“Environmentalism” Vs. Environmental Management

Nowadays, to deny environmental impacts originated from badly managed environmental risks affecting cities, companies, countries, regions and even with perceivable changes at planetary level; is the secured basis for an upcoming catastrophe subject to the unstoppable passage of time.

Historically, the recognition, identification and management of environmental risks became a concern due to conditions of economic scarcity. The typical example was the prohibition of cutting down trees in the fertile crescent region thousands of years BC, and similar measures throughout other periods in history.

In a different way, ‘Environmentalism’ appeared as an ‘ideology’, not by chance; but during times of ideological clashes between totally deregulated market freedom and the dawn of socialism. It became visible, intimately befriended to labour rights and health issues related to working conditions. Poor working conditions during the industrial revolution and air quality in the UK worked as the historical spark. This sort of activism, not yet separated from social rights, ended up being defined and coined during the 70s; where it also resurfaced linked to oil pollution events (i.e. Amoco Cadiz oil spill) and even opposed to the military intervention of US troops in Vietnam; that is, bathed in a typical politician-opponent tinge.

‘Romantic’ environmental movements also spread in the UK in 1870 the concept of ‘going back to nature’ and also fostered the creation of conservation of natural areas. Those romantic movements were isolated and did not have an impact able to endure in time.

It is very interesting to observe; that the 1970’s ‘Environmentalism’ began to be forged into institutions to obtain funding for its takeoff. The first NGOs or Non-Governmental Organisations, began to send messages against certain and targeted environmental risks, with a negative and a violent tone against companies of great economic power (i.e. tobacco, oil and mining companies). Messages were always paralyzing, and rarely promoted solutions to the problems. Young activists, found there a new refuge against sticky consumerism and also unhealthy associated habits. Environmentalism was a new way to interpret the voices of the Creator. Mother Nature became Goddess again and Pantheism won the race to monotheistic religions and even western rationality; that when de-deified; is completely empty of any humanistic content.

In reality, the problem were not monotheistic religions, nor Western rationalism, nor the pursuit of profit by companies, neither consumerism itself. Culprits were to forget about our neighbors next door – complaining about fumes and annoying noises-, future generations – neglected by the indiscriminate and hysterical consumption of resources-; and the abuse of natural ecosystems; which are together with culture & innovation, the basis of the sustenance of human civilization.

‘Environmentalism’ was a necessary voice at the beginning; but at the same time; for those who still preach it, this movement is neither practical nor effective; since this activists group rarely granted solutions; but rather promoted absolute, paralysing and non-democratic concepts such as ‘Climate Change’, ‘Extinction of species’ and other apocalyptic messages.

‘Environmentalism’ is absolute; immature and contradicts the undeniable realities such as the free market and that the material world and its resources are scarce and exhaustible; and that this is also inevitable. Much of ‘Environmentalism’ proclaims that nature is ‘perfect’; which is another fallacy.

Undoubtedly, perception has changed. Africa used to be mentioned as ‘Wild Africa’, as an untamed territory; full of beasts and aggressive tribes. Nowadays; Africa became a synonym of natural beauty and national parks. Similarly, the word ‘forest’ originated from the term ‘foris’ in Latin; which it meant during the middle ages, ‘beyond the city walls’, again, an untamed area; full of dangers for humans. Today things seem to have mutated; and civilization has been convinced of the opposite: that nature is the garden of Eden.

I have always observed; that for example activism against whaling is even ridiculous. Although I do not share this culture with the ‘whale eaters’, such as Japanese or inhabitants of the Faroe Islands; I do not want to impose cultures either; since in my country, Argentina, we eat beef at home –with also a number of associated environmental risks-; while in India, cattle are sacred beings. Subsequently, I ask myself; who, if not the Japanese themselves, are the ones who would like to preserve whaling as a sustainable resource the most? Let’s be practical and think that as long as whales have a good price in Tokyo, the regulated market will balance out the number of whales captured; which it will help out to preserve the species. In the same sense, if a fishing fleet of whalers went fishing and only found two whales; the next time this fleet sails, by simple economy, the fleet would be drastically reduced or even the operations of the fleet would be halted.

It is interesting to note that often within the ‘Environmentalists’ minds, absolutism and rebellion prevail over concepts such as state, nation, companies, traditional religions and the market economy. I always ask them: What solution do you suggest, if you would like to replace those essential facts for human civilization? The most common response is almost constant: A silence only comparable to a peaceful breeze in a national park.

Our civilization, in addition to everyday problems, have had always a great capacity for change, adaptation and innovation. Today, access to resources and welfare has expanded as never before in history. Of course, this is far from reaching 100% of the population; but without a doubt it is a historical landmark. For instance; nowadays, 80% of the global population has access to drinking water.

It is important to highlight that the idea of an environmental impact equal to ‘0’ is very distant. Furthermore, it also is an unattainable and intangible line. Environmental impacts can be minimized, changed by others, be contained or transferred to a different location. Certainly, human civilization will never stop producing negative environmental impacts. In the same way, it does not longer surprise me; the little mention of ‘positive environmental impacts’; that are never mentioned or taken into account by ‘Environmentalists’. A classic example of this is the positive impact that tourism has on protected natural areas; where visitors learn about ecological processes; that in any case help to promote sustainable practices in the cities.

If we want to ‘help the planet’; there is nothing better than to start implementing environmental risk management’ or ERM. Now, we have processes, practices, technologies and resources of the highest level, all able to manage environmental risks. It is enough to observe environmental management practices carried out by many mining companies; that despite the severe impacts on the environment; these organizations manage their risks in an incredible way. Again, not randomly; these same companies are those attacked by environmental groups, who don’t propose any solutions to the matter and without doubt, human civilization (we, all) still needs raw materials, resulting from this that we can not stop mining.

To differentiate ‘Environmentalism’ from ERM; it is enough to analyze if an ‘environmental risk assessment or ERA’ was actually carried out. ERA is a previous step to the implementation of any ERM tool. ERA will define priorities in risk management in a rational way, according to a logic of relating risk to a probable consequence that an environmental impact occurs. ERA, is the cornerstone and the first step of ERM; and not of activism.

‘Environmentalism’ is paradoxically ‘contaminated’. Yes, it is polluted with politics that exploit the ignorance of the people. Many political parties capture votes with green policies. Citizens looking to redefine existence via coming back to Mother Nature; as opposed to big cities and the rush of modern life; are easily netted by those politicians.

A classic of ‘Environmentalism’, is the lack of rationality and effectiveness of its measures; as opposed to a proper ERM. For instance, many government agencies focus their resources on innocuous and activist actions, such promoting ‘permaculture’ and organic crops in the middle of highly dense populated area or, also implementing ‘phytoremediation’ in watercourses too contaminated or rather too large for such solution. Another clear example is to call ‘biodiversity pathways or corridors’ tree-lined avenues or urban artificial parks. When ‘Environmentalism’ appears in such ways; it becomes an inefficient ‘greenwashing’ with short legs.

Perhaps, if we really would like to manage environmental risks in an urban sprawl context; proper ERM, would certainly set different priorities; such as noise level; waste management, runoff pollution, energy and water usage and air quality. Frequently, urban biodiversity is almost inapplicable and clearly not a priority in many high-density urban conglomerates.

ERM includes a number of risk management tools; already implemented and capable of minimizing environmental risks. These tools are among others: EIA or Environmental Impact Assessment, Environmental Audits, Environmental Indicators, Environmental Management Systems or EMS, Environmental Monitoring, Environmental Due Diligence, Life Cycle Analysis or LCA, Economic Tools, Environmental Engineering, Laboratory Analysis, GIS; etc etc. All these practices, processes; are currently being used in many jurisdictions. These practices give predictability, systematization and rationality to political or business decisions, which otherwise become totally capricious.

For those who still do not believe in it; true ERM will take place when pollution will have allocated a fair price, and the same happens to the irrational use of resources. Correctly regulated market forces will dictate human activities like never before. Properly regulated markets may lead to an unusual efficiency in environmental issues. Conversely, too often when environmentalists listen to the word ‘companies’ or ‘market’; they tend to run away, ignoring the solution to the problem awaits them right there; in human economic activity, in financial centers; and not in national parks.

By Pedro J. Toranzo
Copyright@ Pedro J. Toranzo 2018