The real reason we should protect the environment

By Penny Caldwell »Penny Caldwell

September 20th, 2007

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Protecting the environment is about self-preservation, according to Robert Roach, the Canada West Foundation’s director of research. A self-confessed city slicker, he explains his observation in his “Letter from the Editor” in the summer edition of CWF’s Dialogues, which is devoted to Land Stewardship. Here’s an excerpt:

“For a city boy like myself, it’s easy to forget about nature. From my condo in downtown Calgary, it seems like water comes from a tap or a bottle, that food comes from the grocery store or a restaurant, that most animals are either kept indoors or on leashes, that waste disappears in trucks or down a drain, and that trees and flowers are planted in yards, along roads, or in parks. When I do leave the city, it’s to enjoy a leisurely hike along a trail or drink some beer by a lake.

The cycle of life and death that defines nature, the complex ecological systems that produce the air, water, and food that I need to live, the trials and tribulations of farmers and ranchers, and the deep mines and wells that supply the raw materials that sustain my lifestyle seem very far away. As more and more Canadians call big cities home, this disconnect is likely to grow.

But we must not forget that urbanites depend on the natural processes and agricultural activities that take place in the countryside. I may live far away and seemingly separate from the glacier that helps feed the water supply of my city and the orchard that produced the apple I’m munching on, but I have a stake – a big stake – in ensuring the long-term functionality of the natural processes that keep me healthy and alive.

It’s not just a matter of ‘protecting the environment’ because I think bears are cool or because I don’t want my favourite fishing spot to turn into a condo development. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s about self-preservation. This seems a bit strange sitting on the patio of a Starbucks, but it’s a useful reminder of how important the ecological goods and services provided by the countryside are to all of us.

So what can we do to make sure nature keeps providing us with what we need? There are three broad interconnected ways that we can act as stewards of nature:

1) we can engage in preservation; 2) we can change what and how much we consume; and 3) we can change how we use our land and water.”

When it comes to managing how we use our land and water, Roach points out that while each of us can contribute, it’s important that change happen on a larger scale. As he writes, “I can recycle the paper I use, but a forestry company can sustain an entire forest. I can contribute a few dollars to a conservation fund, but a farmer can set aside a quarter section for habitat…As an urbanite, I rely on landscapes outside my urban field of vision and I rely on the stewards who look after those landscapes.”

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Penny Caldwell