In recent years the conservation and preservation practices of several countries has changed considerably. No longer are countries simply thinking of their biological resources as a main environmental protection concern, but the geological resources are now also being seen as having a major role in the overall health of the environment and the economy of the country.
However, the importance of the conservation of geologic resources has not always been so obvious to the governments of some of these countries. It has taken many years of negotiations and scores of scientific studies to even move the national policies and laws to the infantile state that they are in right now. Governments are just now beginning to understand the magnitude of the continued overuse of the resources that we have available to us on this earth and if something needs to be done about it before the complete destruction of all of the world’s usable resource supply.
Beginning in the late 1970’s, the United States began to actually push forward in the conservation and preservation aspect of land and resource usage.
Up until this point in history, the United States as well as many other countries were on a profit driven ride to “Environmental Hell”. The cars of the day were getting fewer and fewer miles to the gallon, the population was on the upswing, and recycling and other “green” activities were on the decline (EIA, 2005, 1). The United States government was not helping matters by leaning very heavily on oil reserves and not instating regulations and constrictions on the automobile industry to produce more efficient cars. The hole in the ozone layer was steadily getting larger due to the increased release of CFC’s (chloroflorocarbons) and other greenhouse gases (EIA, 2005, 1). Global warming was beginning to creep up, the air and water quality was at an all time low, and the nation’s forests were disappearing at an alarming rate. All of these seemingly apparent effects and the U.S. government still said that more scientific data needed to be collected before it could begin implementing environmental laws to aid in the conservation of important resources.
Finally, in the late 20th centure the United Nations conceded, in light of irrefutable scientific evidence, that there was an environmental problem that needed to be dealt with in order to pass a sustainable environment on to future generations (Guruswamy, 2003, 34-35). The UNCED conference of 1992 was formed and provided the groundbreaking structure for further environmental laws and policies to be instated in order to protect valuable resources. After this conference, the U.S. began massive conservation and preservation efforts to help to try to offset the damage already undertaken by the environment due to overuse. But, the UNCED conference still merely dealt with the conservation and preservation of the biological resources present within the nations’ borders. The ultimate downfall of this approach however, is that the destruction of environmental resources and the overall destruction of the environment is not simply a state or national problem.
In order to effectively curb the overuse and ultimate destruction of the environment by humans, many races will have to band together. The accomplishment of a worldwide environmental protection and conservation program was the overall goal of the World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002 which led to laws concerning poverty caused by environment degradation. However, as was stated before all of these treaties and conferences apply solely to biologically based resources (trees, animals, plantlife, etc.) and did not take into account the vast array of geological resources that were being affected by the environmental overuse as well.
Thus in the early 21st century the concept of geoconservation was born. In essence, what geoconservation aims to do is to provide conservation and preservation of the geophysical resources that are available to humans for extraction today or in later years. Many different methods of geoconservation exist, but they all serve the one main purpose of furthering the lifespan of the earth’s natural resources so that humans can begin to live more sustainably within the environment. Geoconservationism works much the same way that biological conservationism does. Geoconservationism understands that it is very hard for countries to prosper without extracting any resources at all (a preservationist view) and strives to develop methods of geological extraction that are sustainable and still profitable.
There are several different geoconservation methods that are employed in various countries in an effort to heighten the awareness of the nation’s people to the disappearing geological resources. An important aside needs to be addressed before continuing to explore geoconservation. In general, the countries that need to employ geoconservation methods are the developing countries of the world. You see, the large countries that are already developed are able to employ various methods (that sometimes tend to cut into profits) to ensure that the resources of the country are sustained. However, the lesser developing countries usually are less able or are less willing to adopt conservationist or preservationist points of view because once the country is actually able to begin developing like other richer countries, it does not want anything to cut into its profits.
This is actually an interesting ethical question that should be examined by all of the developed countries of the world. Is it really fair that the already developed countries were able to increase their revenue and development at the cost of the environment, but when newly developing countries are trying to better themselves they are penalized because of the destruction of environmental resources? Should the newly developing countries not get all of the same opportunities that the developed countries got just because they are a little behind the times, so to speak? In essence this issue almost seems as if it is another case of the rich oppressing the poor, those that have limiting those that lack in an effort to keep a social hierarchy present on a worldwide scale. It is the author’s view that this is simply not true, however.
While it is true that some new environmental policies and practices do limit the profits that can be obtained by an activity, the long-term picture is what is important when concerned with the environment. The preservation and conservation of resources in newly developing countries is actually a help and not a hindrance. The point of the conservation of the environment is to provide a sustainable pool of resources that future generations can draw from in order to survive. So really, the newly developing countries will be better off than the already developed countries will be in the future. Think of the United States and the world’s oil reserves. It is true that there are natural oil reserves on U.S. soil, however it would be so expensive and time consuming to extract these reserves it would not be worth the trouble of harvesting them. Today, a large part of U.S. petroleum products are outsourced from Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and Pakistan (The Energy Foundation, 2005, 1).
In the future the United States will not have access to any oil whatsoever unless it comes from other countries, which leaves the U.S. economy at the hands of leaders on foreign soils. The leaders of the Middle East will have a monopoly (more of one than they have now) on the oil reserves of the world and will then be set up to be the wealthiest country in that day and age.
Modern geoconservation methods can be employed to actually help and not hurt a developing nation’s economy. Some of the practices such as sustainable mining and ore harvesting can actually boost profits due to the overall efficiency of the practice. For example, biologists now are teaching sustainable farming techniques in parts of Africa and Europe and now by employing these practices the people of these countries can comfortably feed themselves, conserve soil for further agricultural activities, and still be able to farm sustainably. Yet again, this is simply an example of what biological laws can do for a nation, however, what people do not realize is that geoconservationist laws aim to do the same thing for a country with concern for its geological resources.
At times the geological resources of a nation are the main source of value for that country. The oil reserves of the Middle East are a good example, while on a smaller scale the coal of the Ohio River Valley in the U.S. is another example. In both instances, the resources that need to be preserved are located deep within the earth and need to be mined in order to be extracted. There are specific processes that need to be performed in order to extract the resources in a sustainable way, without a large amount of disturbance to other geologically or biologically important resources.
It is a fact; in order for the world to continue one of two things needs to happen. Either the world needs to forget about fossil fuels and begin focusing their research, time, and money on new “green” technology such as solar or electric power or they need to adopt earth friendly methods of extraction for the various resources that are needed to power the machines of today. While obviously the first choice is the better of the two, it is sometimes hard to get society to change their ways no matter how small the change is. In the 1970’s when there was a large push for the United States and other countries to adopt the metric system as the standard method of measurement on a worldwide basis, society largely balked at the idea of changing their current way of measuring. There was large public outcry and a general refusal to abide by the new standard, so eventually the movement petered out and the U.S. is still using the English measurement system, while Europe is under the metric system.
In order for the world to live sustainably, all nations are going to have to band together to protect the environment. It is much easier to destroy the environment than it is to build it back up, so if only one nation is against environmentalism then the plan has the potential to fail. In order to get all nations to adopt conservation methods, the methods must be easily performed, inexpensive, and provide benefits to the countries directly. In the next section, a few geoconservationist programs will be examined to give some examples of what types of programs work and will not work in developing countries. Hopefully, trends will arise that can help explain what needs to be implemented in conservation programs in order for them to be successfully adopted.
The first example of geoconservationism that will be examined is that of Tasmania, Australia. Essentially, geoconservation took place in three distinct stages in Tasmania. First, outstanding caves and scenic landforms were preserved from development due to the overall scenic values of the various areas. This type of geoconservation was aimed at merely keeping development of geologic spectacles to a minimum due to the claimed aesthetic value of the area in question. Scenic geoconservation was a step in the right direction, but true geological conservation/preservation did not appear until the late 1970’s when geoconservation began to take place due to actual scientific value (i.e. a timeline of the earth’s construction).
Even though geoconservationism was beginning to make a foothold in Tasmania due to its benefits to the academic and scientific fields, it was still seen as an oddity due to the lack of methods used in the workforce of the country and it remained this way until recently when land management actually came to the forefront (Dixon, 1995b, 1). Tasmania has recognized that it not only needs to prevent geodiversity hazards, but also preserve geodiversity for its simple intrinsic value. This view takes into account that the geological layers and features of the earth make up the ecological basis of all life forms of the modern world and also hold the key to studying the life forms of the years past.
Even though it may appear as if Tasmania is worlds behind as far as geoconservation technology is concerned, it is actually ahead of the United States and some other countries in the race to save geoquantities. Countries in which urbanization is taking place at a rapid pace are actually usually the countries that will tend to be able to adopt new conservation strategies quicker due to the country being in a transition stage of sorts. In this way, it is easiest to get a country to adopt new strategies for conservation because the costs of start up of such programs are at their lowest.
Generally, conservation and preservation steps take place due to a public outcry against an action (proposed or executed), and this is what happened in Australia at Lake Pedder (Dixon, 1995b, 1). A large hydro-electric facility flooded an area of Australia for the construction of a hydro electric power plant (Dixon, 1995b, 1). Sometimes it is stated that this event is what began the push for environmental policy and law in Australia (Dixon, 1995b, 1). There was a large feeling of discontent by the general public and so measures began to be taken in order that further environmental transgressions could not take place or at least would hold a larger penalty for doing so.
While Tasmania, Australia is an example of an area where geoconservation has worked very well, especially in terms of developing an overall political and public environmental awareness program in an effort to heighten environmental concern throughout the country, African countries are not so lucky. Africa does not have a particularly good record when it comes to the conservation of the resources of the area, be it biological or geological conservation (Reimold, 1999, 470). Most areas of Africa tend to be lesser developed than other parts of the world and therefore have not been educated on the importance of environmental protection and preservation. These countries realize that they need the earth to live, since in most instances it provides for their everyday needs such as shelter, food, warmth, and general “creature comforts”.
However, what the people of most African countries do not realize is that in order to continue living in the way that they are, or to live better more comfortable lives they need to live sustainably with the environment. As of now, the people coexist with their environment, but have tended to “conquer” it rather than live “with” it. To live sustainably, the people of Africa will have to not only change the way that they do things, but also change the way that they think about things. Africa is one of the areas that is known to be very geologically important with concern to the secrets of the past history of the earth itself, but has not been examined very carefully due to the lack of knowledge on geological processes in the country. Africa actually has in the past few years been able to tap into a rich resource that does not come from the environment, but actually is “man-made” so to speak.
Of course the economic resource which is spoken of is simply put, Tourism (Reimold, 1999, 470). Africa has become in recent years a popular area for vacations, pilgrimages, and hunting trips (Reimold, 1999, 470). The hordes that flock to the warm water beaches each year are ever increasing and are a major supplier of the country’s per capita value year after year. The recent increase in traffic to Africa can possibly be attributed to the ease of travel (i.e. air travel, cruise ships, etc.) and to the economic prosperity of other developed nations. More tourism means a healthier economy for those parts of Africa that contain travel destinations and an overall stronger economic foothold on the international level.
However, along with heavier traffic comes more pollution, habitat degradation, and sprawl. It is due to this new “tourist factor” that new laws and policies are being passed by the African government to try to stem the environmental destruction, but still allow the spread of African geotourism. The environment is what draws visitors to the area, so the destruction of it would be detrimental to the actual goal of the country (to gain economic prosperity and financial freedom).
Geoconservation is just as important as or even more important than biological conservation is to the ecology of the environment (Brilha, 2002, 273). It is the minerals, water, and nutrients that supply the building blocks of sugar for plants, which will in turn produce food for the animals. The animals will then decay, releasing the nutrients and minerals from their bodies back into the ground which will compact and purify the nutrients to begin the cycle all over again. Essentially, the geological makeup of an area is the framework from which all other parts of the environment are prospered. While biological conservation deals with the living things on earth, geoconservationism deals with the material obtained from the biological specimens once they are dead.
The examples of Tasmania, Australia and the African countries show two vastly different reasons for instating geoconservatinist methods, but do indicate what positive outcomes could result from said methods. Tasmania wanted to increase the conservation of geological (and some biological) resources based solely on their intrinsic values as pieces of natural history and ecologically significant evidence. Africa on the other hand wants to increase the conservation and preservation of its land areas simply because it wants to see more profits turned from tourism and ecotourism.
Both countries exhibit the perfect set up for a successful geoconservation program basically because both areas are still developing, both areas are very dependant on their surroundings as means of survival (whether it be physical or economic in nature), and both areas are very willing to adopt new environmental strategies if it is believed that there is a particular benefit to be gained by them. Both Australia and Africa have instated very environmentally beneficial strategies of policy and law and provide good examples to lawmakers of today when examining the pros and cons of new conservation or preservation policies.
In conclusion it is important to note that geoconservation tactics adopted by a nation do not take effect overnight. They require a definite long term commitment by not only the government of a nation but its people as well. The success of the geoconservation program of an area depends largely on the efforts of the people of an area to try to instill a lasting impression of environmentalism in the generations that follow in their footsteps. If the people involved with the conservation and preservation of the resources of an area are willing to abide by the rules and regulations set forth by the government then the environmental plan will be a success reaching farther into the future than anyone realizes. The reason that the African and Australian programs are working is due to the early adoption of conservation methods. In order for this early adoption phase to take hold, environmental education is essential. Environmental education opens the door to obtaining sustainable economics in otherwise unreachable communities.
Overall the sustainability of geoconservation efforts is a very valid subject that concerns many countries and developing areas. In general, the state of geoconservation in the world today is fairly positive. While goeconservation is a fairly new concept, it is not completely foreign since many countries have now adopted other environmental policies. However, that is not to say that there is nothing that can be improved upon as far as the conservation and preservation of existing geological resources. If the nations of the world are to survive and prosper on into the next centuries, it is essential that the leaders of the world begin to emphasize the importance of continuing conservation efforts for the benefit of all. As long as the nations of this world stick together, we still might be able to pull the earth out of the downward spiral of environmental death and destruction after all.
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