware of its responsibility in this regard status. If the impact increases - at all scales: staff-citizenship, business and administration-, the environment will degrade at a very considerable rate. Although organizations (companies or administration) are the main contributors in the form of change (positive or negative), it is the individual citizens who ultimately bear the responsibility. As citizens we must be aware of the areas in which we have that responsibility. This is called environmental awareness, and it should be inspired by intergenerational solidarity.

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.

The Conversation