Commercialisation Of Ecological Spaces
Green. What do you think of when you hear the word green? Do you think of a calm meadow where time stays still? Do you think of a tiny young sapling growing into a mighty tree? Do you think of the great Amazon Rainforest? Or do you think of money?
In this article, we will be dealing with the rise of the sustainability movement, the effects of capitalism, Greenwashing and how we can help humanity be more sustainable. We will also be dealing with a few case studies to understand the real-world impacts of the sustainability movement on our planet.
The Birth Of The Sustainable Movement
First things first, let us cover the definition that sustainability refers to the ability to maintain or support a process continuously over time.
Regarding the environment and the earth, however, it refers to the ability to use and maintain resources for future generations to come. There have also been multiple “sustainability” movements in the past, but to keep it coherent, let’s focus on the modern sustainability movement.
The sustainability movement has its roots in the 1960s and 1970s when concerns about environmental degradation and the impact of human activity on the planet began to gain widespread public attention. This period saw the emergence of several environmental organizations and advocacy groups, such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which sought to raise awareness about issues such as air and water pollution, deforestation, and climate change.
In 1973, the United Nations held its first conference on the environment, which led to the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration, which called for a “common outlook and a common strategy” to protect the environment.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the sustainability movement continued to grow and evolve, with a greater emphasis on issues such as biodiversity conservation, sustainable agriculture, and renewable energy. In 1992, the United Nations held the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which led to the adoption of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Today, the sustainability movement encompasses a broad range of initiatives and activities, from efforts to reduce carbon emissions and promote renewable energy to programs aimed at reducing waste and promoting sustainable consumption. The movement has become increasingly mainstream, with many businesses, governments, and individuals recognizing the importance of sustainable practices in ensuring a healthy and prosperous future for all.
The Entry Of Capitalism
It all started with the popularization of the word “organic” in the early 2000s. Due to an increase in public awareness of climate change and the impact humans have on the environment, consumers started preferring organic foods to conventional ones. They believed organic foods were more nutritious and less harmful than conventional ones. While this is true to some extent, the difference is only marginal.
However, corporations saw this as “the next big thing”. It was marketed heavily to the point that now it is more profitable to grow foods organically than conventionally. But organic doesn’t always mean sustainable. The impact of growing organic foods is almost the same as that of conventional foods. But to meet consumer demands corporations have now started to grow organic foods unsustainably by using organic toxic chemicals as well as using more land and water. Also, many companies simply sell conventional food under the label of organic food. Instinctively thinking of organic as good and conventional as bad has prevented us from making important decisions. The solution lies in adopting the best of both worlds.
Another area where commercialisation led to its downfall is that of nature conservation. Do you remember your first visit to the zoo? I’m sure most of you must have been fascinated by the wonders of mother nature’s creations. The biggest threat to wildlife comes from people and most people live in cities. Zoos provide an educational opportunity for people to see the wonders of nature first-hand and strive to be environmentally conscious. Captive breeding programmes in zoos have saved several species from extinction (ex-situ conservation).
But not all zoos have animal welfare at heart. Many zoos all over the world simply care about their profits treating the animals as attractions in an amusement park. For example, there are more captive tigers in the US than there are tigers in the wild. A Netflix Documentary “The Tiger King” exposed the illegal animal breeding and trading activities by many zookeepers in America such as Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, etc.
From a conservation standpoint, zoos fail to make much difference because the animals that require the most care often do not receive it. For example, turtles, fish, and tiny insects require large amounts of conservation measures but seldom are treated so because they are not as popular as larger animals such as elephants, lions, or gorillas. Most zookeepers primarily care about ticket sales and therefore stay away from these precious tiny animals. The only way for zoos to really make a difference is if they create experiences that people would want but are also based on these threatened species.
Delving Into Greenwashing
The commercialisation of ecological spaces can be harmful to the environment in many ways. When natural areas, such as forests or wetlands, are converted into commercial enterprises, the ecological functions of these areas can be compromised. For example, logging in a forest can lead to soil erosion, loss of habitat for wildlife, and changes in water flow and quality. In addition, the commercialisation of ecological spaces can contribute to greenwashing and green-grabbing.
Greenwashing refers to the practice of making misleading or false environmental claims to sell products or services. For example, a company might claim that its products are made from sustainable materials, when in fact they are not. They may even display various seals of approval that mean absolutely nothing. For example, a company can claim that its product is made with all-natural ingredients even if only one ingredient in the product is not artificial or synthetic. Green-grabbing refers to the appropriation of land or natural resources for commercial purposes, without regard for the environmental or social impacts of such activities.
Companies often say they have succeeded in achieving net zero emissions. But remember net zero isn’t zero. This enables corporations to continue their unsustainable activities by financing sustainable activities elsewhere. This has led to companies having a bigger carbon footprint than they claim under the guise of performing green activities such as planting trees or recycling products.
Companies might buy land for carbon offsets or conservation, but they might not adopt sustainable practices or give the community any real benefits. This can result in land being taken without consideration for the rights or needs of the local population, a practice known as “green-grabbing.”
Taking a few case studies as an example, we can understand how the commercialisation of ecological spaces, particularly concerning Ecotourism has had massive impacts on our environment.
Under ideal circumstances, ecotourism provides local economic benefits while maintaining ecological resource integrity through low-impact, non-consumptive resource use.
Ironically, however, ecotourism’s success may instead be the cause of its downfall.
Successful ecotourism initiatives may draw increasing interest and a correspondingly higher number of tourists, thus increasing negative impacts such as solid waste generation, habitat disturbance, and forest degradation resulting from trail erosion. Such impacts could seriously threaten the resources upon which ecotourism depends.
To understand this better, let us take the study of an ecological space in South America’s Ecuador- The Galapagos Islands.
In 1974, the Galapagos National Park Management Plan called for a limit of 12,000 tourists per year. Surpassing this limit each year, the 1991 Galapagos Global Tourism Management Plan dropped the overall maximum limits. The large increase in numbers has resulted in erosion along sensitive trails, plant and animal disturbance, and a general decline in the quality of the tourism experience.
In addition to the environmental implications, the economic implications coupled with corruption and unaccountability have their own roles to play. An instance of this can be seen in the case study of the Enduimet WMA (Wildlife management area) in Tanzania. This was a case where the central government retained the power of making strategic decisions over the WMA and only minimal benefits were realized.
The revenue stream was centralized, hence there was not only a lack of transparency of revenue flow but also a lack of control by local communities over revenue collection and distribution of resources native to them. Another example echoing the same negative implications is Nepal’s Royal Chitwan National Park, where via the means of surveys, it was found that only 6% of surveyed households earned the income directly or indirectly from ecotourism. Unsurprisingly, these cases are simply the tip of the iceberg for many developing countries using ecotourism to reap benefits but failing to use it to their benefit economically or environmentally.
Commercialisation need not always be a bad thing. Due to increased public awareness, there has been a surge in interest in sustainable energy sources, local or artisanal products, reusable products, and even sustainable waste management. This has led to various companies springing up everywhere to meet this surge in demand. Companies such as Norsk Gjenvinning in Scandinavia (recycling company), Vestas Wind Systems A/S in Denmark (sustainable energy production company), and many others are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be green and sustainable.
How To Be The Change You Want To See In The World
1) Practicing responsible tourism: If you are planning to visit an ecological space, be sure to research and choose responsible tourism operators that prioritize environmental sustainability and respect for local communities. Look for operators that are certified by reputable eco-tourism organizations.
2) Support genuine conservation efforts: Many ecological spaces are threatened by development, resource extraction, and other commercial activities. Supporting genuine or verified conservation efforts, such as donations to environmental organizations, can help protect these spaces for future generations.
3) Engaging in sustainable practices when visiting such places or even otherwise: When visiting ecological spaces, be mindful of your impact on the environment. Practice responsible waste management, avoid using single-use plastics, and respect local wildlife and habitats.
4) Hold businesses accountable: If you see businesses engaging in unsustainable practices, such as overuse of resources or pollution of the environment, speak out and hold them accountable. You can also choose to support businesses that prioritize sustainability and social responsibility.
5) Calling out Hypocrisy: While some companies may claim to be responsible, and sustainable in their approach, they may be hiding the truths of greenwashing and green-grabbing within their organisation.
6) Advocating for policy change: Government policies and regulations can play a major role in protecting ecological spaces. Advocate policies that prioritize environmental sustainability and hold businesses accountable for their impact on the environment.
7) Consider supporting local initiatives that you know promote sustainable practices, such as farmers’ markets or community-supported agriculture programs. In India, there are multiple communities which have practised sustainable methods of working much before it was popularized as a term or even used by companies to lure people in.
8) RRR (no, not the movie): Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. This is one of the most important concepts of living a sustainable life.
9) Get Involved: You yourself can get involved to contribute actively towards positive sustainable development.
Education and awareness have the power to change the world as we know it. It was the increased awareness, towards global warming and climate change, of the general public that lead to UNEP and the birth of the sustainability movement. However, what started as a pure thought, to make the world a better place, ended up becoming a roadblock with the introduction of capitalism. Capitalism led to the downfall of the initial pure ideas of many sectors such as agriculture, and zoos.
There was a meteoric rise in the popularity of the colour green. However, corporations had a totally different view of the colour green. While green symbolised nature and sustainability to the common- folk. It symbolised profits and new opportunities to grow branding for large corporations. This led to the coining of the word “green-washing”, whereby companies would falsely brand their products as organic or sustainable.
We can tackle all this corruption and lead a truly sustainable and green life by mainly being more informed and educated on the various concepts of sustainability. We must overcome human greed and think green. Education and awareness are what started this spark in human compassion towards Mother Earth in the first place and it is the same that will help humanity grow towards a brighter future. Therefore, we must remain hopeful of a better tomorrow by doing all that we can today. “Think Green, Not With Greed”. Let this slogan be the seed of a mighty tree, same as humanity’s future will be.
Written by Kenneth Stephen and Tarini Sai Padmanabhuni for MTTN
Edited by Udeet Mittal for MTTN
Featured Image by Encyclopaedia Britannica
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