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Environmental Concepts and Issues: A focus on Cambodia (ETAP Reference Guidebook)

Environmental Concepts and Issues: A focus on Cambodia (ETAP Reference Guidebook)

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Published by: yeangdonal on Dec 01, 2009
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Introduction to the Environment
Chapter 1
3
Chapter 1Introduction to the Environment
This book is intended to serve as a reference guide and an introductory textbook on thescience and management of issues related to the environment. When we speak of theenvironment, we refer to the living as well as the non-living world around us, including trees,air, soil, water, plants, animals, rivers, oceans, fish, and insects. The environment also includeshuman beings and the creations of human beings – cities, farms, homes, and temples. Ashuman beings, we are inseparable from our environment and cannot exist without the naturalenvironment.Because humans are part of the environment, our activities can greatly change the naturalworld. Usually our activities affect the environment in three ways. First, we take resourcesfrom the natural environment, such as fish, minerals, wood, clean water, and gems. Second,we add things to the environment, such as smoke from fires, plastic bottles, aluminum cans andplastic bags. Third, we replace the natural environment with something else. An example of this is the clearing of a forest and replacing it with a road or houses or factories.When billions of human beings all over the world take things from the environment, add thingsto the environment and replace the natural environment with other things, the natural worldcan be greatly changed. Most natural resources are limited, so taking too much from theenvironment can use up these resources. For example, if we take too many fish from theTonle Sap, there will be fewer fish to breed and fewer fish in the lake in the future. Also,adding too much waste to the environment can have negative effects. In small amounts,waste is not a serious problem because the natural environment can absorb some waste. Butthere is a limit to the amount of waste that the natural environment can accept. If we add toomuch waste to the natural environment, the water, air and land become too dirty to use.Finally, replacing too much of a natural resource with something else can also have negativeeffects. The amount of land available to convert to human use is limited. For example, if aforest is destroyed to create farmland, it can take hundreds of years to regenerate a similarforest.Human activities have always changed the environment. In the past, the effects of theseactions were localized – people’s actions would change a small plot of land or a short length of a stream. Today, however, modern technology makes it possible for people to damage acountry or the entire world very quickly. For example, with modern technology, large forestscan be cleared so rapidly that the weather of the entire planet is changed, resulting in rainfallchanges even in regions that are far from the forest.Because of our capacity to change the natural environment rapidly and on a large scale, it isimportant for us to understand environmental issues and to manage these issues appropriately.This is a challenge because little is known about all effects of human activities and modern
 
 Environment: ETAP Reference Guide Book
Chapter 1
4technologies. Everything in the environment is connected, but all of the connections are notwell understood. When people change the environment rapidly and on a large scale, theenvironmental interactions become very complex and the impacts of human actions becomeless certain. For example, scientists know that when cars, motorcycles and trucks burnpetroleum fuel, pollution is added to the air. The aggregation of millions of people usingpetroleum fuel-burning vehicles may change the world’s climate, change sea levels, and makestorms more severe and more frequent. However, scientists do not know exactly what willhappen, where it will happen or when it will happen. For many environmental issues, we arecombining the power of modern technology with considerable ignorance about the effects of what we are doing.Because human activities greatly influence the natural environment, it is necessary to managethese activities in such a way that the environment is preserved for ourselves and for futuregenerations. Managing these activities is a challenge for several reasons. First, since there isscientific uncertainty about environmental problems, there is often disagreement regarding themost appropriate course of action. Second, since natural processes and human actions thataffect these processes are constantly changing, management of issues related to theenvironment must be flexible in response to these changes. Third, since humans are part of the environment and cause environmental damage, people must be involved to find solutions tothese problems. To discover workable solutions, it is important to involve people who impacton environmental issues, including villagers, government, business, NGOs, and military.Involving all of these people is a challenge because they have different - and often conflicting– interests. In addition, environmental issues can be political and controversial, so resolution of issues can be complicated. In summary, environmental issues are complex and constantlychanging, so there is rarely one simple solution for environmental problems. Environmentalpolicy and management is about dealing with complexity, in Cambodia and throughout theworld.In Cambodia, for example, there are many complex environmental problems, including over-logging, soil erosion, flooding, over-fishing, and water pollution. There is no clear, simplesolution to these problems, but general guidelines and principles can assist people to bettermanage issues related to the environment. As mentioned above, solutions must be flexible andmust include people who are involved in the problem, as well as people impacted by thesolutions. Furthermore, it is important for each individual, whether you are a private citizen ora government official, to take actions that prevent damage or that repair damage toenvironmental systems. Additional principles, as well as tools for managing environmentalissues, are described in section five of this book.This book is intended to assist people in understanding environmental issues and concepts andin learning tools to resolve these issues. The first section focuses on ecology and ecosystemsand provides an overview of the Earth, climates and global systems. The second sectionexamines the Earth’s natural resources, including water, soil, land, fish, forests, and minerals.The third section pertains to environmental problems, such as air pollution, climate change,water pollution, and pesticides. The fourth section looks at the role of people in changing the
 
Introduction to the Environment
Chapter 1
5environment and in resolving environmental problems. The fifth section provides specific toolsfor managing environmental issues, including data collection and analysis, computer-basedmapping, and resource economics. All sections provide specific examples and relateenvironmental issues to the context of Cambodia. When reading individual chapters, it ishelpful to remember that all issues are inter-related and should be viewed as part of the larger,complex environmental system.It is our hope that this book will improve people’s knowledge about the environment, issuesrelating to the environment, and management of these issues. It is also our hope that throughthis book, people will become interested in working to improve the environment. If thesehopes are realized, this book will be an invaluable tool to assist in the protection of theenvironment for current and future generations.

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