The Connexions Annual:
Introduction to Environment, Land Use, Rural

As we witness an apparently unending succession of environmental hazards and catastrophes, awareness is spreading that we are in the midst of a profound ecological crisis.

The dimensions of that crisis are frightening. Global warming — the greenhouse effect — threatens massive disturbances to climate, vegetation, sea levels, water supplies, and agriculture. Airborne pollutants, including acid rain, are causing the death of lakes and forests, and are a major cause of cancers and respiratory illnesses in humans.

Water pollution, including toxic wastes, raw sewage, oil spills, and garbage dumped at sea, is befouling shorelines and making water unfit to drink or to swim in. Fish and marine mammals suffer from these hazards, and from overfishing and huge deadly driftnets. The earth’s protective ozone layer is thinning dangerously, with potentially devastating effects on the marine food chain and on humans who venture into the sunlight.

Rain forests are being destroyed at a catastrophic rate, with inevitable consequences for climate worldwide. We are in the midst of a massive wave of species extinctions, and countless other species of animals and plants are nearing the edge. Stresses on wildlife and habitat range from outright destruction to overhunting to the proliferation of all–terrain vehicles.

Unsustainable farming practices are degrading the soil, depleting water reservoirs that took centuries to build up, polluting lakes, rivers and groundwater with chemicals, inadvertently encouraging the biological selection of pesticide–resistant insect pests, and dangerously narrowing the genetic diversity of cultivated plant species.

If there is any hope, it is that people worldwide are resisting the urge to simply despair, and are instead seeking to do whatever they can to reverse the trend.

Many people are trying to change their own lifestyles by avoiding products and practices which are harmful to the environment, by reusing and re–cycling, by composting, by reducing the use of private automobiles. They are also pressuring governments and industries to change and supporting environmental organizations.

In Canada, environmental and conservationist groups have sprung up around a wide variety of concerns. Some concentrate on local issues, such as the clean–up of a river, or the dumping of raw untreated sewage into the ocean. Others deal with broader problems, such as acid rain, the preservation of wetlands and natural and wilderness areas, the pollution of the oceans and the Great Lakes, energy conservation, nuclear power, excess packaging, the forest industry, or urban planning and land use.

Farming and rural life are one area of particular concern. Canadian farmers (and the rural communities which depend on them) are caught up in the pressures of a market economy that squeezes small farmers while encouraging environmentally damaging farming practices. Farming ranks with mining, fishing, and construction work in its risk of physical injury or death, and in addition farmers are exposed to a range of hazardous pesticides. Farmers who want to get off the treadmill are often trapped by huge debts. In response, organizations working for the survival of family farming and rural communities have sprung up, as has a movement to return to more ‘organic’ farming techniques. Happily, a market for ‘organic’ products is rapidly developing.

A movement for change is gathering steam, and is chalking up local successes as well as having a broader social impact.

Those active in environmental issues are also wrestling with how best to organize. Some groups see their role as lobbying and pressuring governments or businesses on a particular well–defined issue. Other groups are strictly local, using tactics that range from education and petitioning to civil disobedience.

Still other organizations have developed broader strategic visions. Some see themselves as primarily ecological (e.g. “deep ecology”) while others incorporate an economic and social vision as well (e.g. “social ecology”, “bioregionalism” or the Green movements). Some stress the development of alternative models of sustainable economic activity based on decentralist and ‘human scale’ approaches.

Also receiving recognition is the fact that environmental issues are closely linked to third world development issues, and to questions of peace and urban planning. The increasing awareness of the global nature of environmental problems has made it apparent there is no hope of solving them unless the problems of poor countries generally are addressed. For example, most third world countries have no sewage treatment facilities, no controls on industrial pollution, and no means of dealing with hazardous wastes except by dumping them in the sea. Rain forests will continue to be cleared unless local people see viable economic alternatives for themselves.

There is still hope for reversing the trend toward environmental collapse, but only if we are able to work together worldwide to achieve profound changes. Our many local initiatives are steps toward achieving that, but many more steps are needed before we become a movement capable of bringing about those changes.

Ulli Diemer

Aussi disponible en français: L'annuel Connexions: Introduction à l’environnement, l’utilisation agraire et la campagne
También disponible en español: El Anuario de Conexiones: Introducción al Ambiente, Uso de Tierra, Rural

Other Overview Articles from the Connexions Annual:
Introduction to the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Arts, Media, Culture section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Community, Urban, Housing section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Development, International section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Economy, Poverty, Work section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Education, Children section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Environment, Land Use, Rural section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Health section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Human Rights, Civil Liberties section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Lesbians, Gays section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Native Peoples section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Peace section of the Connexions Annual
Introduction to the Women section of the Connexions Annual
Resource and Reading List from the Connexions Annual

Other Resources and Links:
Connexions Online: Environment, Land Use, Rural Links

Connexions Online: Nature & Outdoors Links

Contamination: The Poisonous Legacy of Ontario’s Environment Cutbacks