You are on page 1of 43

ENVIRONMENT MODULE

Topics:
1. What do we mean by ‘environment’?
2. The natural environment
3. Why is it important to care about the natural environment?
4. Ecosystems
5. Food chains and food webs
6. Biodiversity
7. The three levels of biodiversity
8. Why is biodiversity important?
9. Problems for biodiversity
10. Extinction
11. Case study: Extinction of the Dodo bird
12. Water
13. Water crisis
14. Oceans
15. Case study: The largest poisoning in history
16. Dams
17. Case study: The Tasang Dam, Burma
18. Rainforests and deforestation
19. Threat to Burma’s forests
20. Pollution
21. Case study: Gold mining in Burma
22. Case study: Bhopal disaster
23. Global warming
24. Energy use
25. Case study: Gas pipelines in Burma
26. Population
27. Sustainable development
28. Environmental agreements

Acknowledgements:
Some extracts from Curriculum Project’s Environment Issues module, EarthRights’
materials, and the PDP – Environment unit have been used or adapted in compiling this
module.
1. What do we mean by ‘environment’?
Three types of environment:

NaturalEnvironment
The natural environment is the land, air, water and all the living things.

Built
Environment
The built environment is anything that is made by people.

Socialand cultural environment


The social and cultural environment includes beliefs, ideas, religion, knowledge and
languages.

Decide which type of environment the words below belong to. Write them in the
correct column in the table:

A tiger, bamboo, a bamboo house, education, Chin language, Delhi, the


planet earth, a flower, Kachin State, the Irrawaddy river, a pencil, an
elephant, electricity, Christianity, politics, Shwedagon Pagoda, rain, a
village headman, gold, a radio

Natural Environment Built Environment Social and cultural


environment

Which of the above environments do you think is most important? Why?


__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
2. The natural environment
The natural environment is everything that is found naturally on the earth, such as the air,
water, the land and the plants and trees. The natural environment is very important for our
survival.

Water
All plants and animals are dependent on water for their survival.

Water covers three-quarters (75%) of the surface of the earth. So it seems that we have plenty
of water for all the people, plants and animals, and that we will never run out of this resource.

But, in reality, we do not have plenty of water. 97% of all the earth’s water is found in the
oceans, as salt water. Humans and animals cannot drink salt water, and most plants cannot
grow in salt water. Another 2% of the world’s water is frozen – it makes up the ice of glaciers
and ice-caps. That leaves 1% of the earth’s water which we can use.

The water that we use is found in lakes and rivers (surface water) or stored beneath the
ground (ground water).

Air
The atmosphere is the layer that surrounds the surface of the earth. It is about two miles thick.
The atmosphere is important for our survival. It provides us with the air that all plants and
animals need. We need the oxygen in the air for respiration; plants need the carbon dioxide in
the air for photosynthesis. The air contains hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, plus small
amounts of other gases.

The atmosphere also includes the ozone layer, which protects us from the harmful ultra-violet
rays that come from the sun.

Trees and Plants


The trees and plants are very important to the natural environment of the earth. One of the
things they do is change carbon dioxide to oxygen (photosynthesis). If they did not do this,
we would not have the oxygen we need to survive. If too many of the trees in the world were
destroyed, there wouldn’t be enough oxygen for us to breathe, and we would die.

Trees are also important for holding down soil, stopping it from being washed or blown away
by the rain or wind. In this way, trees prevent erosion.

Land
The land is very important for our survival. We need the land to grow crops for food. Also the
plants that grow on the land provide food for many of the animals that live on the earth. If the
soil on the land is fertile it can grow many plants and crops.

Unfortunately, if the land is not used carefully, or if it is over used, it is no longer able to
grow crops (it becomes infertile).

The soil in rainforests is very fertile. This is because all the trees and plants in the rainforest
provide nutrients to the soil. But if the rainforest is cut down, the soil quickly becomes
infertile.
3. Why is it important to care about the natural environment?
The natural environment provides us with the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food
we eat. It also provides us with the natural resources we need to build houses, develop
medicines, produce electricity etc. However, many human activities are causing a lot of
damage to the natural environment, and are harming the air, water, land, plants and trees.

Write down all the ways you can think of that humans are harming the natural
environment. ____________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________

It is easy for us to think that the world has so much land and water and so many trees and
plants that we do not need to use them carefully. But people today are now realizing that this
is not correct. As the population of the world increases the amount of natural resources that
are needed for all the people also increases. In addition to this, as the world develops and
standards of living increase, more and more natural resources are needed to produce the
goods that people demand.

The world in balance


The earth is thought to be about 5 billion years old. It is believed that life began to form on
earth two to three billion years ago. When life first formed on earth it was in the form of very
simple, single cell organisms. Today the world is full of millions of different complex species
of plants and animals.

All these species of plants and animals have evolved to be able to live together on the earth.
They are all part of a complex system where everything in the natural environment is
interdependent. This means that everything is dependent on other things for survival.

Everything in the natural environment is in balance. This means that the earth has natural
ways of maintaining the climate, atmosphere, and populations of animals and plants, and this
ensures the survival of life on earth. This balance is delicate, and many of the activities of
humans are upsetting the natural balance of the earth.

In the past, when people studied life on earth they would study each species separately, in
isolation from its surroundings. Today, environmentalists and ecologists also study the
relationship of species with their surroundings. This gives ecologists a much better
understanding of the importance of each species in the natural environment as a whole.

It is important that humans learn about the natural environment and understand how the many
plant and animal species are interdependent. That way we can gain better understanding of
how our activities are affecting the natural environment.

List all the things you can think of that humans are dependent on for survival.
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
4. Ecosystems
An ecosystem is a place made up of living things (birds, trees, plants, animals) and non-living
things (rivers, mountains, rocks, air). The living things depend on each other and on the non-
living things, to survive.

An ecosystem is a place that supports life. It can be very big, such as a forest, or small such
as a stream. Ecosystems are not separate places, but overlap with each other.

For example, a rainforest is an ecosystem:


Sunlight, water and minerals allow the plants and trees to grow. Small animals eat the plants,
larger animals eat the small animals, and bacteria and fungi decompose the dead organisms,
returning the minerals to the soil.

But within the rainforest there are many smaller ecosystems, such as a stream or a tree.
A tree grows. Lichen grows on the tree. Squirrels eat the tree’s seeds, caterpillars eat its
leaves; birds eat the caterpillars and nest in the tree’s branches.

The earth is made up of many interdependent ecosystems.

1. List some of the different types of ecosystems that can be found in the world.
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________

Each ecosystem has a natural balance, and many species of living things can survive together.
Over time the plants and animals within an ecosystem have adapted to the ecosystem of
which they are a part. Animals that have adapted to an ecosystem have characteristics that
make living in that place possible.

Ecosystems can change. But in nature, change will happen very slowly, over hundreds or
thousands of years. This means that the species living in an ecosystem have time to change
(adapt).

2. How are animals that hunt adapted to hunting?


__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________

3. How are fish adapted to life in water?


__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________

4. How are some animals adapted to life in cold climates?


__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________

When humans make changes to the environment, the changes happen quickly, and the species
don’t have time to adapt. This means that the species may not be able to survive.

5. Food chains and food webs


One way of understanding how ecosystems work and how species are interdependent
is by looking at how living things get energy. Every living thing needs energy to survive.
When one living thing eats another, energy is being transferred. In an ecosystem many living
things eat other living things. This creates what is known as a food chain.

Plants are at the bottom of a food chain. They are called producers, because they take
energy from the sun and convert it into energy that plant eating animals, herbivores, can eat.
Plants are then eaten by the herbivores, which are eaten by meat eating animals, carnivores.
Finally, there are the decomposers, such as fungi and worms. They feed on dead animals.
In this way energy is passed along the food chain.

Example:
Plants Herbivore Carnivore
e.g. grass e.g. deer e.g. tiger
(producer)

Look at the example of a food chain above.

1. What would happen if a disease killed most of the deer?


__________________________________________________________________________________

2. What would happen if the population of deer increased?


__________________________________________________________________________________

3. What would happen if the population of tigers increased?

SUN TREE CATERPILLAR BIRD decomposers

This is an example of a food chain. The sun provides the energy that makes the tree grow, the
caterpillars feed on the leaves of the tree, and the birds eat the caterpillars. Decomposers
break down the dead matter.

In all living systems the first source of energy is the sun. Plants turn the sun’s energy into
food through photosynthesis. This change is very inefficient: only 1% of the energy from the
sun’s rays is changed into food energy.

Herbivores eat the plants and use the energy. Then other animals eat the herbivores and use
their energy. Animals use a lot of energy because they are very active. 90% of the energy that
animals absorb is used for survival, and the remaining 10% is stored in their bodies.

The sun’s energy is not the only thing that passes along the food chain. Nutrients are also
passed along. They are absorbed from the soil by plants, and then are eaten by the animals.
Decomposers return the nutrients to the soil.

The earth is a closed system. This means that everything we need for our survival is on the
earth. We cannot get resources from outside of the earth and its atmosphere. So nutrients must
be recycled back into the soil to be used again. This is done by decomposers. Decomposers
are organisms such as bacteria and fungi. They survive by taking energy from dead organisms
and waste matter.

The food chain above is very simple. In reality the interdependence of organisms in an
ecosystem is much more complicated. Diagrams that show the interdependence of many
organisms are called food webs.

For example:
fox owl stoat

beetle rat rabbit

grass / plants
In a food web each of the different organisms is related. Plants produce the chemical energy
needed by the animals of the food chain, so we call plants producers. Animals eat plants or
other animals, and are known as consumers. The different consumers of the food chain may
be categorized in order such as first level consumer or second level consumers. Every food
chain includes decomposers.
* Notice the arrows in the food web – they show the transfer of energy from one organism to
the next.

6. Biodiversity
Biodiversity means all the different types of life on earth. There are vast numbers of living
things on earth – almost an unlimited diversity. The total number of organisms or species that
have been named is uncertain. Estimates range from 3 million to 100 million different
species. In addition, an unknown number of species still remain undiscovered.

A species is defined as ‘a group of the same type of plant or animal that are capable of
interbreeding to produce fertile offspring.’

Write down as many species of plants and animals as you can think of in two
minutes.
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________

Biodiversity is needed in order for the earth to be balanced and healthy, and to ensure the
continuation of life on earth. There are hundreds of thousands of different species of plants on
earth, and different species of animals have adapted to feed on different plants. Therefore, if
one species of plant is destroyed, only the animals feeding on that plant will be affected.

Imagine if the only plant on earth was grass, and all plant eating animals only
ate grass. What would happen if a disease destroyed all the grass?
__________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________

Biologists recognize three main levels of biodiversity. The largest level is the different types
of ecosystems, for example, rainforests, deserts and grasslands. The second level is the
variety of animal and plant species that live in the ecosystems. The third level is the variety of
genes found among individuals of a species. For example, every animal within a species will
be genetically different. Different genes create plants and animals of different shapes, colours
and sizes, and with different strengths and weaknesses.

7. The three levels of biodiversity


• Ecosystem Diversity

An ecosystem is a community of organisms, the environment they live in, and the interactions
between them. Ecosystems come in many different sizes. A forest is an ecosystem, so are a
dead tree-trunk, a river, a pond, a mountain, a sea and even the entire planet. Ecosystems are
always changing. The plants and animals in an ecosystem change with time.

In an ecosystem there are certain species (known as key species) that are very important and
have a major influence on how an ecosystem works and survives. Killing off a key species in
an ecosystem could destroy an ecosystem as a whole or change it completely.

• Diversity of Species

The word biodiversity refers to the diversity of living organisms. This includes many animal,
plant and microbial species. Species diversity is all the different types of species found in a
region.

Although we already know a lot about the Earth's resources, there is still a lot to learn. There
are almost no places on the planet where we know about all the organisms (living things)
living there. Nobody knows the exact number of living species on the earth. The rainforests
are home to about 50% to 90% of all species. The area of the eastern Himalayas, which
includes Burma, has about 14% of the world’s plant species.

Species of birds and large animals are well known, but small organisms such as insects,
fungi, bacteria and viruses are hard to find. The amount of knowledge we have about micro
organisms is less than what we know about other types of organisms. In places like
rainforests and other tropical areas, there is much less that we know.

• Genetic Biodiversity

Genes are what make us what we are. They are found inside cells inside every living thing.
They control what we look like and how we develop.

Genetic diversity is the differences in genes within a species. Each individual has many
different genes that give it its own features. For example, all humans have different faces
because each person has their own personal genes that are different from everyone else’s.

What is a key species?


___________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________
8. Why is biodiversity important?
Biodiversity is very important for maintaining a healthy and balanced environment on earth.
As well as this it provides many economic, medical and cultural benefits for humanity. A
third benefit of biodiversity is its beauty; we all appreciate the natural beauty of the world.

Economic and Medical values

Resources from nature provide us with all kinds of products: food, fibres for clothing,
building materials, colourings, medicines, and so on. A large part of the world economy
depends on these resources.

Biodiversity is important for human health. For centuries, almost all medicinal treatments
were based on plant and animal products, and this type of medicine is still very important
today. Traditional medicine is often used for basic medical care in many parts of the world,
especially in developing countries. Modern medicine is taking a serious interest in nature’s
resources in the hope of discovering new cures.

food: crops, livestock, forestry, and fish;


medication: for example:
quinine comes from the cinchona tree and is used to treat malaria
morphine from the poppy plant helps with pain relief
According to the National Cancer Institute, over 70% of the anti-cancer drugs
come from plants in the tropical rainforests.
industry: for example:
fibers for clothing, wood for shelter and warmth.
oils, perfumes, dyes, paper, waxes, rubber, poisons, and cork, can all be
derived from various plant species.
wool, silk, fur, leather, and waxes, come from animals.
tourism and recreation : biodiversity is a source of economical wealth for many
areas, such as many parks and forests.

Some people believe that the more diversity of life we have on Earth, the greater the
possibility is of discovering new medicines and encouraging economic growth. Therefore, it
is important that we conserve and keep safe all living species.

• ECOLOGICAL Value

Biodiversity is of basic importance because it is necessary for the survival of ecosystems.


Ecosystems, which include the millions of species existing today, help to preserve the
environmental conditions we need to survive.

All species provide some kind of function to an ecosystem. Including:


capturing and storing energy
producing and decomposing organic materials
making soil and improving soil fertility
controlling erosion or pests
purifying the air and water and maintain a propoer level of oxygen
helping regulate climate and decrease flooding and drought
• AESTHETIC and CULTURAL value

Everyone would agree that the world has great natural beauty. The value of nature’s beauty
(aesthetic value) can not be measured in economic terms, but it is still very important. Every
person should be able to enjoy the diverse and natural beauty of the earth.

Preservation of biodiversity is also an ethical (moral) issue. In other words, it is a question of


right and wrong. Many of us feel upset or ashamed when a part of nature disappears or is
destroyed as a result of human activity. Many people argue that we should protect and
improve the environment for present and future generations.
9. Problems for biodiversity
Nearly all species of plants and animals have a reproductive potential which, if not
controlled, would overpopulate the earth within a few generations. However, this growth is
naturally controlled through factors such as, limitations of food supplies or competition
within or between species.

This has not been the case with humans. Unlike other species, humans have been able to
adapt easily to survive in different environments. Humans have also been able to control and
use the earth’s resources in a way that other species cannot. The result has been a rapid
increase in the population of humans living on the earth.

Human use of the environment is creating many problems and is causing many species and
their habitats (the natural places where species live) to disappear. There are many ways that
we are causing problems for the environment, and are harming biodiversity:

Habitat loss:
The actions of humans are destroying the natural places where species live. Deforestation is a
very big cause of habitat loss. Habitats are often destroyed to make way for roads, cities,
shopping malls and tourist resorts. Dams destroy river and wetland habitats.
The environment is being destroyed so fast that species do not have time to adapt or change.

Pollution:
Chemicals and pesticides from agriculture, industry and other human activities are poisoning
the soil, water and air. Pesticides and oil spills are other sources of water pollution. Cars and
power plants release carbon dioxide into the air, leading to climate change.

Acid rain has left many lakes lifeless and has damaged many forests. Pollution in the ocean
causes serious damage to coral reefs and rivers, and affects the reproduction of some marine
(ocean) species.

Population growth:
The population of people on the earth is now over 6 billion. Much of this increase occurred in
the last century. This growing population leads to increases in pollution, destruction of
habitats, and overuse of natural resources.

Over-use:
High levels of deforestation, fishing or hunting all lead to over-use of natural resources.
People in industrialized countries such as the United States, Japan and France together make
up only one-quarter of the world’s population – but they use three-quarters of its resources.
We are using fossil fuels, forests, fish, soil, water, and other resources faster than nature can
replace them.

Introducing non-native species


Introducing new species (from other places) that compete with native species, whether on
purpose or by mistake, can disturb the way that ecosystem works.

For example: Rats and cats in Hawaii: Before western man arrived on Hawaii, there were no
land mammals. Many birds nested on the ground, and they were safe. When explorers arrived
in ships, they brought with them rats and cats that lived on the boats. These animals were able
to eat the eggs of native birds.
10. Extinction

Today, species are disappearing at a very fast rate: about 30 to 75 species go


extinct per day! In most cases, these extinctions are the result of human activity.

Extinction is the death of all the individuals of a particular species. For example, if tigers
became extinct there would be no tigers left anywhere on the earth. Extinction has happened
naturally throughout the history of the world. Perhaps the most well known example of
extinction is the dinosaurs, which became extinct sixty million years ago. If species cannot
adapt to changes in the environment they die off.

But species are becoming extinct more quickly now than in the last 60 million years. Human
activities are killing off species at a very high rate. Around 11% of the world’s species of
birds are almost extinct. Some scientists believe that tens of thousands of species in
rainforests disappear every year because of destruction of these forests.

One of the causes of these problems may be over-population of humans on the earth. Because
there are so many humans, our demands on the planet are increasing. This results in an
increase in industry and an increase in threats to the environment and to biodiversity as a
whole. Some people are also afraid that the population of people is reaching its limit and that
the earth will not be able to support us in the future.

Why worry about extinction?


If extinction is a natural event, why do we need to worry about the species that are becoming
extinct because of human activity?

One reason is that many of these species may be useful to us. Many plants can be used to
develop medicines. If we allow species of plants to become extinct we could be losing
opportunities to discover new medicines.

Another reason is that the extinction of some species (key species) can be devastating to a
whole ecosystem, and can lead to the loss of many other species.

A third reason is that all species have an intrinsic value and right to exist, without being
needlessly eliminated by the unthinking activity of humans. It is ethically wrong for humans
to continue activities without consideration for the implications on the environment and other
species.
11. Case Study: Extinction of the Dodo bird
Place: Mauritius Extinction: 1681

The dodo bird lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, where it was undisturbed
for so long that it lost its need and ability to fly. It lived and nested on the ground and ate
fruits that had fallen from trees. There were no mammals on the island and a high diversity of
bird species lived in the forests.

In 1505, the Portuguese became the first humans to set foot on Mauritius. The island quickly
became a stopover for ships in the spice trade. Weighing up to 50 pounds, the dodo was a
source of fresh meat for the sailors. Large numbers of dodos were killed for food.

Later, when the Dutch used the island as a prison colony, pigs and monkeys were brought to
the island along with prisoners. Many of the ships that came to Mauritius also had rats on
them, some of which escaped onto the island. Before humans and other mammals arrived the
dodo had little to fear from predators. The rats, pigs and monkeys ate many of the dodo eggs
in the ground nests.

The combination of human exploitation and introduced species significantly reduced dodo
populations. Within 100 years of the arrival of humans on Mauritius, the once common dodo
bird was very hard to find. The last one was killed in 1681.

Although we know how the dodo became extinct, we do not have any complete pictures or
information about the bird. The dodo is just one of the bird species that died off of Mauritius.
Many others became extinct in the 19th century when the forests were cut down to make tea
and sugar farms. Of the 45 bird species originally found on Mauritius, only 21 have survived.

Although the dodo became extinct in 1681, its story is not over. We are just beginning to
understand the effects of its extinction on the ecosystem. Recently a scientist noticed that a
certain species of tree was becoming rare on Mauritius. In fact, he noticed that all 13 of the
remaining trees of this species were about 300 years old. No new trees had germinated since
the late 1600s. Since the average life span of this tree was about 300 years, the last members
of the species were extremely old. They would soon die, and the species would be extinct.

Was it just a coincidence (by chance) that the tree stopped reproducing 300 years ago and
that the dodo had become extinct at the same time? No. It turns out that the dodo ate the fruit
of this tree, and it was only by passing through the dodo's digestive system that the seeds
became active and could grow. Now, more than 300 years after one species became extinct,
another might die off as a direct result. Will more follow?

Luckily, some creative people discovered that domestic turkey sufficiently copy the action of
the dodo's digestive system. They have used turkeys to begin a new generation of the tree,
which is now called the dodo tree. If these seedlings survive to produce their own seeds, the
species will be saved.

Ref - EarthRights International


12. Water
Water is one of the world’s most important resources. Every living thing needs water to survive.
Water is all around us: in the sky, the soil, the rivers, lakes and oceans. Our bodies are made up
of 75% water. There is enough water for everyone on the earth if we use it carefully. But in
many places water is not used carefully. As a result, lakes, rivers and oceans around the world
are becoming polluted.

Freshwater Systems
Freshwater is water that only contains small amounts of salt dissolved in it. This is the water that
we need to survive. All freshwater comes from water vapour in the atmosphere which falls as
rain or snow.

The water from the rain or snow falls on the land then flows downhill into rivers and lakes. The
area of land that the water flows down is called the watershed. Watersheds usually start on the
slopes of hills or mountains. As the water flows downhill it forms streams, then the streams join
to form rivers. Finally the rivers flow into the sea or into large lakes.

Groundwater
97% of the world’s fresh water is stored underground. Water that falls as rain soaks through the
soil and rocks into huge natural underwater storage systems called aquifers. Many of the world’s
rivers and lakes are supported by groundwater. Water is slowly released from the aquifers and it
mixes with the rain water and flows into the rivers and streams. Ground water is very important
for some rivers during the dry season.

Around the world more and more people get their water from underground. In Asia, big cities
like Jakarta and Dhaka rely on ground water. 80% of people in India rely on ground water for
drinking. Most groundwater is used for agriculture.

But groundwater has to be used carefully. It is a renewable resource, but if we use the world’s
groundwater too quickly it will run out. In some parts of America groundwater is being used
faster than nature can replace it.

Another problem with groundwater is pollution from chemicals. When we use pesticides and
fertilisers in agriculture these chemicals soak through the soil into the groundwater. These
chemicals stay in the water, and can cause illnesses for people who drink the water.

Write down the meanings of these words:

Watershed - _______________________________________________________________
Aquifer - _______________________________________________________________
Renewable - _______________________________________________________________
Pesticide - _______________________________________________________________
Fertiliser - _______________________________________________________________
13. Water crisis
There is enough water for three times the world’s population, if we use water carefully. But all
around the world, people do not have enough water. The problem is how water is used and who
has control of water. The way water is used is very unequal. People need 30-50 litres of water
every day; at least 5 litres for drinking and cooking and 25 litres for washing and showering. But
for many people this is not possible. An average person in Cambodia uses only 9.5 litres of
water per day. An average person in the USA uses 500 litres every day.

In 2002 a United Nations report claimed that if we do not start using water more carefully more
than 2.7 billion people will face severe water shortages by the year 2025. The report also
claimed that a further 2.5 billion people would live in areas where it will be difficult to find
enough fresh water to meet their needs.

The areas most at risk are the semi-arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The water
shortage will make it very difficult for people in these areas to grow the crops they need to
survive. As is often the case it will be the poorest people who are hardest hit by water shortages.

Most of the water in the world is used for agriculture. Nearly all the water used in agriculture is
used for irrigation. Some crops use a lot of water. Here is how much water is needed to grow
some foods.
Water needed for1kg of food
Potatoes 1000 litres
Rice 3450 litres
Chicken 4600 litres
Beef 42,500 litres

Another problem with water is privatization. When water companies are privatized governments
sell their water companies to big businesses. The businesses want to make a profit from the
water, and they make the water more expensive. As a result, the people have to pay more money
for their water. Poor people are not able to pay for the water that they need.

1. If we want to conserve water, what types of food should we be growing?


____________________________________________________________________________________

2. Does anyone control the water in your community?


____________________________________________________________________________________

3. Is water used equally by different people in your community?


____________________________________________________________________________________

4. What are some of the reasons why use of water is not equal in the world?
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________

5. What are some ways communities and countries can save water?
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________

14. Oceans
The earth’s oceans cover around 70% of the earth’s surface. Life on earth is believed to have
begun in the oceans, and today the oceans contain an amazing diversity of species.

The oceans are important in maintaining the earth’s climate and weather. The movement of
water in the oceans helps maintain the temperature of the earth. Oceans contain many
ecosystems that are important for supporting life on earth. Plants that grow in the oceans are a
major source of oxygen for the world.

Most water that falls as rain comes from the oceans, so the oceans are very important for
freshwater systems. Oceans are also very important for providing food for people, and have been
feeding people for thousands of years.

Many of the world’s ecosystems are in the oceans. So far, about 250,000 different species have
been found in the oceans. Ocean biodiversity is at its greatest around coral reefs. Coral reefs are
important because they provide food and medicine, and are also very beautiful. Like all
ecosystems, the ecosystems in the oceans and around the coral reefs are very carefully balanced
and sensitive to change. Even though the oceans are very big they can easily be damaged.

Despite the importance of the oceans to our survival, the actions of humans today are causing a
lot of harm to the oceans.

Over-fishing
Fish are one of the oceans’ renewable resources. They are the main diet of more than one billion
people. Throughout history fish and fishing have been important for communities. But like many
renewable resources on the earth, fish are now being taken from the oceans far too quickly.

Fishing used to be done on a small scale, meeting the needs of local communities. Today many
big businesses make money from fishing. Fish are being removed from the oceans 2.5 times
faster than the oceans are able to produce them. As a result, the numbers of many types of fish in
the oceans fall every year.

Many fishing companies use trawlers to catch fish. Trawlers are boats that drag huge nets
through the ocean, catching all the fish in the area. They also catch all the fish that the fishing
companies cannot sell, and all the shellfish, plants and coral on the sea bed. These extra fish,
shellfish, plants and coral die, and the ecosystem becomes damaged.

Pollution
The oceans are being harmed by pollution. Most of this pollution comes from the land and is
carried to the oceans in rivers. A lot of this pollution comes from factories and agriculture, or
from sewage. Waste from factories and agriculture contain chemicals that are not natural. The
sea cannot break down this waste and becomes polluted.

Pollution destroys the ecosystems in the sea and kills the plants and animals. In some parts of
the world there are now areas of ocean where nothing can survive. Poisonous chemicals can
make other sea creatures infertile, and over time their species becomes endangered. Birds that
eat contaminated fish also become poisoned.

Pollution in the sea also affects people. Many people rely on fish for food. Fish that live in
polluted waters absorb the chemicals in the water. When people eat these fish they are also
eating poisonous chemicals.
15. Case Study: The largest poisoning in history
Key words

UNICEF (n) – United National Children's Fund


arsenic (n) – a type of poisonous chemical found underground
sore (n) – a place on the body with an infection

In the 1970s, some international aid organisations were worried about diseases in drinking water
in Bangladesh. Most people got their water from rivers and streams. A lot of drinking water had
bacteria in it and very young children would get sick and sometimes die. UNICEF, the
Bangladeshi government and some other international aid organisations decided to dig wells so
they could use groundwater instead.

They thought that groundwater was clean and much healthier than water from rivers. They did
not know that soil and rocks around the aquifers in the area were naturally rich in arsenic. They
dug more than one million wells but never tested the soil or water to see if it had arsenic in it.
Digging so many wells pushed arsenic into the aquifers, poisoning the water. And people started
drinking it.

In the early 1990s, some villagers from West Bengal, India went to hospital. They had big sores
all over their skin. A researcher from a Calcutta university found out that they had arsenic
poisoning. Many people in Bangladesh were going to doctors and hospitals with the same health
problems. Arsenic poisoning causes large skin sores, skin cancer, brain problems, breathing
problems and bladder, kidney and lung cancer.

Now thousands of people have died. In Southern Bangladesh, the World Health Organisation
believes that one in every ten deaths is from arsenic poisoning. It took a long time to realise the
problem because arsenic poisoning takes about 15 years before you can see and feel it. When
people found out where the arsenic poisoning was coming from, it was too late.

In 2000, Bangladesh's population was 125 million. Of that number, up to 77 million people live
in places where some wells have arsenic. They are all in danger from arsenic poisoning. This is
the greatest environmental disaster the world. And it is the biggest poisoning in history.

1. What does this story tell you about the relationship between human health and
the environment?
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________

2. How could arsenic in groundwater effect ecosystems and biodiversity?


____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________

3. How could this disaster have been prevented? What role could local
communities play to prevent this?
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
16. Dams
Dams are structures that are built to store water. Evidence suggests that dams have been an
important method of water storage and irrigation for thousands of years.

Today dams play an important role in providing much needed water to populations in many parts
of the world. By the end of the 20th century there were over 45,000 dams in over 150 countries.
However, by the 1950s some people and organisations began to oppose dams. Although dams
have many benefits it was becoming clear that they also cause many problems, particularly to
the environment. Since the 1950s opposition to dams has steadily increased, and many argue that
the problems caused by dams are greater than the benefits they bring.
Water
As the population of the world increases, so does the demand for fresh water.

3800km³ of fresh water is taken every year from the world’s lakes, rivers and aquifers. This is
double the amount of water extracted 50 years ago. Agriculture uses 67% of the water used each
year, industry uses 19% and domestic use is 9%.

In 1990, over 1 billion people did not have access to enough water.

Many countries in the world are ‘water-stressed’. This means the country does not have enough
water to meet the needs of its people. Many of these countries will face severe water shortages
in the future, as the populations in these countries increase.
Benefits
Dams can provide many benefits, such as irrigation, electricity and flood protection, to millions
of people. Half of the dams in the world are built mainly for irrigation, and over 100 million
hectares of irrigated land rely on dams. Dams contribute to about 12-16% of world food
production.

Almost 2 billion people, both urban and rural poor, have no access to electricity at all. Many
dams are used to produce hydroelectricity. Hydroelectricity provides 19% of the world’s
electricity and it is used in 150 countries. 24 countries rely on hydroelectricity for 90% of their
electricity supply.

12% of large dams were built as water supply dams, providing drinking water and water for
domestic use.

Between 1972 and 1996 floods affected the lives of 65 million people, this is more than any
other type of disaster including war, drought and famine. Many dams are built to control or
reduce flooding.
Environmental Impact

Dams have damaged 60% of the world’s rivers.

Dams form barriers that block the movement of species up and down the river, therefore
disrupting the ecosystem. If more large dams are added to a river, the damage may become
greater, increasing the loss of natural resources and destroying the ecosystem.
Often the problems caused by dams are unexpected. A survey found that 60% of effects of dams
were not expected before the dam was built. It is believed that effects can be reduced by building
smaller dams, improving the design of dams and taking care in choosing the dam location.

Relocation
Dams have a huge impact on the people who live in the area. 40-80 million people worldwide
have been displaced by dam projects. A large percentage of these people are in India and China.

These displaced people had little or no opportunity to participate in the planning and
implementation of the dam projects, or in planning their own resettlement and rehabilitation. A
survey showed that only 7% of displaced people were able to participate in decision making.

Studies show that the negative effects of dams fall mainly on rural dwellers, subsistence farmers
and ethnic minorities.

Future
Today there is a lot of information regarding the positive and negative effects of dams. This
information was not known in the past. The debate about dams raises many questions about the
understanding of development. Development that meets the expectations of the West brings
many devastating consequences to the environment.

Development for developing countries includes meeting the increasing populations’ need for
water and energy, and this imposes difficult choices on governments. Governments have to
balance the needs of their population and the rights of their people with social and
environmental impacts.

Complete the table below showing the benefits and problems of dams.

Benefits of dams Problems caused by dams

17. Case study: The Tasang Dam, Burma


Plans are currently underway to build a number of large dams on the Salween River in eastern
Burma. One of these is the Tasang Dam, planned to be built in Shan State.

The Tasang Dam would be a hydroelectric dam, able to produce 3,300 megawatts of
electricity. It is estimated that it will cost US$3 billion to build.
At 188 meters high it will be the tallest dam in Southeast Asia. The flood area caused by
the dam would cover at least 640 square kilometres.

Although the people of Burma face constant shortages of electricity, it is planned that the
electricity produced by the dam would be purchased by Thailand. This would bring in a great
deal of money for the electricity companies involved, and for the military regime in Burma.

Several organisations are working to try to stop the building of the Tasang Dam. They have
many concerns regarding the implications both to the people and environment of Burma, if the
dam is built.

Forced labour:
The Burmese military regime is well known for using violence and forced labour for
development projects. Construction of the Yadana and Yetagun pipelines in Burma led to forced
labour, violence, rape, forced relocations, and extra-judicial killings.
At Tasang, military presence has already increased, this has led to forced labour and portering by
villagers.

Environmental destruction:
The Salween River supports the biodiversity of the area, as well as agriculture and fisheries. The
Tasang Dam would fragment the river, and harm the biodiversity in the area. The dam would
also reduce the replenishments of nutrients to the soil downstream, and cause erosion of the river
bed.

It is expected that malaria breeding in the flood area would increase. Land surrounding the flood
area would be harmed through logging, and by the relocation of people forced off their land in
the flood area. The weight of the dam’s reservoir would increase the threat of major earthquakes
in the region.

Lack of participatory decision making:


Public participation in decisions regarding the dam is impossible under the Burmese military
regime, and opposition to the plans is dangerous. There has been no consultation with the
affected communities.

Financing the regime:


Foreign investment in Burma helps keep the military regime in power, but does not benefit the
people of Burma. The NLD has called for international sanctions against the regime.
In supporting the dam, the Thai government is ignoring human rights and environmental
interests in favour of business interests.

Unnecessary energy:
The purpose of the Tasang Dam is to provide energy for Thailand. However, Thailand already
has more energy than it can use. Therefore, the energy produced by the Tasang Dam would be
unnecessary.
18. Rainforests and deforestation
Rainforests are found in areas that get about 2 meters of rain per year. In rainforests the trees
grow very tall, straight and close together. Many people think that the rainforests grow because
the soil is rich (full of minerals). This is not true. In fact, the soil is rich because of the
rainforests. The ecosystems of rainforests, with their plants, animals and decomposers, provide
goodness to the soil. When rainforests are destroyed the goodness in the soil is also destroyed.

Rainforests are home to two-thirds of all the plant and animal species on earth. It is believed that
there are millions of species living in rainforests that have not been discovered yet. Tropical
rainforests have been called ‘the earth’s lungs’ and ‘the world’s largest pharmacy’ because of
the oxygen they produce and natural medicines they contain.

Rainforests have many benefits. They are important for the climate. They keep a lot of carbon
within the forest. When rainforests are destroyed the carbon goes into the air. This is a cause of
global warming. Rainforests also prevent soil erosion. If rainforests are cut down the soil is
easily washed away, causing landslides.

Rainforests contain a lot of rainwater. This water is released slowly into rivers and lakes. If
rainforests are cut down this water is no longer contained in the rainforests. This leads to
flooding. Rainforests also benefit people. They provide food, shelter, medicine, firewood, and
hardwood for building houses. Without rainforests the way of life of many communities will be
lost.

Deforestation
Deforestation means the cutting down, burning and damaging of forests. Deforestation has been
happening for centuries. The main causes of deforestation are agriculture and firewood
collection. Large areas of forest are cleared to grow crops or provide pasture for animals.
Rainforests are also damaged though logging, mining, the construction of large dams, industrial
development and tourism.

Deforestation is happening quickly all over the world. If the current rate of deforestation
continues, the world’s rainforests will disappear within 100 years, causing unknown effects on
the global climate and eliminating the majority of the plant and animal species on the planet.

Reasons for deforestation


The global economy increases the need of poorer countries to make money, often to repay
international debts or for development. Governments sell off areas of forests for logging so they
can earn money.

Poor farmers need to clear more land to grow crops. They are driven by the basic need of
producing enough food to survive. Often farmers use slash and burn farming. In slash and burn
farming the trees are cut down and the remains are burned. The ash is used as fertilizer, but the
soil quickly becomes infertile and the farmers must clear new areas of forest.

As the population of the world increases there is more demand for land to grow food, and a
greater need for wood.

With millions of people in the world still without access to electricity people need to collect
firewood in order to cook food or keep warm.
Between 1990 and 2000 Burma lost 14% of its forest, India lost 32% and Thailand lost 26%.
Burma’s forests are logged to make timber products like furniture and paper.

One main reason for deforestation in these three countries is teak, which is very valuable. Teak
is a very strong timber and many people around the world want to buy products made from it.
Natural teak forests are only found in Southeast Asia and India. Burma has the largest number of
teak forests in the world. Teak trees are not a renewable resource since they take a very long
time to grow. Therefore, many people want to reduce logging and the destruction of the teak
forests.

1. What are the effects of deforestation?


____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________

2. Why do people cut down forests?


____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________

3. How could cutting down teak forests benefit people in Burma?


____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________

4. How does cutting down teak forests harm Burma?


____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________

5. Do you think the teak forests should be cut down? Why / why not?
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________

19. Threat to Burma’s forests


Burma holds half of the remaining forest in mainland Southeast Asia. Burma’s
neighbours, China, India and Thailand have already used most of their own original forest, so
they now rely increasingly on Burma as a source of timber. Most of the timber trade in this
region is illegal; however, the rate of deforestation in Burma has more than doubled since the
State Law and Order Restoration Council came to power in 1988.

Most of Burma’s undisturbed forests are located in the mountains that ring the country.
The lowlands of central and southern Burma have been largely deforested since the turn of the
century.

Increased deforestation is mainly due to a rapid increase in logging in Burma’s border


areas. Timber exports have helped pay for the regime’s arms purchases and a doubling in the
size of the army. Those responsible for logging include the regime, some ethnic minorities, and
foreign companies. Wasteful and destructive logging along the borders with China and Thailand
has resulted in extensive deforestation that has caused massive soil erosion, sedimentation of
rivers, increased flooding, and acute dry season water shortages in some areas.

While logging appears to be the main cause of deforestation in the mountainous border
areas, agriculture, fuel wood cutting, and charcoal production are the main causes in lowland
areas.

Forest clearing in Kachin State more than tripled between 1978 and 1996.

Kachin State holds one of the region’s last large areas of relatively undisturbed forest.
The rapid destruction of this forest, and the protection it provides to biodiversity, is of national
and international concern.

Teak
Burma holds 70 percent of the world’s remaining teak forests. Teak is one of the most
valuable timber species and occurs naturally only in India, Burma, northern Thailand, and north-
western Laos. It is used for shipbuilding, furniture, carving, and numerous other purposes.

Traditionally, teak logging in Burma has been carried out using elephants for both
economic and practical reasons. Using elephants also reduces environmental damage on steep
slopes. However, since the 1980s there has been more intensive forms of forest exploitation,
with heavy machines and, consequently, increased environmental damage.

In the long term, unsustainable logging will lead to an end of Burma’s teak forests. In the
short term, the need to gain control of teak-rich forests has contributed to Rangoon’s policy of
aggression toward the Karen and other ethnic minorities that inhabit the Thai-Burmese border.

Protected Areas
Burma is rich in biological diversity, containing 251 known mammal species, 867
breeding bird species, 203 types of reptiles, 75 types of amphibians, and 7,000 different
flowering plants. According to a recent study by the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife
Conservation Society, 40 percent of Southeast Asia’s tiger habitat areas lie in Burma, all of them
in border regions.

Burma remains one of the few countries in Southeast Asia without an effective system of
protected areas. The vast majority of protected areas are poorly managed, and many have
suffered years of agricultural encroachment and settlement. Hunting with the aim of selling
wildlife parts to China is common. For example, the rhinoceros population of Tamanthi,
Burma’s largest national park, has been almost completely wiped out since 1974. Tiger poaching
has been intense. All indications point to the tiger population being very low throughout much of
its native habitat.

International agreements
The Burmese government has signed to several international agreements including the
Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Tropical Timber Agreement. Therefore
they have made a commitment to conservation and to the sustainable use of biological diversity.

Although the regime has signed these agreements there is little evidence that it is
adhering to them. The human rights abuses allegedly associated with the creation of the
Myinmoletkat Nature Reserve violate the Convention’s commitment to participatory processes,
while the export-import records suggest that even the basic requirement to report accurately on
timber exports is not being respected. The international community could use these agreements
to press for fundamental changes in the way the regime manages its forest resources.

Recommendations
Evidence suggests that a combination of logging and shifting cultivation is destroying
large areas of intact forest along Burma’s borders, with potentially quite damaging
environmental consequences, such as massive soil erosion, reduced soil fertility and agricultural
productivity, sedimentation of river channels, siltation of dams, catastrophic floods, and acute
water shortages during the dry season.

Unsustainable logging, as practiced by the regime and by some of the opposition ethnic
groups, will not end until Burma’s political and military conflicts are resolved. Even if peace
prevails, there is no guarantee that it will lead to improved environmental management. In fact,
the arrival of foreign logging companies, combined with a weak government, could result in
increased deforestation. Nevertheless, most observers believe the transition to a more democratic
and accountable government is a necessary first step towards the protection of Burma’s forest
resources. A change in government would also open the door to the international financial
assistance that Burma needs to improve the country and to manage its extensive forests.

Forest and other environmental issues should be included in the international dialogue
about how to influence the regime and the course of events in Burma. There are clear links
between the political situation in Burma and unsustainable logging, particularly in the border
areas. More consistent monitoring, will improve understanding of how politics and logging are
related. The international community should use the results of such a monitoring program to
increase international pressure on the regime to move toward a more open and accountable
political system.

20. Pollution
Air Pollution

It is estimated that three million people may die each year as a result of air pollution. Nearly all
of these deaths are caused by indoor air pollution. This is because air pollutants can become
trapped and build up in poorly ventilated houses.

Today, Mexico City, Beijing and New Delhi are considered three of the most polluted cities in
the world. The World Health Organisation states maximum levels of pollution, above which it is
harmful for health. In 1998 New Delhi exceeded World Health Organisation recommended
levels on air pollution by nearly five times. However, by 2003, an effort to improve the quality
of the air in Delhi led to a huge reduction in the levels of smog, carbon monoxide and sulphur
dioxide in the air.

Smoke: Smoke is tiny particles of carbon and tar that come from burning coal. The tar contains
chemicals that cause cancer. Smoke can damage leaves, and can reduce the amount of sunlight
reaching the earth.
Exhaust fumes from cars and other motor vehicles contain small poisonous particles. Exhaust
fumes are thought to cause 10,000 deaths per year through lung diseases.

Sulphur dioxide: Coal and oil contain sulphur. When these fuels are burned sulphur dioxide is
released into the air. Sulphur dioxide dissolves in rain water, to cause acid rain. Acid rain
damages plants and buildings.

Smog: Smog is like a fog that is found in cities where there is a lot of pollution. Smog can hurt
people’s eyes; and lungs, and can damage plants.

Carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide is also produced by cars and motor vehicles. If carbon
monoxide is inhaled it reduces the amount of oxygen our bodies can absorb. This can be
harmful, especially to people with heart disease.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): CFCs are used in refrigerators and aerosol cans. It has been
discovered that CFC’ destroy the ozone layer. The ozone layer is a layer of the earth’s
atmosphere, which protects us from harmful ultra violet rays from the sun. In places where the
ozone layer is damages more UV radiation reaches the earth. This can cause skin cancer, can
affect crops, damage some seas life, and change weather patterns.
Today, many countries have greatly reduced the use of CFCs.

Lead: Lead is contained in petrol, used in motor vehicles. Therefore exhaust fumes contain lead.
Where there is a lot of traffic the amount of lead in the air can be high. This can cause damage to
the brains of young children.
Many countries have now made laws to reduce the amount of lead in petrol.

Acid Rain: Acid rain occurs when sulphur and nitrogen dioxides combine with water in the air
to produce acid which falls as rain. Although some of the damage caused by acid rain is a result
of natural causes, gases created by oil and coal burning and from automobile engines have made
the acid rain problem much worse. Winds can carry the pollutants thousands of kilometres away
from their source. Acid rain kills animal life in lakes, destroys old buildings, and damages
forests.

Land pollution - Waste


Waste is anything that we do not want, and therefore get rid of. An empty noodle packet, a rotten
banana, a broken glass bottle, and an old chair, are all examples of waste. Every year more and
more waste is thrown away around the world, causing huge ‘mountains’ of waste. These
mountains of waste are increasing every year and are very difficult to get rid of.
• One reason for the increase in waste is population growth. As the population increases, so does
the amount of waste produced.
• A second reason is that people are consuming more. We need to consume to live. But there is a
big difference between needs and wants. We need rice and vegetables, some clothes and a dry
place to live. But most people also want cake, cigarettes, expensive clothes, televisions, and
fast cars. As countries develop people want more and more. This causes a lot of waste.
• A lot of waste is very difficult for the environment to decompose (breakdown). This is because
a lot of waste is not natural. Many products are made from chemicals developed by science and
technology, such as plastic and polystyrene. It takes a very, very long time for these products to
decompose; in the meantime they pollute the soil, air and water.
Types of waste
Household waste is waste that comes from your community or your home. It comes from things
you consume every day. There are huge amounts of household waste in the world. In rich
countries people consume a lot more than their basic needs, and a lot of what they consume is
wrapped in plastic and boxes. This all creates waste. In New York a person makes more than
four times the amount of household waste than a person in Rangoon. Every year the UK makes
434 million tones of waste.

Industrial waste comes from the factories and industries that are producing all the products that
people want. As consumerism increases, so does industry. Industrial waste is very dangerous
because industries use many toxic chemicals. Every year 300-500 million tones of waste flows
into rivers, lakes and the sea from industry.

Plastics
List as many things as you can think of in two minutes that are made of plastic:
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________

In the past objects we used were made of natural materials such as wood, jute, cotton or paper.
Today, many of these materials are being replaced by plastic.

Plastic is made to last a long time. This is one of the reasons why it is so popular. It is also a
reason why plastic is so bad for the environment.

Plastic is not found naturally. It is man-made, from petroleum or natural gas. It is produced in
factories, and the production of plastic often involves using poisonous chemicals and causes
pollution.

Plastics do not break down naturally in the environment. This means they do not decompose in
the way natural materials do. Plastics stay in the environment for a very long time, slowly
releasing the chemicals that they are made of. Some of these chemicals are POPs, and they can
enter the food chain.

For example: Plastic pipe buried in the ground Chemicals go into the soil
Plant grows and absorbs the chemicals Chicken eats the
plant (and the chemicals) Human eats the chicken (and the chemicals)

When a person eats a chicken that has eaten chemicals containing POPs, they are also eating
those chemicals. These chemicals cause cancer and other health problems. POPs are illegal in
many countries, but they are still made in India and other Asian countries.

Because plastics stay in the environment for such a long time the amount of plastic waste in the
world in increasing. In the world today there are mountains of plastic that we cannot get rid of.

Many people in Asia burn plastic. This is a lot more dangerous than burying it. Burning plastic
releases many dangerous chemicals, including POPs, into the air. People and animals breathe in
these chemicals, and the chemicals also go into the plants and soil. Burning some plastics
produces a chemical called dioxin. It is one of the most dangerous chemicals in the world, and it
is deadly for people. It can cause cancer, destroy people’s immune systems and make people
infertile.

Industrial pollution - POPs


The Inuit are indigenous people who live in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The area where
they live is very remote, and is covered with ice and snow for most of the year. Therefore,
traditionally the Inuit people survive by eating the seals and caribou that they hunt.

Today, there is concern about the food that the Inuit eat. The seal and caribou meat are believed
to contain dangerous substances like the pesticide DDT and industrial compounds called PCBs.
Both DDT and PCBs are examples of persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Pollutants like POPs are released into the air all over the earth (usually from factories and
industry). When these chemicals are released they travel north. Once they reach the cold regions
of the North Pole these pollutants come out of the air and enter the food chain.

These pollutants are then consumed by animals in their diet and stored in the fat in their bodies.
Animals like seals have a very thick layer of fat, and so they have high amounts of the pollutants
in their bodies. When the Inuit people eat the seals, they are also eating the pollutants.

Scientists have known about these pollutants for a long time, and they are concerned about the
effects they might have on babies. But they have not told the Inuit to change their diet.

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

What are Persistent Organic Pollutants?


Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are poisonous substances. POPS are the result of human
industry and are new to our world. They are produced by factories, or are contained in pesticides
used in agriculture. A lot of water, both above and below the earth’s surface is now
contaminated (polluted) with these chemicals.

Early in this century, POPs were not found in our environment or in food. Now, food all over the
world, especially fish, meat and dairy products, are contaminated by POPs. People, plants and
animals all over the world carry POPs in them. These POPs can cause injury to human health
and to the way that animals and plants work together.

The difference between POPs and other pollutants is that POPs can travel long distances from
where they were created, so areas far away from industry and agriculture are also affected.
When they are eaten they stay in the body, so over time the levels of POPs in plants and animals
increase to harmful amounts.

POPs are stored in the fat of animals. They build up in greater amounts as more POPs are taken
in by the animal. Animals higher on the food chain (animals that are larger and eat other
animals) consume more POPs.

How do POPs hurt people, animals and plants?


Examples of bad effects of POPs are: cancers in different parts of the body; problems with
reproduction; lower sperm count in men; problems with development before birth; reduced
intelligence and attention span; bad effects to kidney and liver; heart disease; behavioural
problems like depression and personality changes; lower ability of mothers to breast feed;
endometriosis; increased risk of miscarriage.
Children with very high levels of PCBs in their bodies cannot be immunized against diseases
like smallpox, polio and measles.
Water pollution
Causes of water pollution
Human causes:
Sewage (human waste) is a big cause of water pollution. As the world population
continues to increase, so too does the amount of sewage produced. If untreated sewage is
released into water systems it can lead to an increase in bacteria that can cause a number of
illnesses.
Industry and factories are responsible for releasing chemicals or waste water containing
chemicals into the environment. In addition, when factories release water into rivers the water
may be at a different temperature to the river water. Changes in the temperature of the river
water can kill aquatic animals.
Pesticides and fertilizers used in agriculture pollute the water in the soil. When this water
runs into streams and rivers they also become polluted.
Farms and construction sites leads to an increase in silt (soil or rock particles) in rivers
and lakes. An increase in silt reduces sunlight in the water and makes it difficult for plants to
grow.
Acid rain is caused by production of sulphur dioxide from factories.
Oil spills pollute oceans. The oil forms layer on the surface of the water. Birds and fish
are harmed when they become coated in the oil.
Heat – factories use water, release into rivers – change temperature, aquatic animals cannot
survive

Natural causes
Floods lead to siltation of rivers and lakes
Volcanoes produce sulphur dioxide which leads to acid rain
Naturally acid soils can make water in the soil acidic, which then runs into streams and
rivers.

Surface water pollution is the pollution of rivers, streams, lakes, oceans

Ground water pollution is the pollution of water underground, in aquifers. Pollution of this water
is much more difficult to clean up, and can travel for hundreds of miles unseen.

Effects of water pollution


Chemicals in the water enter food chains via aquatic plants and animals. They are then
consumed by larger animals, and by humans. There are many concerns that the fish we eat are
contaminated with harmful chemicals.
Chemicals in the water also kill plants and aquatic animals this disrupts food chain. If
some species die then other species do not have food to eat, and also die.
Pesticides and fertilisers in rivers and lakes can lead to an increase in the growth of
plants. Too many plants can block light and use up oxygen in the water, making it difficult for
aquatic animals to survive. This is called eutrophication.
Pollution harms drinking water which can cause typhoid, dysentery and skin disease. In
rural areas in developing countries many villages can be found along the course of a river. It is
important when using water from a river that people think about those living downstream of
them. Washing in the river and throwing rubbish and waste into the river pollutes the water, and
makes the water unsafe for other villages to use.

21. Case study: Gold mining in Burma


Kachin State is an area rich in natural resources and biodiversity. It is considered to be of
international importance since it is one of the most environmentally diverse areas in the world.
84% of Kachin State is covered in forest.

Along with other natural resources, gold is rapidly being extracted in large amounts in Kachin
State, leading to pollution, environmental degradation, destruction of large areas of land, and
extremes of wealth and poverty.

“The river is like a rubbish dump and contains lots of engine oil. In the past it
was very clean and cold and full of living things. Now, as you see, it is muddy,
oily, so the living things in the water are gone. Our people breath the polluted
air, consume the polluted water, the weather is changing and becoming
unstable, and the local people are getting sick,” quote from At what Price?
Gold Mining in Kachin State.
The SPDC controls much of the area, and subcontracts areas of land for gold mining. Some of
the contractors are Kachin, but most are Chinese. Most of the foreign investment in gold mining
has come from companies based in China. Mining is bringing in enormous profits for the
Burmese military and for Chinese businesses.

Foreign investors are taking advantage of the corruption in the Burmese military and its lack of
concern for the people and environment, in the pursuit of natural resources.

Mining in Kachin State


Gold mining all over the world has damaging effects on the environment. Enormous amounts of
sand, soil and rock are disturbed to get small amounts of gold. In Burma, where laws controlling
the production of gold are not enforced, the damage is greater.

In Kachin State a lot of mining takes place along major rivers, and also in environmentally
protected areas, such as the Hukawng Wildlife Sanctuary.

Much of the gold is extracted from large mines. Areas of forest are cut down to make way for
these mines; rivers are dredged; heavy machinery and chemicals such as mercury and cyanide
are used to extract the gold.

As more gold is removed, miners have to dig deeper into the ground to access further supplies.

All too often, waste from mining is not treated and chemicals in the waste build up in the
environment. Land surrounding disused mines is not restored, and disused mining equipment is
left behind.

Effects of mining
Mining does not just affect the areas where mining takes place. Pollution of rivers means areas
downstream of the mines are also harmed. Rapid deforestation takes place to make way for
mines and their necessary infrastructure. Wood from trees cut down to make way for mines is
often wasted. Some is used in construction, the rest is simply burnt.

In Kachin State, mercury and cyanide are commonly used in gold extraction, both are poisonous.
Mercury and cyanide have polluted the Mali Hka River. This pollution is leading to a loss of
biodiversity in the river and surrounding forests.
Pollution of rivers could have a devastating effect in Burma. Pollution of the Irrawaddy River,
considered the lifeline of the country, could harm countless ecosystems and the livelihoods of up
to 20 million people.

Some people are becoming afraid to eat fish because of the mercury in the rivers. But majority
of people do not know about the dangers of mercury and are continuing to eat the fish and use
the water.

As well as harming the environment, gold mining has led abuses of human rights, a deepening
of poverty, and an increase in social problems. Drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, including
the abuse of young girls, and ethnic conflicts have all increased as a result of the gold mining
industry. The rise of migration, prostitution and the drugs trade in the area has increased the
spread of HIV/AIDS. Many people living in mining areas have never heard of HIV and lack
knowledge of how it is spread or how to avoid the disease. Similarly, miners and local people
are not educated about how the gold mining affects the environment and their health.

Mercury
Mercury is a type of metal. It is toxic, and when it forms compounds with other chemicals
mercury becomes very toxic.

If mercury is leaked into rivers it enters the food chain. This means that when people eat fish
from rivers polluted with mercury, they are also eating small amounts of mercury. If polluted
river water is used for irrigation, the mercury enters the crops. The polluted water may also be
used for drinking and washing.

If we consume food containing traces of mercury, the mercury collects in our bodies, and the
amount of mercury slowly builds up. Small amounts of mercury can cause harm.

Some mining companies use mercury to separate the gold from the dust and stone. Many
companies in Kachin State are careful with the mercury they use, recycle it and use machines to
mix the mercury. But some companies are not careful with the mercury. Some mercury leaks
into the rivers and land, and workers have to mix the mercury with their hands. The workers do
not know of the dangers of mercury.

Different stages in the gold producing process can also create mercury gas, and dust
contaminated with mercury. Although techniques have been developed around the world to
minimize these side products, the nature of the Burmese military government means it is very
difficult to educate mining companies in Kachin State about these techniques.

Effects of mercury include: brain damage, which effects memory, behaviour and emotions,
harms eyesight, the nervous system, and hearing.
Short term exposure of mercury vapour can cause nausea, vomiting, lung damage, skin rashes,
and eye irritation.
Mercury can harm the reproductive system, and can cause brain damage, blindness, seizures,
and inability to speak in children born to mothers affected by mercury poisoning.
Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to its harmful effects.

Adapted from – At What Price – Gold mining in Kachin State. A report by Images Asia and the
Pan Kachin Development Society
22. Case study: Bhopal disaster
In December 1984 the worst industrial disaster in the history of the world occurred at the city of
Bhopal, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in India. It was caused by the release into the air of 40
tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC), a poisonous chemical.

The accident happened at a factory owned by an international company called Union Carbide.
Union Carbide’s factory was built in Bhopal in 1969 to produce pesticides.

3,000 people were killed outright when the leak occurred. It is estimated that up to 500,000
others were injured. Another 12,000 are believed to have died later as a result of the poisoning.

What happened?
The accident occurred after water entered a tank containing MIC. This caused a chemical
reaction and the release of the poisonous gas. The factory should have had many safety
procedures to ensure that poisonous gas could not escape into the air. But in reality many of
these safety procedures were not in place, were being repaired or had been switched off.

Allegedly, sirens (alarms) that would warn people of a gas leak had been switched off.
Poisonous clouds from the factory covered an area of 20 square kilometres and thousands of
residents did not have time to escape the gas cloud.

Effects of poisoning
After the disaster Union Carbide would not inform local doctors of the nature of the gas, and this
made treating the people more difficult.

Poisoning from the gas caused many symptoms: breathlessness, loss of appetite, recurrent fever,
persistent cough, neurological disorders, weakness and depression.

The toxins damaged the lungs, brain, kidneys, muscles and reproductive and immune systems.
Effects of the poisoning have also been passed on to the children of those affected.

Patients treated immediately after the disaster suffered from breathlessness, eye problems and
gastro-intestinal problems. A report showed that survivors were still suffering from these
symptoms eight years later. The report also recorded an increase in spontaneous abortions, and
showed that the number of people displaying symptoms was increasing as people who had
previously seemed healthy were becoming sick.

Who is responsible?
It is not clear how water entered the tank containing MIC. While some claim it was because of
faulty equipment, Union Carbide claims that an employee added the water intentionally, and that
a large amount of water could not accidentally enter the tank.

Since neither Union Carbide nor the Indian Government have reached an agreement on who is
responsible for the accident, neither side has accepted responsibility for the clean up of the
chemicals, and so the toxic waste in the environment has been left untouched.

This has led to on-going contamination and poisoning of the people, and an increase in cancer
rates.
The situation now
An investigation in 2004 found that contamination in the area is still active.

Toxic chemicals have been dumped from factories. As a result, communities in the area consume
water that is contaminated with chemicals. Some 200 wells have been declared unfit for
consumption.

Social implications
Although there are no official records recording social problems, the disaster at Bhopal led to
many orphaned children, and families who lost breadwinners.

70% of the people affected were poor, living on subsistence wages. Before the disaster many had
jobs that were physically demanding and many have been unable to continue their work.
Thousands of families now live in extreme poverty, close to starvation.

Women who have been unable to have children as a result of the poisoning have been deserted
by their husbands and have faced social discrimination.
23. Global warming
The earth is very different from other planets in our solar system. The earth is covered by the
atmosphere which allows all the plants and animals to survive. The atmosphere provides us with
the air we breathe; it also maintains the temperature of the earth, so it is not too hot or too cold
for us to survive.

The earth is warmed by energy from the sun. Most of this energy (70%) is absorbed by the earth
or the atmosphere, the rest is reflected back out. The ice-caps (large areas of ice and snow) that
are found at the north and south poles are important for reflecting out the energy from the sun.
Without these ice-caps reflecting the sun’s energy the earth would keep getting warmer.

So, the sun, the atmosphere, and the ice-caps together create a balance that maintains the
temperature of the earth.

What is global warming?


The climate of the earth has always been changing; there have been ice ages and there have been
warm periods. These changes take place slowly over tens of thousands of years.

Now it is believed that the world is becoming warmer, and that the increase in temperature is
happening quicker than normal. Statistics have shown an increase in the temperature of the
earth. But instead of this change being natural, scientists believe it is being caused by human
activity.

Scientists say they are 99% sure that the earth is becoming warmer. In the last century the
average temperature of the earth rose by 0.5 degrees Celsius, and scientists believe the
temperature will continue to increase.

Although this increase seems very small, it can have many effects on the climate and
biodiversity of the earth.

The greenhouse effect


The atmosphere contains gases called ‘greenhouse gases’. These gases include carbon dioxide,
methane and nitrous dioxide. These gases stop the energy from the sun being reflected out of the
atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases are found naturally in the atmosphere, and they help to maintain the
temperature of the earth. But increases in the levels of these gases means more of the sun’s
energy is kept in the atmosphere, causing the temperature of the earth to increase. This is called
the greenhouse effect.

Causes of global warming

Burning fossil fuels


An increase in the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is believed to be causing global
warming. In the past century the activities of humans have led to a rapid increase in the levels of
greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide is produced when we burn fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas, and oil. A rapid
increase in industry, production of electricity, and the use of motor vehicles has resulted in huge
amounts of fossil fuels being burnt.
The rapid increase in the human population, together with improved standards of living, has also
led to an increase in the burning of fossil fuels. As the human population continues to rise, and
development raises the standards of living for more people, the burning of fossil fuels will
continue to increase.

Deforestation
Deforestation also contributes to global warming. Trees are able to store carbon, and can absorb
a lot of carbon dioxide from the air. When trees are burnt, the carbon that they store is released
into the air as carbon dioxide.

Deforestation reduces the amount of trees on the earth, and therefore reduces the absorption of
carbon dioxide. Everyday, over 5500 acres of rainforest are destroyed (that’s 50 million acres
every year).

Destruction of the ozone layer


The ozone layer is part of the earth’s atmosphere. It is very important as it absorbs harmful
ultra-violet radiation from the sun. This ultra-violet radiation can cause skin cancer and sun
burn.
In the 1980s it was realized that chemicals developed by humans were damaging the ozone
layer. These chemicals are called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and are used in refrigerators and
aerosol spray cans. A massive awareness campaign successfully led to a reduction of the use of
CFCs in aerosol spray cans.
Because of CFCs the ozone layer has become thinner, and there are now huge holes in the ozone
layer, over the North and South Poles. The hole over the South Pole is currently three times the
size of the United States.
It is feared that global warming will lead to further damage to the ozone layer.

Effects of global warming

In the last century the temperature of the earth has increased by 0.5 degrees Celsius. This small
change is believed to have had an impact on parts of the earth. Evidence shows that the ice-cap
at the North Pole is starting to melt. Scientists say that the size of the ice-cap is decreasing by
9% every ten years.

If this continues the ice-cap could have completely melted by the end of this century. Since ice-
caps play an important role in reflecting the sun’s energy out of the earth’s atmosphere their
disappearance would lead to further increases in the temperature of the earth.

Around the world there is evidence that glaciers (large areas of ice found at the tops of
mountains), are melting. Usually the lower parts of glaciers melt slowly, while new snow and ice
forms higher up. This melting water feeds rivers and provides water to many thousands of
people. Loss of glaciers could have a devastating effect on the water systems of several
countries.

Increasing global temperatures also lead to a warming of the sea. Changes in sea temperature
can have damaging effects on the sea ecosystems. It can lead to a loss of many species of sea
life, and destruction of coral reefs.

A big concern is that global warming will cause a rise in sea levels. This is caused both by the
melting of ice-caps and glaciers, and by the expansion of sea water as the sea becomes warmer.
It is believed the sea level has already increased by 10 – 20 centimetres.
A complete melting of the ice-caps and the expansion of sea water could lead to vast areas of
low-lying land becoming flooded. Much of this low-lying land is used for food production.

Global warming can also cause climate change. It is believed there will be an increase in
extreme weather – droughts in some areas, floods and violent storms in others. A changing
climate would also affect the crops that countries are able to produce.

Future Predictions
There is much debate about global warming. Ex US Vice-president Albert Gore claimed “Global
warming will be the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st century”.

While many believe global warming is a serious problem brought about by human activity,
others believe it is merely a natural change in the temperature of the earth. Some believe it is
caused by a change in the amount of energy coming from the sun, others that the temperature
increase is only temporary.

Scientists who are concerned about global warming have predicted many effects over the next
century, if temperatures continue to rise:

Rising sea levels leading to flooding of areas such as parts of the Netherlands, the Nile Delta
and Bangladesh.
An increase in violent storms and hurricanes.
Increased difficulties in food production, particularly in developing countries.
Loss of numerous species and coral reefs.
Loss of rainforest through forest fires.
A rapid increase in malaria.

Though no-one knows for certain what will happen in the future, environmental organisations
and the governments of many countries believe action needs to be taken to combat global
warming.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement under which industrialised countries will
reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that they produce to a level
which is 5.2% lower than the levels produced in 1990.

The protocol was negotiated in 1997. For the protocol to come into force 55 countries and
enough countries to total 55% of world carbon dioxide emissions had to ratify the agreement.
The Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005 after Russia signed the agreement, bringing the
total of carbon emissions of countries that had ratified the protocol to over 55%.

Currently 153 countries have signed the protocol, representing 64% of global emissions.

The United States, Australia and China have not ratified the protocol. The United States is
currently responsible for 25% of carbon dioxide emissions, but claims that reducing emissions to
meet the levels stated in the Kyoto Protocol would harm the US economy.
24. Energy use
Coal, oil and gas are fossil fuels. They are called fossil fuels because they formed from the
fossilised remains of prehistoric animals and plants. Fossil fuels provide around 66% of the
world’s electrical power and 95% of the world’s total energy demands (heating, transport,
electricity production etc).

Energy production from fossil fuels is very efficient, and is also relatively cheap. Large amounts
of electricity can be produce in one power station. Unfortunately, the burning of fossil fuels is a
major cause of global warming. In addition, the use of fossil fuels is one of the biggest forms of
pollution in the world.

Of these fossil fuels, coal produces 28% of energy, and oil produces 40%. Oil is very important
to the world economy. Natural gas provides about 20% of energy. Fossil fuels are not renewable,
this means they will eventually run out.

The use of energy is not equal around the world. Rich countries have about 20% of the world’s
population, but they use about 80% of the world’s energy. Many poor countries, such as Burma,
do not have enough energy for their own people. But they still sell lots of energy to rich
countries. The US uses 25% of the world’s oil. Most of this oil is imported from other countries.

Graph showing how energy is used in Burma, Thailand and the USA
90%
80%
70%
60% Transport
50%
Industry
40%
30% Home use
20% Other
10%
0%
Burma Thailand USA

Burma uses 11,435,000 metric tones of oil per year


Thailand uses 49,904,000 metric tones of oil per year
The USA uses 1,475,404,000 metric tones of oil per year

Populations (1980) Burma’s population – 42,510,537


Thailand’s population – 64,265,276
USA’s population – 290,342,554

1. What is most of the energy in Burma used for?


____________________________________________________________________________________

2. What is most of the energy in the US used for?


____________________________________________________________________________________

3. How much oil is used per capita (per person) in each country?
Burma: __________________
Thailand: __________________
The USA: __________________

4. Make a graph showing the amount of oil used per capita in each country.
25. Case Study: Gas pipelines in Burma

Proposed Shwe Pipeline


Burma and India are currently in negotiations over the construction of a gas pipeline, which
would allow India to purchase gas from Burma’s gas reserves.

The gas fields are off the coast of Arakan State in Western Burma and were discovered in 2003.
These gas fields are expected to hold one of the largest gas yields in Southeast Asia and could
become the Burmese military’s largest single source of foreign income.

Gas from the reserve could be used to provide much needed power to the people of Burma.
Firewood currently accounts for 90% of energy consumption in Burma (less than 1% comes
from electricity), contributing to the rapid deforestation in the country. However, instead of
using the gas to address local needs the military regime is planning to export this valuable
resource.

The military has already sold off many of Arakan State’s natural resources, and many
ecosystems and species along the Arakan coast will be threatened by the infrastructure of the
Shwe gas project. Species at risk include the endangered Arakan Forest Turtle and Irrawaddy
River Dolphin.

Exploration for and drilling of gas is expected to lead to contamination of sea water. Existing
legislation in Burma on the exploration of oil and gas says nothing about protecting the
environment.

In addition to environmental damage, construction of the pipeline is expected to lead to wide


spread human rights abuses, such as forced relocation, forced labour, rape and extra-judicial
killings.

Ref – http://www.shwe.org

Yadana and Yetagun Pipelines


Many people fear that the construction of the Shwe gas pipeline will harm the environment, and
lead to violations of human rights. These fears are well-founded, following the construction of
two gas pipelines in southern Burma.

The Burmese military regime, together with three western oil companies, built two natural gas
pipelines in southern Burma. The three western oil companies are; Unocal (US), Premier Oil
(UK), and TotalFinaElf (France/Belgium).

The three companies used the brutal Burmese military as a security force for their pipeline
projects, ignoring the evidence that the soldiers would commit severe abuses in the course of
their security duties. Burmese soldiers conscripted thousands of civilians to perform forced
labour for the benefit of the pipelines, and killed, raped, tortured and forcibly relocated innocent
villagers for the crime of living near the pipeline routes.

The two pipelines are known as the Yadana and Yetagun pipelines. The Yadana pipeline is
operated by TotalFinaElf; Unocal; the Burmese military’s oil company MOGE; and the Thai
State oil company PTTEP. The Yetagun pipeline is operated by Premier Oil; Petronas
(Malaysia); MOGE; and PTTEP.
The pipelines transport gas from oil fields in the Andaman Sea, across Tenasserim Division in
Burma, to Thailand. The Tenasserim Region has the largest intact rainforest in Southeast Asia.

The pipelines supply gas to a power plant in Thailand. None of the gas goes to domestic
Burmese use. Thailand has an energy surplus, and cannot use all of the power it imports.

These pipeline projects provide the largest single source of income to the Burmese military, and
will generate over three billion dollars for the regime. The pipeline routes also cut through one
of the last intact rainforests in Southeast Asia, home to dozens of endangered species. The
pipelines are among the most destructive investment projects in the world.

Forced Labour
Although the pipelines are now completed, civilians continue to be conscripted for forced labour
by pipeline security forces. Army battalions guarding the pipeline continue to force villagers to
serve as porters, and the villagers are sometimes beaten or left to die. But the oil companies
continue to deny the abuses and refuse to accept responsibility.

Holding the Companies Accountable


None of the oil companies involved in the human rights abuses in Burma has accepted
responsibility for what happened, or tried to compensate the victims. However, refugees from
the pipeline region sued Unocal in American courts with assistance from EarthRights
International.

In April 2005 Unocal agreed to compensate the Burmese villagers who sued the firm for
complicity in forced labour, rape and murder by soldiers providing security along the pipeline.
26. Population
The population of the world has reached 6 billion. Much of this increase has taken place in the
last 100 years. It is predicted that by 2050 the population of the world will reach between 7.9
and 10.9 billion.

There is a lot of debate about the impact an increasing human population is having on the earth.
While some people say the world is already reaching its limit and cannot support more people,
others say that the earth could support far more people, if we used natural resources in a
sustainable way. That it is the way we choose to live, and not the numbers of people, that is
harming the environment.

Current development is not sustainable. Natural resources are being used quickly. One reason for
the misuse of natural resources is over-consumption. As the population increases, and as
countries develop, people expect higher standards of living, purchase more, and become more
wasteful.

People have already changed more than one-third of the land on the earth, caused the loss of
one-quarter of the planet’s birds, and over-fished two-thirds of the world’s fisheries. Many of the
world’s ocean fisheries are now empty.

Much of the consumption of resources and production of waste has been by the richest 20% of
the world’s population; the poor majority consumes considerably less.

Therichest fifth of the population produces 53% of all carbon dioxide (the US alone produces
25%). The poorest fifth produces 3% of carbon dioxide.

The amount of waste produced by developed nations is two to five times the amount produced
by developing nations.

The average American’s environmental impact is 30 to 50 times greater than that of the average
citizen of developing countries.

In addition, as the standards of living of those in between increase, so too does the harm they
cause to the environment.

An increasing population could lead to severe water shortages for millions of people in the
future. In addition, there are impacts including increasing sewage, development of wetlands,
and destruction of fish stocks.

The world’s forests are rapidly decreasing, and the loss is mainly in developing countries. Over
the past 50 years, 12% of the world’s soil has been seriously damaged.

Wild species are becoming extinct 50 to 100 times faster than they naturally would. At least
27,000 species are lost every year.

The production of ‘greenhouse’ gases has quadrupled since 1950. The majority of this
production has been in the developed world, but production of greenhouse gases is likely to
increase rapidly in the developing world in the next ten years.
27. Sustainable development.
What is sustainable development?
Sustainable development is development ‘to allow all people throughout the world to satisfy
their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs.’

People today are becoming increasingly aware that the earth’s natural resources are being used
to quickly. If this consumption of natural resources continues at the same rate then future
generations will be deprived of the resources and healthy environment needed for their survival.

The earth is able to replenish its natural resources, but it cannot do this as fast as humans are
using these resources. Sustainable development only uses resources at a rate equal to or less
than nature’s ability to replenish then.

This use of resources relates to our consumption of trees, water, fossil fuels, soil, and also to
reducing the production of waste, pollution, and greenhouse gases to a level that the earth can
cope with. Global warming is of particular concern to those who support sustainable
development.

World Commission on Environment and Development, held in 1987 said that sustainable
development should focus on two things: to meet the basic needs of all the people living on the
earth; and to limit technology and social organisation according to nature’s ability to meet
present and future needs.

Sustainable energy
One big problem the world is facing today is the production of sustainable energy. As demands
for energy continue to increase, so does the consumption of fossil fuels. Producing energy from
fossil fuels has the benefit that it is relatively inexpensive. However, we are currently using the
earth’s fossil fuels 100,000 times faster than they can be formed. In the future fossil fuels will
run out. Burning of fossil fuels is also responsible for production of pollution and the
greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

There are several sustainable methods of producing energy although up until now none of these
methods have been as efficient or cheap as production using fossil fuels. For example:

Wind power – Generating electricity from the wind. This method is renewable and does not
produce pollution. However, only a small amount of energy can be generated from the wind.
Producing adequate amounts of energy requires converting large areas of land into wind farms.

Solar power - Converting energy from the sun to electricity. This method is renewable and does
not produce pollution. It is also easy to use in remote locations. However, it is not effective
during the night or in areas with a lot of cloud. Unfortunately solar power stations are expensive
to build and are not cost effective.

Hydroelectricity - Using movement of water to generate electricity, often through the use of
dams. This method does not produce waste or pollution, but dams do have serious
environmental impacts and are expensive to build.

Nuclear power - Using Uranium to produce energy. This method can produce a lot of energy
from a small amount of fuel and is inexpensive. There is no air pollution, but waste is poisonous
and radioactive, and therefore difficult to dispose of. The public are afraid of nuclear power
because leaks and accidents can lead to harm of large numbers of people and areas of land.
28. Environmental organisations and agreements

International organisations

There are several international organisations established to protect the environment. One
example is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

UNEP was established in 1972. UNEP acts to advocate, educate and promote the sustainable
development of the global environment. They aim to enable nations and peoples to improve their
quality of life without compromising that of future generations. To accomplish this, UNEP
works with a wide range of partners, including United Nations entities, international
organizations, national governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and
civil society.

National organisations

Governments of all developed countries have departments devoted to monitoring and protecting
the environment.

Private organisations
Environmental NGOs work on lobbying, advocacy and conservation efforts. Examples of
international NGOs include; Greenpeace, The World Wildlife Fund and the World Business
Council for Sustainable Development.

Environmental Agreements

Numerous international agreements have been negotiated and ratified to protect different aspects
of the environment. Many of these agreements are legally binding.

Burma has ratified a number of international agreements, including:

The Convention on Biological Diversity – This is an international treaty that came into force in
1993 to develop conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna – This
convention came into force in 1975 and was written to ensure the international trade of wild
animals and plants doesn’t threaten the species’ survival.

International Timber Agreement – This agreement came into force in 1997 and aims to ensure
exports in tropical timber are sustainably managed.

United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea – This convention came into force in 1994 and
provides legal controls for the management of marine natural resources and control of pollution.

Kyoto Protocol – The protocol to reduce global warming.