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Man and the Environment

The Concept of Bearing Responsibility

To what extent should rich nations bear responsibility for solving environmental problems?


bear responsibility

criteria (cause, ability, self-interest)

Generic (command):

Extent question – requires student to acknowledge that responsibility is shared


rich, developed nations

implied – developing nations


cutting back - reducing consumption and production

active measures – reforestation, alternative energy,

mitigation/adaptation – coping with consequences

What environmental problems?

Apart from global warming, these problems include deforestation,

loss of biodiversity, air, water, and land pollution.

How to measure extent of responsibility?

(1) How much of the damage were their doing?

(2) How able are they to solve the problems?

(3) How much is at stake for them?

Criteria: CAUSE

Rich nations

Developing nations

Industries (MNCs, TNCs)


Historically, rich nations are primary contributors to global warming due to past industrial activity.

Per capita consumption patterns are highest in the developed world.

Currently, some of the developing nations who are the larger contributors to global warming.

In the future, it is the current rapidly developing nations that will be the primary contributors to global warming.

--While it may appear that some of the developing nations are greater contributors to carbon emissions today, much of such emissions are from industrial activity from companies owned by rich nations.

--Physical location is thus not as important as national ownership.


It is the rich nations who possess most of the technological know-how and financial means to deal with environmental catastrophe and to research possible alternative energy solutions.

It is also the rich nations who are able to most help the developing nations when it comes to coping with the consequences of global warming.

It is the developing nations who hold the key to solving environmental problems because they make up most of the worlds population and control most of the worlds resources.

This means that they have the potential ability to help address environmental issues.


Rich nations are not spared from the ill-effects of global warming. Moreover, they have significant interests in business development in the developing world.

Developing nations have an obvious stake in resolving environmental issues because they suffer the brunt of global warming.

While developed nations should bear more responsibility, developing nations should also play their part in solving the environmental problems.

Assuming rich nations have (1) caused environmental problems, (2) the ability and (3) are self-interest, they should bear more responsibility to solve the environmental problems.

Although they have a moral obligation, it would be unfair for them to bear full responsibility.

This is because developing nations are increasingly (1) causing environmental problems, (2) gaining the ability and (3) are self-interested to make amends.

Ultimately for the environmental problems to be solved, this would require the commitment and cooperation of both nations.

Yet, developing nations are increasingly (1) causing environmental problems, (2) gaining the ability and (3) are self-interested to make amends.

The Concept of Possibility

Is it possible to protect the environment when many countries require increasing amounts of energy to progress?


possible (realistic, difficult, long term probability, short term probability) requires discussion of impediments (acknowledging condition and trade-off: increasing amounts of energy consumption have an impact on the environment, human will and determination, human ingenuity, international cooperation)


protect the environment (conservation, mitigating consequences of global warming, reforestation, alternative energy, etc), countries that require increasing amounts of energy to progress (undeveloped, developing, developed)


The increasing amount of energy that is required to progress has a damaging effect on the environment.

In order to protect the environment, countries need to cut back on the amount of energy use.


It is possible

(1) the obstacles are manageable

(2) the solutions can be maintained and enforced

It is not possible as:

(1) the obstacles are overwhelming

(2) rendering the solutions insignificant

It is possible but extremely difficult

(1) acknowledge there are solutions

(2) but the obstacles are overwhelming

(3) rendering the solutions ineffective

Why is it possible but extremely difficult?



The use of alternative energy sources has already been proven to be economically viable. (i.e., increasing energy use need not be harmful to the environment)

Dependency of many countries on fossil fuels that are highly polluting to fuel economic growth

As the consequences of global warming become more severe, governments around the world will be under pressure to work together and seek solutions to protect the environment while at the same time ensure progress for their people. Furthermore, there appears to be a lot of excess capacity, i.e., there may not be a need for drastic cuts or changes in lifestyles what is needed are merely more efficient ways of energy production and use. (Need not cut back on energy consumption)

Lack of will

Lack of cooperation

Based on current trends in science and technology, Man is likely to invent more ingenuous ways of protecting the environment while at the same time enjoying economic progress.

Man appears to have reached the limits of his intellectual abilities.

Protecting the environment can also be economically viable as evidenced by eco-tourism and jobs in the alternative energy market.

Man’s Greed

It is increasingly possible to protect the environment because of the use of alternative energy resources, the increased pressure from governments to work together to seek solutions, the more ingenuous ways of protecting the environment and the economically viable pursuits.

However, the overwhelming obstacles such as the heavy reliance on fossil fuels, lack of will and cooperation, Mans Greed and the appearance that Man has reached his intellectual limits ..........

Not Possible


Many governments are unwilling to adopt alternative sources of energy due to the high costs associated and the hassle that comes with changing existing infrastructures.

Peoples fears that such modern forms of technology may have ill effects.

Dependency of many countries on fossil fuels that are highly polluting to fuel economic growth

Dependency of many countries on exploiting natural resources to fuel certain industries

Man is inherently selfish and greedy. Countries are likely to cooperate when there appears to be little incentive for them to take the first step.

Lack of cooperation, lack of will

Man appears to have reached the limits of his intellectual abilities. There is little alternative left except to cut back on energy use.

Human ingenuity

Eco-tourism is not as environmentally friendly as it seems and money channeled into such projects could have been better used elsewhere. Jobs in alternative energy markets are unstable, uncertain and not as lucrative

Changing lifestyles


How to use The Flipside:

The Flipside offers you two views on a given issue. In many cases, the views are polar opposites. In some cases, the second view is merely an alternative perspective. These contradictory views are presented in full to facilitate discussion and to offer a more objective take on issues. The graduating GP student should be well aware that no view can ever be balanced in an essay with the polar opposite. The result is a thoroughly contradictory essay.

  • Instead, the student should adopt one point of view (the stand), while balancing his views by acknowledging some/partial truth in the alternative view.

  • The student may also choose to balance by saying that there are exceptions to his stand which apply under certain conditions.

  • The student may also choose to present the alternative offered here in order to subsequently rebut it.

To illustrate we have crafted sample paragraphs in Section 5.


  1. Concept/Issue: Responding to Global Warming

Question: How responsible is Mankind in protecting the environment?

Answer: Mankind is responsible in protecting the environment to a large extent. Granted, there have been efforts on the part of individuals, non-governmental organisations, governments and international organisations towards protecting the environment. However, these efforts to change the environmental situation have been cosmetic at best. This shortcoming is a result of some who remain adamant and apathetic to take up the responsibility of protecting the environment. As long as people recognise their roles and are responsible in protecting the environment, those efforts would remain concerted and maintained in the long run.


Alternative views

There are governments who recognise the impact of traditional sources of energy and are turning to cleaner and greener alternatives such as nuclear energy. In 2008, Italy announced that within five years it planned to resume building nuclear energy plants out of a growing concern over the warming effects of carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

Despite adopting an alternative source of energy, i.e. nuclear energy, some governments are undermining other solutions to climate change by diverting urgently needed resources away from the true renewable and energy-efficient solutions that governments who are serious about climate change need to invest in.

Big businesses are also more receptive to the call to look after the environment. Increasingly, there are companies who exercise corporate social responsibility (CSR) as they are reinvesting in their workforce, communities and the environment. One such company is Starbucks who is committed to supporting programmes that facilitate farmers’ access to carbon markets, allowing them to generate additional income while helping to prevent deforestation.

Some companies stray away from their responsibilities to the environment as they falsely believe that developing sustainably would reduce their profits.

Established outside of political parties, (nongovernmental organisations) NGOs voluntarily are responsible for advocating public’s concerns and pressurising governments to do a better job. Conservation International has worked with the Cambodian government to create a one-million acre protected area and sponsored scientific research of coral reefs off Indonesia.

As dedicated as NGOs are in protecting the environment, a small minority are more radical in their approach. Adherents of radical environmentalism and ecological anarchism are involved in direct action campaigns to protect the environment. Some campaigns have employed controversial tactics including sabotage, blockades and arson.

  1. Concept/Issue: Responding to Global Warming

Question: Do the rich and privileged hold a greater responsibility to tackle environmental problems?

Answer: According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, protecting the environment would be a concern of the rich and privileged because of their emphasis on the quality of life. Given this concern and their ability to afford the skills, technology and costs of protecting the environment, the rich and privileged are often placed with greater responsibility to protect the environment. Apart from the aforementioned reasons, their influential position in the world renders them even more responsible. Therefore, with their economic advantage and political clout, the rich and privileged do hold a greater responsibility to tackle the environmental problems.


Alternative views

It is the affluent and developed nations that are often to blame for the problems plaguing the environment. It is the way the rich lives, and in particular the excesses of the very rich, that is doing most of the real damage. The Worldwatch Institute in its annual report, State of the World 2004, addressed the devastating toll on the Earth's water supplies, natural resources, and ecosystems exacted by a plethora of disposable cameras, plastic garbage bags, and other cheaply made goods with built in product-obsolescence, and cheaply made manufactured goods that lead to a "throw away" mentality.

Other developing nations are fast becoming the major contributors to environmental problems.

Increasingly, developing countries are catching up rapidly to the detriment of the environment, health, and happiness. For years, the streets of China's major cities were characterized by a virtual sea of people on bicycles, and 25 years ago there were barely any private cars in China. By 2000, 5 million cars moved people and goods; the number is expected to reach 24 million by the end of next year.

Rich nations have the financial resources and the political clout in their own countries and in the international arena.

Poor countries also have an important responsibility towards the world.

Many environmental problems respect no national borders; environmental problems in one country can easily cross physical borders and affect not only the country of origin.

  1. Concept/Issue: Environment and Economy

Question: Will economic development always be carried out at the expense of the environment?

Answer: Since the 1980s, there has been a growing body of evidence to suggest that industrialisation is having an effect on the climate of the planet. Till today, industrialisation with its countless new machines and technologies continue to exacerbate the exploitation of the environment. If this were to go on, economic development would always eclipse protection of the environment. However the picture is not as bleak as it seems. Increasingly today there is a growing awareness and effort on the part of governments to develop sustainably. As long as governments are moving away from traditional methods of development and are developing sustainably, economic development would not always be carried out at the expense of the environment.


Alternative views

Developed countries are unwilling to slow down economic growth for the environment. Rich countries led by Russia, Australia and the EU have been accused of trying to cheat their way out of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by creating "dishonest" forestry accounting loopholes.

However, while economic development has brought about environmental degradation, it need not always be at the detriment of the environment. Many business corporations have succeeded and yet have committed to the environmental cause.

Developed and in particular developing countries are still dependent on polluting energy sources like fossil fuels for its economic growth.

Although ecotourism is intended for small groups, even a modest increase in population, however temporary, puts extra pressure on the local environment and necessitates the development of additional infrastructure and amenities. The construction of water treatment plants, sanitation facilities, and lodges come with the exploitation of non-renewable energy sources and the utilization of already limited local resources. The conversion of natural land to such tourist infrastructure is implicated in deforestation and habitat deterioration of butterflies in Mexico and squirrel monkeys in Costa Rica.

Eco-tourism channels resources away from other projects that could contribute more sustainable and realistic solutions to pressing environmental problems. Pacuare Eco Lodge, located near Turrialba, in the heart of Costa Rica's rainforest claims that they have attempted to stick to the highest standards of sustainable construction. No trees were cut during the building of the property and the local Indian community was involved during the construction. The staff has also been drawn from the local community. Electricity is not used and all fuel requirements are fulfilled using solar panels and a water-run generator.

Some countries adopt a wrong attitude, believing that the earth is resilient – it has always and will always be able to cope with our callous actions. Therefore, there is no urgency and effort to change and develop sustainably.

With the awareness that environmental problems are global problems, more countries and international organizations like UNEP would see the need help people in developing countries to find alternative work without having to rely on traditional activities that endanger the earth.

4. Concept/Issue: The Fallacy of Global Warming

Question: Is the threat of global warming exaggerated?

Answer: In his new book, The State of Fear, Michael Crichton argues that the threat of global warming has been exaggerated by environmentalists. While there are many who question how unrealistically magnified global warming has been, the effects of climate change may be increasingly palpable but measures and solutions are in place to control this phenomenon.


Alternative views

The threat posed by global warming is likely to be exaggerated as the rise in the world temperature and supposed rise in sea levels is not uniform worldwide.

The threat posed by global warming is indeed true as the rise in the world temperature is found to have direct correlation with the rise in sea levels, and this may jeopardise the safety of some places in the world.

The possible risks brought about by the surge in the Earth’s temperature are difficult to be verified, even with the use of supposedly advanced methods.

The possible impact caused by the increase in the world temperature is likely to be true as scientists and climatologists use rather reliable and advanced methods to prove their hypothesis/stand.

The dangers which are supposedly brought about by the rise in world temperature are not new, as reflected in the history of mankind; they are just natural phenomenon that happen especially when mankind did not take sufficient precautionary measures.

The potential dangers brought about by the rise in temperature across the globe are not at all exaggerated as they are very real. Direct manifestations of a widespread and long-term trend toward warmer global temperatures have already surfaced, especially in the past 5 years.

The supposed harbingers of the negative consequences may also be brought about by other changes in our climate, not just global warming.

The threat posed by the rise in the Earth’s temperature is not exaggerated as we do have quite a number of events that serve as harbingers of the likely impact of continued warming.

The threat may have been exaggerated because not all governments across the world are taking it very seriously; if some of them can afford to pay lip-service to this threat in their quest for more economic development and unprecedented or sustained industrialisation, the situation may not be all that worrying.

The threat presented by the rise in global temperature is definitely not overestimated as it is on the agenda of many important international and regional meetings throughout the world, at the governmental and organisational level.

  1. Concept/Issue: Energy Crisis—Nuclear vs Renewable Sources

Question: Is nuclear power the best way to meet the ever-increasing energy needs of Mother Earth?

Answer: Nuclear accidents in Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have not swayed some countries from relying on nuclear energy to meet their energy needs. Despite the incidence of nuclear accidents, this gradual dependance on nuclear energy is dues to it being a more environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional sources such as coal and fossil fuel. However, given the risks involved with nuclear energy, it does not make for the best way to meet the increasing energy needs of Mankind. Apart from nuclear energy, there are other equally or more environmentally friendly alternatives that are able to meet this increasing energy needs.


Alternative views

Compared to fossil fuels, nuclear energy is clean. Unlike coal, natural gas, and petroleum, it does not release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process of generating electricity. At a time when there is growing concern about the link between carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases on the one hand and the warming of our planet on the other, this advantage of nuclear power has begun to loom larger.

Nuclear energy is economical only under a very restricted analysis - by the time you have factored in the costs of construction, insurance, waste disposal and decommissioning, you need huge subsidies.

Nuclear waste can be safely stored away. The best long-term solution for the disposal of the UK's nuclear waste should be to bury it deep in the ground, The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), an advisory group has said. The final disposal facility, or facilities, would be located several hundred metres underground. The waste would be encased in tough materials and would use the surrounding rock as a barrier to prevent radioactive leakage into the environment.

There is no secure, risk-free way to store nuclear waste. The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident of catastrophic proportions that occurred on 26 April 1986, at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. It is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history and is the only level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

Nuclear accidents are a result of human error, which can be avoided.

Nuclear power expansion increases the risk of an accident.

International organisations are preventing countries from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Expanding nuclear power internationally would hugely increase the risks from terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation.

While nuclear power reactors are expensive to build, they are relatively cheap to operate.

Nuclear energy is an expensive diversion from the task of developing and deploying renewable energy and energy efficiency required for a low carbon future.

Sample paragraphs:

Question: “We have not been good guardians of the Earth.” How far do you agree with this statement?

(AV) There are governments who recognise the impact of traditional sources of energy and are turning to cleaner and greener alternatives such as nuclear energy. In 2008, Italy announced that within five years it planned to resume building nuclear energy plants out of a growing concern over the warming effects of carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Naysayers suggest (note that the AV is clearly signposted as the AV and not your view) that some governments are undermining other solutions to climate change by diverting urgently needed resources away from the true renewable and energy-efficient solutions that governments who are serious about climate change need to invest in.

(Main view and rebuttal) Nevertheless, we should note that the world is in a state of flux as increasingly, not only are the policy makers reflecting greater awareness and concern for the environment but so are the MNCs (AV is countered). Today, big businesses are also more receptive to the call to look after the environment. Increasingly, there are companies who exercise corporate social responsibility (CSR) as they are reinvesting in their workforce, communities and the environment. One such company is Starbucks who is committed to supporting programmes that facilitate farmers’ access to carbon markets, allowing them to generate additional income while helping to prevent deforestation.


(Main view and rebuttal) Nevertheless, we should note that the world is in a state of flux as increasingly, the policy makers are reflecting greater awareness and concern for the environment by relying on renewable and energy-efficient solutions (AV is countered). Today, governments are pushing for the passage of a renewable energy law to regulate and ensure the development of alternative sources of energy. Singapore’s green building movement is an example of how a combination of legislation and government incentive helped to spur the green building industry. In Scotland, £585,000 from the European Social Fund is providing training courses that are to be delivered through Skills Development Scotland, which will enable employers, with fewer than 250 staff to boost the skills of employees in low-carbon technologies. These developments reflect that we are increasingly being protective of the environment.




Type of renewable resource that is produced from biomass, a recently living element such as animals, plantlife or wood. One of the biggest potential forms of biofuel is biodiesel, which lessens cars’ dependence on gasoline.


Carbon footprint

The tangible impact someone’s activities will have on the environment, measured in units of carbon dioxide produced.


Carbon offset

One way to compensate for a carbon footprint, essentially by investing money in a project that will benefit the environment and cancel out the emission of carbon dioxide from a certain activity.



Form of transportation by which two or more people travel to the same destination together to reduce the emissions of travelling.


Climate change

Term for a significant change from one climatic condition to another, such as temperature of the Earth over time. In some cases, it has been used synonymously with global warming.



The wise use of natural resources (nutrients, minerals, water, plants, animals, etc). Planned or non-action to preserve living and non-living resources.


Environmental Protection Agency

Commonly referred to as the EPA, a government agency founded in 1970 that protects human health and the environment through programs for consumers and businesses.


Kyoto Protocol

An international agreement between 138 (and growing) developed countries to work toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. It was originally passes in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan and is set to expire in 2012. The United States has signed but not ratified the agreement, meaning it is non-binding in the US.


Copenhagen Accord

It is a document that delegates at the 15th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate agreed to "take note of" at the final plenary on 18 December 2009. The Accord is not legally binding and does not commit countries to agree to a binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol, whose present round ends in 2012.


Sustainable development

It is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

· the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and

· the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.”



The variety of life on Earth, its biological diversity, is commonly referred to as biodiversity. The number of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms, the enormous diversity of genes in these species, the different ecosystems on the planet, such as deserts, rainforests and coral reefs are all part of a biologically diverse Earth.


Survival International

It is a human rights organisation formed in 1969 that campaigns for the rights of indigenous tribal people and uncontacted people, which seeks to help them to determine their own future.

Its campaigns generally focus on tribal peoples' fight to keep their ancestral lands, culture and their own way of living. This organisation works for the people whom are called "some of the most vulnerable on earth". A part of its mission is to educate people from misconceptions that help justify violations of human rights against indigenous people, and the risks that they face from the advancement of corporations, governments and also good intentions based on an idea of "development" that is forced upon them.

It believes that in fact their alternative way of living is not lacking because they represent a model of sustainability in the environment that they are a part of and they possess a rich culture from which the rest of the world could learn.



Greenpeace organises public campaigns:

§ for preventing climate change by ending our addiction to polluting fuels and promoting clean, renewable and efficient energy

§ for the protection of oceans and ancient forests

§ for the elimination of toxic chemicals

§ against the release of genetically modified organisms into nature

§ for nuclear disarmament and an end to nuclear contamination.

Greenpeace does not solicit or accept funding from governments, corporations or political parties. Greenpeace neither seeks nor accepts donations which could compromise our independence, aims, objectives or integrity. Greenpeace relies on the voluntary donations of individual supporters, and on grant-support from foundations.

‘The Earth is doomed. There is nothing man can do about it.’ Comment

X è Y è Z

Man’s actions environmental problems impending demise of Earth

X è Y è Z

Man’s solutions fails to solve problems Earth still doomed

This question could be dealt with as containing a single- or multi-part absolute proposition. Students could challenge ‘doomed’ and ‘nothing’. A balanced approach is needed.

Note that “Earth” (¹ world/society) and “Man” limits students to environmental problems caused by man’s actions. Social problems and natural disasters are not relevant.

  • See below.

While ‘Man’ refers to mankind as a whole, students ought to pinpoint the parties crucial to alleviating environmental problems in general and specifically:

  • The individual
  • Society
  • Governments
  • Supranational organisations
  • NGOs operating at national and international levels

Earth doomed

Students ought to look at how recent events seem to justify this pessimistic claim. While they need to concede that Earth would face its demise eventually because of the fast deteriorating environment problems, armageddon is not impending. They need to look at the status quo in a reasonable manner. Balance is necessary.

Such is the transboundary nature of environmental problems that while students can argue that some developing countries are in worse/terrible states, other nations are in not really better off in the foreseeable future. Earth as a whole suffers the consequences.

Credit is given to essays that rank the problems in terms of severity and justify the evaluation.

Nothing can be done

Students ought to look at how failed measures seem to justify this pessimistic claim. They need to acknowledge damage that is irreversible or will continue to hasten Earth towards its doom despite remedial action. However, they ought to argue for the specific measures that can repair/slow down the devastation caused by each problem. Balance is crucial to prevent downplaying the severity of the problems.

Such is the transboundary nature of environmental problems that students can argue for affluent developed countries to help solve other countries’ problems. Otherwise, Earth as a whole suffers the consequences.

Credit is given to essays that evaluate the effectiveness of the measures in tackling each environmental problem and the obstacles that obstruct their implementation.

Credit should be given to essays that present specific and varied examples. However, examples do not substitute for reasoning.




Deforestation, habitat loss due to development

& impact on biodiversity

· Regulations to control illegal logging

· Regulations could be in place, but enforcement is hampered by corruption or difficulty in monitoring such activities (e.g. Indonesia)

Pollution – Air/Land/Water

· Penalties for industries discharging toxic fumes/water

· Vehicles checked to make sure emissions meet acceptable standards

· Introduction of cleaner fuels

· Some people prefer or can only afford cheaper fuel which however is less environment friendly

· Governments unwilling to enforce stricter controls due to pressure from industry lobby groups (e.g. USA not ratifying Kyoto Protocol)

Depletion of resources. (e.g. fossil fuels)

· Switch to renewable resources/alternative sources of energy. (e.g.: hydropower, wind energy, solar energy)

· Not cost-effective in some cases or feasible in others (e.g. opportunity costs of building Three Gorges Dam in China)

Global warming & its related problems (e.g. erratic climate; rising sea levels)

· Reduce the excess production of greenhouse gases

· Impose quota but allow countries to sell their unused units to those who need more

· See above notes on pollution.

Content Grading

E (0-6) :

§ Irrelevant or mostly out of point (e.g. describes environmental problems and/or measures).

D (7-12) :

§ More description than argument. (Low)

§ No reference to specific problems or solutions (Low)

§ Limited scope. One problem and corresponding measures (Mid).

§ Limited depth. More than one problem but superficial solutions (Mid-High)

§ Only one part of the proposition addressed. (Mid-High)

C (13-18) :

§ Limited scope and depth. Two or more problems and corresponding measures. (Low-Mid)

§ Limited scope and depth. More than two problems and corresponding measures. Some examples. (Mid-High)

B (19-25) :

§ Several problems and their measures presented with insight. Evaluation (see outline) done. Relevant illustration. Balanced.

A (26-30) :

§ Refer to standard descriptors.

5. Environmental degradation is inevitable.” To what extent is this true?


Inevitable: impossible to avoid or to prevent from happening

General Remarks:

  • This is NOT a Geography essay. We will NOT be impressed by the mere regurgitation of what you still remember of your O or A levels exam preparations.
  • This is NOT a “Problem-Solution” essay, i.e. “What’s wrong with the environment and how can we solve it?”.
  • This IS a “Cause-Effect” essay, i.e. “What are the causes of environmental degradation (effect), and are these causes so fundamental that they cannot be removed (inevitable)?”

Discussion of the premise:

    • Leading causes of pollution – industrialisation, population growth
    • Explain how these cause the earth’s pollution
    • Need to show that if industrialisation / population growth is inevitable, then pollution is inevitable, i.e. assuming that there are no technological advances which would reduce pollution


· Why pollution may not be inevitable, e.g. technological advances, rising awareness of people about pollution, international agreements to reduce emissions

· Need to give concrete examples of where and when pollution has been inevitable. Vague descriptions of ‘America’s air pollution’ or ‘deforestation of the forests’ will not do.

Good Essays

1. Showed a good awareness of the key words. A discussion of the notion of “inevitable” is mandatory. The focus cannot solely rest on a discussion of the various environmental problems.

2. Answers that were well structured and organised and consistently reiterated the key words of the question. Each paragraph clearly defined around a single problem that shows how it makes environmental degradation inevitable.

3. Answers that had a good range of well elaborated examples that were not vague (i.e. some/most countries or more/less developed nations).

4. Able to argue competently that the notion of environmental degradation is actually largely inevitable because the direction most nations are taking and the nature of human practices.

Problematic Essays

1. Essays that merely focused on listing environmental problems and going into great depths of explaining the processes of environmental degradation.

2. No discussion or reflection of the notion “inevitable.”

3. Essays that lacked concrete examples. Use of generalised or hypothetical examples was generally seen as not having a good grasp of the topic.

4. Instances in essays that discussed why environmental degradation may not be inevitable were also problematic. You should not be highlighting proposals/ measures that indicate how environmental degradation CAN BE slowed down or made less inevitable BUT rather WHAT HAS ACTUALLY BEEN DONE to address the problem.

5. Tone of the essay: There were many instances of “talking scripts” that highlights an inability to handle writing in a formal academic register. This is important as it also reflects on your command and sophistication of language. Remember: Do NOT talk to the marker-reader!

6. Occasional instances of blatant contradictions. Your stand is toppled by the rest of your essay which argues the opposite.

7. Planning is essential: Evidence of abrupt endings.

8. Paragraph development must be clear. Each paragraph often deals with different things thus confusing markers and the point that you aiming to get across. Using a clear topic sentence would be quintessential in this respect but was however, most lacking.

“We have not been good guardians of the Earth.” Do you agree?

Focus: Have we been careless with the only home we know as we carry out our

Economic and leisure activities? Are we taking measures to look after our

Earth or are we treating the earth as one giant supermarket that can supply for

Our endless needs?

We have been good guardians…

We have not been good guardians…

-There are various earth summits to discuss ways to look after the earth – eg. The Kyoto Protocol that calls for the ban on the use of substances, that harms the environment like CFC, to reduce green house gas emissions.(possible counter point that students may bring up as evaluation: Some countries are not cooperative if it is against their economic interest to do so.)

-There are environmentalists and various movements like the Green Peace Movement that act as watchdogs for the preservation of the environment. (A counter-point that may be raised: many such movements lack credibility as they have other agenda besides protecting the environment - motivated possibly by politics.)

-Scientists are working to repair the damage done earlier like repairing the ozone layer or working with energy that is pollution free.

-Industries are also more receptive to the call to look after the environment as they exploit resources. Some even pump money back into research to help the environment.

-There is also global effort to encourage people to recycle, reuse and to conserve.

-We have not balanced our need for wealth with our exploitation of the resources. We have regarded the resources as if they are infinite. There is no vision to see that enough is left for future generations – there is over-hunting, over fishing, overuse or exploitation of our fossil fuel, water etc.

-We pollute our land, seas and sky. We dump indiscriminately (waste from domestic and industrial/ agricultural activities) on our lands and seas, rivers, ponds making them ‘dead’.

-We have taken away the habitat of our fellow creatures that share the earth thus contributing to their endangered or extinct status.

-We pollute the sky with emissions from industries and vehicles. We even pollute the air with airwaves from handphones etc. making it unsafe for all creatures.

-We have caused havoc with the climate like global warming by releasing green house gases and bringing about the Green house effect and global warming. El Nino, long droughts and winter cold spells to name a few.

-Wrong attitude that the earth is resilient – it has always and will always be able to cope with our callous actions. Therefore, there is no urgency and effort to change and help to manage the earth better.

Possible conclusion: Students can touch on the fact that economic gains will always eclipse environmental issues; poorer countries eager to get rich or those with no other alternatives will continue to cut down trees to sell or for land to build industries or poach rhino horns. There is more awareness but we are still apathetic and our activities are still exerting tremendous pressure on the environment.

Students may choose to take the other stand.

1. Do you agree that it is the responsibility of richer nations to tackle global environmental problems?


Global environment problems eg global warming; pollution esp the discharge of toxic waste materials into the air, waterways;

Tackle : resolve, eradicate, alleviate -> implies that the rich nations have the clout – political, financial, legal eg international summits in which they could lean on others to adopt certain policies eg Kyoto Protocol, cancellation of debts of world’s poorest


YES, it is the responsibility of richer nations because

* Rich nations have the resources eg financial resources, the political clout/ will in their own countries and in the international arena eg at the G7, G8 Summits & the legal means to implement & enforce policies eg reducing tax for green cars eg

§ the US is a large consumer of oil -> President Bush could have pushed to raise fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars when he signed the latest energy Bill (Jul 2005). This could have encouraged or ‘forced’ the car industry to develop the technology to burn cleaner fuels eg biofuels, hydrogen -> this would have gone a long way towards alleviating current environmental problems.

* Rich nations -> main contributors of greenhouse gases & pollutants eg US responsible for about a quarter of global emissions & but has persistently refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol; now the fear is that the Protocol would not come into force if Russia refuses to ratify it too.

NO, rich nations are not the only ones responsible for the global environmental problems; every country should also help tackle these global environmental problems because

* Many environmental problems respect no national borders; an environmental problem in one country can easily cross physical borders and affect not only the country of origin but also its neighbours & internationally

eg latest Indonesian haze -> had affected Malaysia for about 1 month esp KL badly & Penang – eg PSI was above 100 for some days; fear economic loss eg 1997 haze cost Malaysia abt US$8-10 million in lost revenue as a result of closed workplaces, sick days and medical bills, lost tourism, crop damage and disrupted transport; hence countries need to co-operate with one another to protect the environment

* Other developing nations are fast becoming the major contributors to environmental problems eg China’s rapid industrialisation -> huge demand for lands -> desertification –> ‘brown cloud’ blown across the Atlantic Ocean towards the Californian coast -> had affected those living along the West Coast of the US; hence unfair to pin blame on any rich nation eg even though Europe is also a major emitter of greenhouse gases, many EU countries, prime movers in environmental protection, have ratified the Kyoto Protocol

* Poor countries also have an important responsibility towards the world eg resource-rich but poor countries must prevent the exploitation of their natural resources eg insist that MNCs are using more environmentally friendly methods of mining the earth’s precious elements eg gold, copper that would not create toxic wastes to be discharged into open water sources eg waterways; regulate the logging industry eg Amazon basin -> illegal logging a huge problem -> displacement of native tribes & enforce the renewal of this natural resource

* Rest of the world – may not be major contributors to the environmental problems but as long as they are consumers, have a moral obligation to ensure that they do their bit & do not aggravate the environmental problems

Preserving the environment is more important than economic development. Do you agree?

Question Analysis

Topic: the environment

Issue: Whether conservation of the environment is more important than economic progress

Key Words: “Preserving the environment”, “more important than” (comparison required), “economic development”.

Context: Unspecified

Possible stands:


Students have to show how the approach they support is more beneficial than the other.

Agree: Preserving the environment is more important

2 Disagree: Economic development is more important

3 Disagree: Both are equally important – students have to show that mankind can’t do without either, and valuing any one over the other will bring equally disadvantageous results




Preserving the environment is more important

Environment: Disregarding environmental preservation affects economic growth

How much society can sustain economic growth actually bears a co-relation to environmental preservation and prudence in the use of resources. Environmental degradation can result in high costs to economic growth.

China - According to China’s deputy environmental minister, due to air and water pollution, China is losing 8-15% of GDP. 70-80% of cancer cases are environmentally-related – loss of productivity of the workforce.

Environment: Levels of pollution are high; resources will be irreplaceable if depletion rates are not lowered

If the current levels of pollution are left unchecked, the planet may not be able to sustain life in a few generations’ time. Economic development and affluence would be valueless then. The loss of clean air and water and the depletion of resources such as fuel and food, together with drastic climate changes will make survival very difficult, if not impossible.

According to Nick Brooks (Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research, East Anglia): "By the end of this century it is likely that greenhouse gases will have doubled and the average global tempera­ture will have risen by at least 2C°... In the worst case scenario it could completely alter the climate in many regions of the world. This could lead to global food insecurity and the widespread collapse of existing social systems, causing mass migration and conflict over resources as some parts of the world become much less habitable.”

Preservation of historical sites: Loss of culture and history

If sites and buildings of historical significance are sacrificed for the sake of new developments, part of the history and heritage of the place will be lost, and such loss is irreversible. The people will gradually lose their sense of history, identity and belonging as their city looks more and more like any other city which is bent on development and modernizing.

Singapore: the nation’s first and oldest condominium, Beverly Mai, will be demolished as the land which it stands on is worth much more than the building itself.

Demolishing old buildings may eventually cost society more than embarking on a new development

Preserving old buildings can create more employment and increase local household income more than the building of new developments. The employment created can be of longer term benefits as related industries such as heritage tourism can flourish.

In Norway, historical rehabilitation of old buildings creates 16.5% more jobs new construction; every direct job in the cultural heritage sector creates 26.7 indirect jobs, compared to the auto industry’s ratio of 6.3:1.

In Virginia, USA: heritage tourists spend 2.5 times more and stay longer than other visitors.

(Info from European Cultural Heritage Forum 2005)

Economic development is more important

Economic development is essential to ensure the survival of the millions living in poverty in developing countries

The huge numbers of people living below the poverty line is in itself a social disaster and action should be taken to enable them to get out of poverty as soon as possible. Solutions to poverty such as education, fair trade and social stability depends on economic development.

According to the UN Human Development Report 2005: “In the midst of an increasingly prosperous global economy, 10.7 million children every year do not live to see their fifth birthday, and more than 1 billion people survive in abject poverty on less than $1 a day.” These people should be helped and allowing them to have a share of the world’s economic development pie is the most evident way.

The cost of compliance with environmental preservation regulations is high for developing countries

It costs more for developing countries, than it does for developed countries to comply with the regulations, placing them at a competitive disadvantage.

Reluctance of developing countries to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and they perceive it as unfair that obstacles are being put in their way towards economic development through industrialization.

There is nothing optimistic about the future of our environment.’ Do you agree?


  1. nothing = no way at all
  2. optimistic = favourable outcome

Parameters of discussion :

-Students need to challenge the word “nothing” and show that there is at least one optimistic thing about the future of the environment

- Students need to explain the steps being taken to improve the environment

Possible stands / theses:

  • There should be optimism about the future because:
  1. science and technology has enabled us to come up with measures to protect the environment and ways of alternative sources – tap on solar, geothermal or hydroelectric sources, new options being developed by the automobile industry, such as the so-called hybrid cars, which combine an internal combustion engine and an electric motor
  2. governmental efforts to protect the environment – in China, millions of trees are planted each year in a bid to help save the environment
  3. people are made aware of the problems the environment is facing and are encouraged to conserve and recycle
  4. nature has a way of presenting solutions to humankind – for instance, as global warming melts the ice caps in the Arctic Ocean, several countries are planning on tapping into the Arctic for rich reserves of energy sources
  5. ingenuity of humankind to conserve the environment – eg. City of Copsa Mica was terribly polluted in the 1980s but the area has successfully been cleared of pollution in recent years
  6. new avenues are being explored and positive initiatives to protect the environment are taking place – for example, ways have been developed to use parts of trees that once went up in smoke in beehive burners. Bark and sawdust, for instance, once considered useless for building purposes, are used in new composite wood products

  • There should be pessimism about the future because :
  1. natural resources are being depleted quickly - within the next 100 years, analysts predict that our reserves of oil will deplete, rate of replenishment cannot keep up with the speed at which they are destroyed - every day, several football field size plots of rainforest are chopped down to make paper
  2. frequency of earthquakes, floods, typhoons and hurricanes have significantly increased since the dawn of the 20th century (Major earthquakes, for example, occurred merely once every century before the 20th century. Now earthquakes that measure more than 8 on the Richter scale happen every year) problem is not likely to be resolved in the future since seismologists and other experts are still pitifully clueless to the prevention of such disasters
  3. some countries are more concerned with economic progress than environmental well-being. For example, the reason behind the USA’s pull-out of Kyoto Protocol was perhaps one motivated by economic gain.

Do you agree that environmental protection is a luxury of the rich?

Minimum requirements of the question

1. environmental protection: Show a clear understanding of the efforts and motivations to safeguard the natural environment (air, water and land), the interests of inhabitants and human health

2. luxury: Show the negative connotation in this word: Something expensive and inessential but conducive to pleasure and comfort; implies that environmental protection is not a priority and not necessary

3. of the rich: Consider if only the affluent individuals – and nations – can concern themselves with taking care of the environment


  1. There is some truth to this statement – using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we can reason that environmentalism is a concern of the rich and more developed nations because of their emphasis on quality of life. The poor are more concerned with making ends meet and developing nations pay more attention to industrialization opportunities.

  1. Consideration of the view that it is not a luxury but a necessary course of action by the rich to lead the way in safeguarding the interests of the other people (especially for those who do not have the resources to better their own living environment).

  1. Such a thought is dangerous because environmental protection must be seen as everyone’s priority: anyone and everyone has a part to play – a concerted effort is required to save planet earth.

  1. It not the luxury of the rich: It is the affluent and developed nations that are often to blame for the problems plaguing the environment. They therefore should bear responsibility to fix the problems – and also model the way for the rest (who one day will join the league of expanding industries) to exercise responsibility towards the environment.

Potential pitfalls

· Limited understanding of “luxury”

· Digression into other areas of luxury of the rich

· Descriptive essay of reasons and ways to protect the environment, without consideration of why environmental protection is a luxury of the rich.

Possible arguments

* Agree:

  • Only the rich and rich nations have the resources (financial resources and political clout) to tackle environmental problems.
  • The poor and the middle-income groups have different priorities: to make a better living.
  • Environmental protection is potentially costly as it entails the changing of mindsets and attitudes. This means a lot of money invested in public education. Developing countries will not have the resources to do so.


  • Many environmental problems respect no national borders; an environmental problem in one country can easily cross physical borders and affect not only the country of origin. eg Indonesian haze. Environmental protection is thus not a luxury and definitely not only the responsibility of the rich.

  • Other developing nations are fast becoming the major contributors to environmental problems e.g. China’s rapid industrialization. They can no longer say that protecting the environment is a luxury they can ill afford.

  • Resource-rich but poor countries must also be more proactive in preventing the exploitation of their natural resources and insist that MNCs be environmentally friendly. These governments must thus take charge.

  • All of us are consumers and thus have a moral obligation to ensure that we do our bit and not aggravate the environmental problems

  • The viewpoint is also a problematic one as it suggests that environmental protection is not essential. In fact, all parts of society – communities, individuals, business, state and local governments, tribal governments – must have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks.

  • Another view is that environmental protection is not the luxury, but the responsibility, of the rich. E.g. Rich nations are main contributors of greenhouse gases and pollutants

We are heading for an ecological disaster. How far do you agree with this view?

Q – How far

T – ecological

K – disaster

Premise given by the question

‘heading for’ – Are we in the process of destroying the earth? Can this disaster be avoided?

Suggested approach to the question

In the light of current situation, taking into account global warming and its effects (changes in weather conditions, melting of ice caps and the breaking away of the ice plate in Antarctica etc), loss of natural resources (e.g. Amazon forest – loss of animal and plant species) as well as the efforts undertaken by governments/ organizations/ individuals, perhaps we could only delay the disaster but would not be able the avoid it totally.

Are we heading for an ecological disaster? Why?

  • Depletion of natural resources due to excessive activities undertaken by human beings e.g. excessive/ illegal logging (Amazon rainforest, Indonesia)
    • Less vegetation – thus unable to process the amount of carbon dioxide gas produced as a result of Man’s activities (e.g. industrialization, manufacturing)
    • Increase in greenhouse gases lead to global warming – climatic changes. The ice plate in the Antarctic has broken away and is melting faster than what scientists have predicted before – low-lying areas (e.g. Shanghai, Bangladesh) might be submerged in time to come.
  • Such changes affect the ecosystem – loss of natural habitat for animals and insects thus leading to extinction (e.g. the Monarch bees and certain species of frogs). The food chain is likely to be disrupted as a result. The melting of the ice caps could also lead to the extinction of polar bears in time to come.
  • Pollution – Due to industrialization, there is excessive use of chemicals and fertilizers and it has caused land and water pollution because of inappropriate disposal methods especially in developing countries e.g China.

What are we doing to avoid the disaster? Are the methods effective?

  • Kyoto Protocol (KP) – Looking at the current situation, we are far from achieving what the KP set out to achieve since its inception. In the past, USA was the top carbon dioxide producer and had shunned the KP for fear of economic repercussions. Although it has since committed itself again to the KP in April 2008, the current top carbon dioxide producer, China, is reluctant to be part of the KP, hence the effectiveness of the KP is undermined.
  • Recycling of electronic waste can reduce excessive mining (thus minimizing pollution).
  • Imposition of fines for companies who violate regulation – e.g. In Indonesia, the government has finally imposed penalties for companies who failed to adhere to legal logging methods. The effectiveness of such penalty is a uncertain as of now – there is decrease in forest fires but it would be difficult to prevent all companies from violating the laws.
  • The government /organisations taking a more active role in encouraging the public to be more eco-friendly e.g. In Singapore, rebates are given for new car buyers to convert their petrol-fuelled car to use Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).


· Limited scope with candidates defining ecological disaster being about the destruction of ecological systems, food chains and animals only, thus strictly restricting the discussion to the endangering the lives of animals and their possible extinction due to deforestation, poaching etc.

· Failure to mention our most serious threat today – global warming – and focusing the discussion on every other threat.

Mankind is a cancer upon the Earth. Do you agree?

Important definitions to note/address before attempting the question:

Cancer: A self-replicating condition with uncontrolled growth that feeds off its host without giving anything back.

Mankind as cancer presupposes that Man is living off and exploiting his environment without any attempt to preserve it or renew it.

Points to note:

The question requires one to analyse the relationship between Man and his environment (Earth).

Students should be able to breakdown if and how each party benefits from that relationship.

The question presupposes that Mankind is not living “in harmony” with his surroundings and as a result, has caused an imbalance that damages the environment (or his host) and ultimately himself; just as a person who is terminally ill will eventually succumb, depriving the cancerous organism of a host.


  • Industrialism-period between 1900s-present day, move from agriculture to manufacturing, coal as a fuel, pollution-the proliferation of cities, change in lifestyle, increased energy requirements, the evolution of transport( the combustion engine), global warming
  • Students should not merely list or describe the various environmental problems that Man causes, but must show how these processes are not symbiotic in nature. Eg, in the taking of fossil fuels, how does mankind renew his environment? The increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (leading to a greenhouse effect), does mankind do anything to reverse the process? Can the earth catch up/ do anything to address the imbalance?

  • Students could compare this with other organisms that inhabit the same space. Animals (and plants!) are part of natural cycle that leaves little to waste. Everything is used/recycled/goes back into the earth and benefits the environment around them. Can we say the same for mankind?


  • Apparent exaggerations of environmental problems – our actions have not resulted in an ailing Earth.
  • Man has addressed some of the problems he has inflicted – eg. technology has reduced the impact of industrialism/pollution.
  • Mankind has learnt/is learning to control population – our growth is not uncontrolled.

1. Extreme consumerism is the main cause of environmental degradation. Do you agree?


· Consumerism contributes to environmental degradation.

· There are other contributors to environmental degradation.

Clarification of Terms:

· Extreme: degree of extremity is important (not only consumerism, but unnecessary consumerism to a very large extent)

· Consumerism: consumption and buying of goods

· Main: primary, contributes the most, cause of the most severe impact – also suggests that there are other factors that contribute to it (e.g. tourism, industrial, agriculture, overfishing, oil spills, unforeseen human actions, DDT, GM foods, genetic pollution, greenhouse gases, alternative fuels, dumping in poor countries as a cheaper alternative

· Environmental degradation: destruction and reduction in the quality of the environment

Possible interpretations / Approaches

· Yes, extreme consumerism is the main cause of environmental degradation.

· No, extreme consumerism is not the main cause of environmental degradation.

Possible Points:

Yes, extreme consumerism is the main cause of environmental degradation.

No, extreme consumerism is not the main cause of environment degradation.

Any human activity will compromise the environment. Extreme consumerism is an intensification of human activity as people consume more with higher standards of living and greater economic development. The world’s resources can keep up with our needs but not such extreme and excessive consumerism.

Instead of extreme consumerism, it is the inability of the earth’s resources to keep up with the basic needs of the growing population of the world (such as intense industrialization and economic activity) that has contributed to the deterioration of the environment.

Extreme consumerism leads to a ‘throw-away’ culture, or a neglected cause for thrift. Goods are discarded with changing trends, there are higher demands for consumer goods, and even increased demands for limited resources.

Even if the consumption of people has gone up, there is also a growing awareness of the deteriorating state of the environment, which has led to many green movements such as reusing, recycling and reducing. However, there are other unforeseen human actions that have led to environment degradation. Examples of such unforeseen human actions are genetic pollution, industrial chemical leaks, oil spills, etc.

It can be said that excessive consumerism (i.e. taking from the environment more than it can offer) leads to environmental degradation. However, the impact of extreme consumerism is insignificant compared to worse cases of environmental degradation such as bad disposal methods of chemicals and wastes and persistent production of poisonous products such as DDT and toxic pesticides by corporations.

Extreme consumerism does not necessarily lead to environmental degradation such as the depletion of natural resources. Many products are now made by environmentally-friendly methods (e.g. using recycled materials, organic foodstuff).

Can we rely on science and technology to solve our environmental problems?

Verification of key terms:

§ ‘science and technology’

à Science: The investigation of natural phenomena through observation, theoretical explanation, and experimentation, or the knowledge produced by such investigation.

à Technology: The application of science, especially to industrial or commercial objectives

§ Rely : Depend/ trust

§ Solve: Find the solution to/ reduce/ entirely get rid of our problems


· Science and technology can be used to solve environmental problems

· It is difficult to solve environmental problems

Possible Approaches:

· We can rely on science and technology to solve our environmental problems

· We can rely on science and technology to solve our environmental problems so long as there are other supporting factors

· We cannot rely on science and technology to solve our environmental problems

Possible Points:

Can rely on science and technology

Cannot rely on science and technology

Science and technology have led to the creation of new inventions which are cleaner and more efficient. E.g. hydrogen powered cars, alternative energy sources, coal that burns more efficiently such that less residue/emissions are produced.

We can rely on science and technology as long as we get other kinds of support. E.g. support from concerned individuals, groups, communities. NGOs worldwide work for the cause of saving the Earth.

We can rely on efficient technology as long as there is increasing awareness about conservation towards achieving sustainable development. Many countries now recognize the need to treat the environment as shared heritage and hence are willing to work towards conservation on a global scale.

Science and technology is more reliable than other possible solutions to environmental problems. Although environmental treaties which were signed and ratified, they have not been abided. E.g. America has not kept to its part of bargain with regard to the terms of the Kyoto Protocol.

Science and technology is the main culprit of environmental problems; Man should be thankful if science and technology stops adding on to the problem, never mind solving it.

The pace of environmental problems has always moved faster than the solutions that scientific and technological advances can offer. And this situation is unlikely to change.

Scientific & technological advances are too expensive. It has not been cost efficient or it is too expensive for companies and (developing) countries which do not have the financial ability to dedicate to the environmental cause. Bread and butter issues are still very real for people in various parts of the world.

Solving the problem requires long term effort from all parties and at all levels. E.g. governments/ grassroots participation/ consumers/ schools.

It is hard to arrive at an agenda for conservation as different nations face different environmental problems and have different approaches. The developments in science and technology have not resolved these differences.

1. How far do you agree that our current environmental woes are of our making?

Examine the question:

§ What are some current environmental woes?

§ Are these largely of man’s making?

Current environmental woes

  • global warming and its related woes – extreme weather events, erratic weather patterns, rising sea level
  • acid rain
  • air pollution
  • smog and haze
  • hazardous waste
  • rain forest destruction
  • depletion of natural resources – food, water, fuels
  • species loss

Yes – largely of man’s making

  • tremendous pressure on the earth placed by the demands of an exponentially growing world population and the rapid industrialization of the world’s most populous country
  • man’s indiscriminate and irresponsible use of the environment

No – not (fully) of man’s making

  • A natural condition

- global warming attributed to variations in solar activity

- Pre-human climate variations suggest that the warming and cooling of earth’s temperatures can take place independent of man’s activities

  • These are but exaggerated claims/alarmist views

- e.g. The Skeptical Environmentalist, Lomborg, 2001 – though he was accused of scientific dishonesty

  • Attempt by man to reduce the impact of environmental woes (certainly does not exonerate man, though the desire to carry out reparation can be seen as a mitigating factor)

6. Examine the claim that environmental conservation is much ado about nothing.

Much ado about nothing - a phrase to describe a situation in which there has been a lot of fuss and excitement about something that is trivial and not really important.

The statement suggests environmental conservation is actually a trivial matter that has been blown out of proportion.

Yes, environmental conservation is much ado about nothing

1. The media’s incessant proliferation of negative news about the environment tends to exacerbate the situation and make the issue of environmental degradation worse than it seems. We are constantly bombarded by such news that we are allocating more time and money on projects and campaigns (e.g. Earth Day, Green Week) than is necessary.

2. The actions of environmental activists have ‘enlarged’ the issue of environmental conservation. NGOs have repeatedly called for action to be taken and some governmental campaigns have become part and parcel of people’s daily activities (e.g. save water, the 3R campaign). All this hype and attention could actually amount to nothing if the environment is actually not in such a bad state as we imagine it to be.

3. There is a strong belief among people that no matter how much time and effort are put in to conserve the environment, all of it is in vain and futile because of the rate of consumption of the natural resources and people’s apathetic attitude towards environmental conservation amongst other reasons.

4. Nature has the tendency for self-correction where depletion of resources will be made up in one way or another. In addition, man’s efforts to adapt to the environment have seen him using alternative resources when one is lacking or depleted. (e.g. alternative sources for energy besides coal and natural gas)

No, environmental conservation is a serious matter altogether

1. Evidence has pointed to the grave state of the environment. Release of more greenhouse gases and the harsher global climate all point to the ecological disaster that awaits humanity if insufficient action is taken to tackle the issue of environmental degradation.

2. The news reflecting the current condition of the environment is not alarmist to increase ratings for the media companies but reflects the actual dire state of the environment.

3. The preservation of flora and fauna, the search for renewable energy sources, etc are all pertinent issues that require our time and attention and are not trivial matters to be swept under the carpet. Ultimately, this issue is about the survival of the species that populate Earth.



The environment


How far is recycling the answer to the problem of waste?


Andy Tay, CG 01/07



With the rise in world population and consumption, the problem of waste has worsened. In our attempt to curb this problem, solutions such as recycling, using of landfills and incinerators, educational campaigns and regulations have been widely adopted. In my opinion, recycling is certainly one of the answers to the problem of waste. However, inherent problems such as the high cost of recycling and advanced technology have made recycling economically unfeasible especially for the less developed countries. Nevertheless, recycling as compared to other ways to minimize the problem of waste is much more environmentally friendlier and is least objectionable. As such, I feel that recycling must be adopted and used in tandem with other measures such as educational campaigns and laws. These solutions would then be able to complement as well as supplement the limitations of recycling, making the approach to the problem of waste a more effective one.

Recycling can be a feasible answer to the problem of waste but it is mainly targeted at developed countries that possess the necessary advanced technology and are able to afford the high costs associated with recycling. Despite the advancement in technology, recycling today is still an expensive tool as compared to other measures like land filling and incineration. Therefore to less developed nations, recycling is simply economically unfeasible. According to the Genuine Progress Index, a research group that has spent a decade monitoring the recycling programmes in Nova Scotia, recycling cost the province US$18 million a year more as compared to throwing the waste into landfills. Similarly in California and New Jersey, local public utilities authorities have reported that recycling cost the country over half a million dollars more in 1995. Hence to the less developed countries, recycling is simply beyond their reach due to the population’s generally low average income, preventing them from affording recycling programmes in their budgets. Even though recycling may be a feasible answer to the problem of waste to the developed countries, this is certainly not the case for the less developed countries. In this light, technology must improve to reduce the cost of recycling before it can be embraced even by less developed countries.

Recycling can be a viable solution to the problem of waste in the environmental sense because, relative to other methods, it creates less pollution and is more sustainable over a longer period of time. Over the years, the magnitude of environmental degradation has increased, and with global warming, recycling, a method that is environmentally friendly seems least objectionable as compared to other conventional forms of waste treatment. For example, incineration releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide as well as other toxic gases into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming and adversely affecting our health. Similarly, land filling can result in water pollution and affects the ecology negatively. Greenpeace, a world environmental research group, discovered that the major wells in the Philippines contained a high level of metal content beyond the safe drinking limits set by the World Health Organisation. This unfortunate pollution would not have occurred if not for the landfills situated near the wells. The metals buried in the landfills managed to dissolve and seep into the ground water, causing water pollution. In this light, it is rather clear that recycling is a much better tool to solve the problem of waste. This is because studies have shown that for every ton of paper recycled, 17 small trees are saved and air pollution is greatly reduced. An example to illustrate the environmental-friendliness of recycling can be seen in the success of recycling programmes in the United States. The country managed to save 1.3 million tons of iron ore, 8.2 million trees and successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions by two million metric tons in 2004 due to the nationwide recycling programmes that the country implemented. Therefore, in my opinion, recycling is certainly a good answer to the problem of waste especially in today’s world, where environmental conservation is increasingly embraced by most countries.

Recycling is certainly one of the viable answers to the problem of waste in countries with limited land. Recycling as compared to landfills takes up less space and is therefore suitable for countries with a small land area. A good example to illustrate the influence of physical factors on the choice of measures to the problem of waste is Singapore. Singapore has a limited land area but an escalating quantity of waste. There was a 2.09 million tonnes increase in the amount of waste from 1970 to 2005. To make things worse, the lifespan of the Pulau Semakau landfill of Singapore is expected to last till only 2030, and this is provided that the present generation does not generate more waste per capita. Hence the country implemented the National Recycling Programme in 2001 to minimize the amount of waste disposed to the limited landfills, prolonging the lifespan of the landfills. By 2004, the rate of participation by households in this nationwide programme has more than tripled to 51%. Therefore from the example of Singapore, it is evident that recycling is indeed a feasible answer to the problem of waste since it occupies less space as compared to conventional measures like landfills. Hence recycling is certainly one of the solutions to the problem of waste in developed countries that has limited land area.

Although recycling is one of the least objectionable answers to the problem of waste, it has to be used in tandem with campaigns and laws that tackle the root of the problem – the excessive wastage of resources. The over-consuming societies of the developed world will continue to waste more resources excessively if recycling is not encouraged, made more convenient or appealing as an option. In Singapore for instance, the National Environment Agency (NEA) organizes road shows and puts up posters to encourage recycling. In addition, NEA together with the Singapore Environment Council implemented ‘Bring Your Own Bag Day’ to further strengthen their activities. An additional 10 cents is charged on these days for every plastic bag used, and the money collected is used for environmental projects. Similarly in China, the government has taken a step further to ban the use of disposable plastic bags nationwide due to the massive problem of accumulated unbiodegradable waste caused by plastic bags. In the UK, the British government has passed a bill indicating that charges would be imposed on single-use carrier bags unless retailers take action voluntarily to cut down on the ballooning pollution caused by the use of plastic bags. These are just some examples to illustrate the idea that in order for recycling to be effective, consumers have to be educated and informed on the consequences of excessive wastage of resources and how they can play a role to minimize the problem of waste. Furthermore, law and regulations should also be introduced and passed to prevent the problem of waste from intensifying. Other complementary measures would be to make using reusable bags and the recycling of materials more attractive, such as saving costs on bags or even making recycling bins more accessible. Hence while I agree that recycling is one effective answer to the problem of waste, it has to be used simultaneously with educational campaigns and regulations as that would complement recycling and mitigate its limitations.

Recycling is certainly a good solution to the problem of waste. However, we must acknowledge that due to the high costs and advanced technology needed for recycling, developed countries are therefore in a better position to embrace recycling as compared to far less developed countries. Although recycling is suitable for small countries with small land area and is more environmentally friendly, it does not eliminate the underlying cause to the problem of waste. Hence recycling should be implemented together with educational campaigns and regulations for it to be most effective.


The environment


Environment disasters – who is to blame?


Michelle Wong, CG 04/07



Environmental disasters – a phrase which commonly conjures up images of the devastating effects of the wrath of Mother Nature upon human lies. However, upon further close scrutiny, one would realize that so much more is at stake than a few thousand lives lost. The existence of everything around us is in jeopardy because of environmental disasters. Especially when the diversity and quality of life, with drastic climate changes, rising water levels, and the many varieties of living organisms are wiped off the face of the earth, how much more hits can the planet Earth take from us? While the large majority of the human population is to blame for wasting resources in the daily course of our lies, the main culprit would be the ruthless industrialists who put profit-making on the top of their priorities, regardless of its sacrifices, and mainly world leaders (governments) who have the power and means to stop them.

Drastic climate changes and temperature fluctuations are one of the side effects from the excessive release of greenhouse gas emissions. Thirty years ago (1970s), the earth experienced a cooling effect due to the introduction of aerosols into the market. Now, with refrigerators, chlorofluorocarbon emissions are breaking down the ozone layer. Consumers as well as irresponsible manufacturers are definitely to blame for this climate crisis. Despite knowing that aerosols and CFCs are degrading the environment, educated consumers are still fuelling the market for such products.

Another environmental disaster is a result of what the market consumers have created – the extinction and endangerment of animals. While poachers and private businesses clamour to meet the demands of consumers, they have caused various species of tigers and foxes to be reduced to being endangered species. While polar bears are not yet under that, they might soon join them. With polar caps melting due to the rise in temperature, there have been many reports of polar bears and other mammals drowning from exhaustion when they could not find land to rest on. Instead of rising to protest against green house gas emissions, there are people who actually believe these are coincidences which should be ignored. While environmentalists and politicians like Al Gore are petitioning to save the planet, there are many who mock them through forums and the Internet.

Well-intentioned organizations are partially to blame for their incompetence and inefficiency as well. Despite having regular meetings such as the APEC World Summit, they are consistently forming vague conclusions like “will take a step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions”. While many private organizations are petitioning, and funding these environmental conservation campaigns, these international environment conservation groups have yet to make any significant impact.

Another environmental disaster that happens frequently is oil spillage. Petrol companies as well as the military are to blame. In 1991, the Gulf War oil spills were the worst in history with an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of crude oil dumped into the sea. The environmental implications were disastrous as many forms of sea life perished and its lingering after-effects can still be observed a decade later. The toxic vapours killed marine life while the oil poisoned the birds when it was ingested by accident. The worst part of all was that the oil spillage was intentional. The countries along the coast dumped tonnes of crude oil into their waters in an attempt to deter US marine ships from entering their habours. The oil slick was 4 inches thick for miles, and the wildlife there has never recovered since. This shows that politics have a part to play in environmental degradation.

The flight to becoming the most affluent between countries has also led to countries refusal to acknowledge that environment disasters are a pressing concern. With a mixture of political and economic reasons, the United States of America refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Despite international talks of sustainable economic growth, many countries are not willing to slow down or compromise their production to invest in environmental conservation schemes.

As Al Gore mentioned in his movie – “An Inconvenient Truth” – if Earth’s resources are depleted or destroyed, life would not be sustainable, let alone material wealth. If a few percent of economic growth must be sacrificed to preserve the only planet we lie on, then so be it. It is such a pity that there are so many parties which do not realize that. If future environmental disasters are to be presented, it would take a lot more than the efforts of a few campaign organizations. The cooperation of world leaders would be needed.


The environment


Is it possible to protect the environment when many countries require increasing amounts of energy to progress?


Daryl Chia, CG 08/07



In today’s world, where world population, industrial production and economic growth are surging at breakneck pace, energy consumption is expanding and mankind’s insatiable desire for energy, arable land and natural resources are both depleting natural resources and damaging the environment. I believe that economic progress today necessitates mankind’s utilisation of the Earth’s resources and damage of the environment. However, I believe that it is possible to both enjoy economic progress and protect the environment at the same time, especially with advances in alternative energy technology and a greater involvement of the public, government and public firms in the protection of the environment.

There is, largely, a false dichotomy between economic progress and protecting the environment. This is because, among other reasons, of the availability of alternative sources of energy – not that of crude oil or coal – which can power industries and drive economic progress while protecting or doing only minimal damage to the environment. Such technology includes nuclear energy, which use does not emit carbon and where by-products can be stored underground without damage to the environment. Other forms of alternative energy also include that of wind and solar energy, where although some might seem prohibitive and capable of providing only small amounts of energy, may actually allow entire towns to be powered if harnessed and distributed efficiently. This is the case of Saint Daid’s, a town in Southern Wales, which successfully leveraged on such technology to reduce its household carbon footprint to almost zero – a testament to how technology can allow an economy to function and progress while protecting the environment at the same time. However, despite the efficacy of such technology, I conceded that alternative energy sources are no panacea for today’s trade-off between progress and the environment as yet and this is why the world still consumes 85 million barrels of dirty-burning crude oil today. This is because alternative energy sources are still, in general, not as cheap as drilling for oil and hence are not widely adopted. However, I believe that in the near future, with today’s pace in the advancement of alternative energy technology and in order to circumvent the predicted disaster of oil running out by 2050, alternative energy will become cheaper and widely used to the point that it drives economic progress while protecting the environment at the same time – a very possible eventual outcome.

Another reason why I believe that protecting the environment and economic progress is possible and become ever less mutually exclusive is the increase in environmental awareness and desire to protect the environment, whether for altruistic reasons or for self-interest. Today, 30 percent of paper and plastic waste in the United States of America (USA), as stated by the U.S. Environmental Agency, is recycled. This is despite the fact that recycling is often a low profit margin business that requires government subsidies to operate. A 30 percent recycling rate is an achievement that shows how a government can push for both progress and environmental protection at the same time with enough political will. Also, air travel, the bloodlines of the world economic machine, is beginning to become cleaner with the foray of firms such as France’s Climat Mundi, which encourages air travelers and gives them a medium to compensate for the carbon they had caused to be emitted during their flights. This is done by paying an extra but small sum over the air ticket’s price, which then goes to fund tree-planting events and to replace the dirty-burning wood stoves of poor Sub-Saharan Africans with cleaner electric or petroleum stoves. Of course, dissenters would say that such schemes only apply to altruistic people and governments which are few and far between. However, I believe that such choices are increasingly becoming ones that are made based on self-interest as people are feeling the negative effects of environmental damage. For instance, in October 2008, well after the Olympic and Paralympic Games concluded, Beijing re-imposed car quotas because it was in its interest to reduce pollution levels to protect people’s health and to attract tourists and investors. Thus, I believe that self-interest and altruism are, more than ever, leading to “green” decisions being made which protect the environment while not or insignificantly inhibiting economic progress.

The final reason why I believe progress and environmental protection may go hand-in-hand is that of the system of Capitalism and the desire of businesses to maximize profits. The increase in environmental consciousness and the desire of consumers to purchase “green” products and cleaner cars have led to a paradigm shift in markets where companies are now incentivized to produce green products or to sponsor green movements. Companies such as Toyota and Honda have taken advantage of such a change in drivers’ preferences by creating smaller, cleaner cars and hydroelectric cards, leading them to “progress” and turn profits while protecting the environment at the same time, unlike Ford and General Motors, which gas-guzzling cars have led them into business losses in the order of billions of U.S. dollars in 2008. Appearing green is also a trend for companies which are in the service sector. Wall Street research firm Standard and Poors has concluded in 2008 that “green” corporate citizenship adds profits to a company’s balance sheet. This could explain why highly respected Wall Street firms Goldman Sachs and the Bank of America have been sponsoring environmental reform projects in China, ensuring that they do not provide loans to illegal loggers and promoting themselves as “green banks”. Thus, it is seen that capitalism and businesses’ inherent desire for profits can and is increasingly leading to firms both progressing and protecting the environment at the same time. The environmentally sustainable growth of businesses could quite possibly be the wave of the near future.

I believe that it is possible to protect the environment while striving for economic progress, notwithstanding the latter requiring increasingly more energy to accomplish. This, though, is contingent on the fact that the development of alternative energy sources and the increase in environmental consciousness among people, governments and businesses are sustained at the current pace. To do this, I would suggest that more weight be placed on the advice given by the United Nations (UN) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to include the developing nations in Annex I of the Kyoto Protocol and for more countries to adopt the European Climate Exchange’s system of pollution permit trading. With that, the possibility of economic progress and environmental protection will be increasingly close to being realized.

‘Conquest without conscience.’ To what extent would you agree with this assessment of our relationship to the environment?
Humans are the “masters” of the Earth today. Clearly, it is not due to our physical prowess that gave us such a title. It is our intellect, innovation and creativity that have allowed the human race to rise in power against all the other animal species that are more physically advanced compared to us. It is through innovation that has allowed us to win the conquest against the animal species, bending them over to our will and subjecting these animals to whatever we please. Since cavemen conquered the animal species, humans have become bolder. Even in today’s modern world, conquests are made, in the form of the uncountable inventions appearing daily, to improve the quality of life. However, the negative effects of the numerous ‘battles’ we have held to become more technologically advanced over the centuries is showing in the home we reside in, Mother Earth. These ‘battles’, regrettably, are still fought daily, and we show almost no effort to stop. In my opinion, I feel that ‘Conquest without conscience’ is an accurate description of the humans’ relationship to the environment. Numerous acts by humans clearly justify my view.
First, there is the act of pollution. Many of the daily tasks that we do in our everyday life involve polluting the environment. These tasks take up a majority of our lives and are often done without a second thought to spare for the environment. China, a country that has up to 1.3 billion people is one of the largest contributors to pollution. It is not only due to the large number of people living in the country that causes the pollution to be high. One of the main reasons that I have singled China out is due to their burning of coal to generate electrical power for the masses. The usage of coal is highly polluting and the main reason on why China uses it is due to the cost effectiveness of coal. The more expensive but cleaner alternative of fossil fuels, however, is adopted in many countries around the world. The usage of coal to generate electrical power for so many people is significant to the global emission levels of carbon monoxide gas. This selfish act of rating cost effectiveness over the harm caused to the environment shows how the humans are involved with the notion of a conquest for advancement without conscience. Mother Earth is then made to inhale so much more of these toxic gases at the expense of coal being cheaper than fossil fuels. Pollution is the result our never-ending need for cheaper energy to power our never-ending consumption of resources.
Second, deforestation too, leads to air pollution. Deforestation is deemed as necessary for many countries as it is the only way for more land to be developed for industrial purposes and for housing. As a result, large areas of woodland are cleared on a regular basis to ensure that there is more space for development to occur. In many countries, there is a more eco-friendly approach in uprooting the trees such that another tree is planted in another region. However, in the case of Indonesia, the deforestation technique is to burn the forest by large areas such that large areas of land can be cleared at once. The usage of this slash-and-burn technique to clear the land, more notably by poor farmers, causes mass pollution for the country of Indonesia. The haze generated by the fire is then blown by the wind over to South East Asian countries, causing an inconvenience to the locals living there and affecting the air quality in these countries. Such acts by the Indonesians further support the claim on how conquests by the humans are made without conscience. The Indonesians, in the conquest to clear more land, not only contributes to the pollution, but also seriously inconveniencing the locals in the Southeast Asian countries. Hence, their selfish methods of clearing land for development illustrates the little conscience they have in the conquest for land for development purposes.
Even in the world of medicine, the statement is relevant. In medicine, new drugs are formulated daily in order to battle against the many sicknesses and illnesses that cause harm to humans. However, due to the reluctance of humans in trying out the drug for fear of adverse side effects, the scientists turn to animals. In laboratories that deal with medicine, rats are bred, for the sole purpose of testing the drug on them. These rats are first injected with the virus, then with the drug and kept under observation. It is only when the rat is close to death that is it put to sleep. These animals form part of our environment, and yet are subjected to pain and misery due to our conquest against diseases. Little thought is spared for how the animal may be feeling during the process of being injected with the virus. Hence, in the conquest against illness and diseases, the humans are too, without conscience and do not mind doing the species that share the planet with us, harm.
However, as our daily activities contribute increasingly to harming the environment, we too, have been trying to make up for our wrong doings and lessening the impact of our rash conquests. First, countries are working together on a global scale to scale down the effects of their global emissions on a regular basis. In 2009, a summit was held at Copenhagen and it was attended by almost every country in the world to discuss issues regarding global emissions and what can be done by each and every country to scale down their carbon emissions. At the summit, many countries, notably China, had each made an effort to reduce the impact of our conquests on the environment. Such acts by the leaders of the countries of the world then demonstrates that although pollution is not going to stop any time soon, the negative effects of pollution to the environment have been recognised and something is being done about it. Even in the upcoming world expo that is going to be held in Shanghai this year, exhibits of the countries are to have a ‘green’ theme to them, raising awareness on the need to cut down pollution. Hence, there is a conscience present for the environmental damage caused and things are being done about it.
Also, other than global efforts, even automobile companies are starting to play their part in showing their regret in harming the Earth. More environmentally friendly cars are emerging as automobile companies try to cut down global emissions due to their cars. These new cars, many of them hybrid cars, can run on the conventional fuel for convenience sake and too, can run on the bio-diesel that is quoted to be environmentally-friendly. Such acts by the giants in the automobile industry will demonstrate how the harm caused to the environment is noted and that the owners of the automobile industry recognise that part of the fault is theirs and something is being done about it. There is then a conscience present in these car-makers such that they are willing to do something for the harm they have caused in their conquest.
All in all, great amount of harm is being dealt to the environment in our conquest for a more advanced and easier life. However, this harm is being compensated for by a few environmentally-mind individuals that actively care for the environment. These are the people, sadly to say, the minority that possess a conscience for the various conquests made


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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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