Imagine yourself on a spaceship about to blast off for a distant planet. Your spaceship will be carrying all the food, air and water you will use for years during the long trip. It will also be heated so you can survive the frigid temperatures of outer space.
All waste produced during the trip will have to be carefully stored for recycling or to help grow more food. The spaceship, in short, will have to contain a complete system for supporting life.
The people on board will have to manage their precious supplies wisely so they can continue to get what they need while, at the same time, leaving lots behind for future use. If they didn't take these precautions, their lives would be in danger.
When you think about it, this planet Earth is just like a spaceship. It contains a complete life support system for our long journey through time. Sadly, we realize we have not been using the earth's resources wisely, and now the passengers' lives are in danger.
It's not too late to rescue our planet spaceship and its passengers — but to do that we must become caretakers of the earth's resources by engaging in sustainable development. With careful planning, we can go on using the planet's resources — its air, land, waters and wildlife — long into the future.
What Is Sustainable Development?
The term is a blend of two ideas: development and sustainability. Through development, we attempt to satisfy people's needs. These include such basics as food, water, clothing, jobs, health care and so on. Development also goes beyond the basics to provide a good quality of life.
We don't often link the idea of development with our environment. But the two are inseparable. Our environment is the entire earth, a fragile spaceship containing a complete system for supporting life.
The environment provides the necessities for life — air, water, food and shelter. It provides resources we use like trees, wildlife, minerals and fuels; it also supports major economic activities like forestry, agriculture, mining and fishing. It's a source of energy we harness — water, solar heat, tide and wind.
Because our society, economy and environment are interdependent, it makes sense that a healthy economy depends on a healthy environment. All living things thrive in a clean, productive world. A polluted or degraded environment weakens our economic activities and eventually threatens the survival of all living things.
Connecting the idea of sustainability with development also makes sense. We want to be sure that the good things will last so that the generations of people that come after us may enjoy them. We now see that environmental and development problems go hand in hand. We can't solve one without the other, because without a healthy environment, sooner or later our needs and wants will suffer too.
Why We Need it
The idea of sustainable development emerged when people finally realized our planet is in big environmental trouble. Scary signals like global warming, acid rain, a damaged ozone layer and disappearing wildlife warn us that our activities are changing and destroying exactly what we need to stay alive.
We must start now to manage the planet's resources so they can continue to keep us — and future generations — alive.
Why it's Urgent
Our world population is growing so fast, and we are gobbling up our resources at such a speed, we can't possibly keep up with global demands for housing, food and energy supplies.
Think about this: only 25 percent of the world's population lives in rich countries like Canada, yet these people use up more than 60 percent of available resources! Considering that astounding fact, it seems even more important that we Canadians lead the way in living a sustainable development lifestyle.
This involves not only building up technical knowledge and capabilities, but also creating new values to help everyone cope with our rapidly changing world. The changes must involve all countries, large and small, and all people, young and old.
Wildlife and the Big Picture
Conserving our living natural resources is crucial if we expect to enjoy them today and still have them for future generations.
Our living natural resources are our wildlife species — all wild plants and animals, including micro-organisms — and the non-living elements of the environment on which they depend. You can't separate wildlife species from where they live! We call their homes wildlife habitat, and they need that habitat to survive. So, a vital part of sustainable development is managing our wildlife to last long into the future
But how do we do this? Where do we start? The answer is simple: conservation. Conservation is using air, land, water, plants and animals in such a way that we may go on using them for years to come. You could say that conservation means managing natural resources for sustainable use.
How Sustainable Development Helps
The management of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou herds is an excellent example of the meaningful results of sustainable development. These two herds, which range in northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and the southern Arctic, are a valuable renewable resource for more than 10,000 people.
The annual minimum value of the harvest of these herds is about $15 million. It is harder to measure the importance of these animals to the culture and lifestyle of native people. But it is clear that the heritage of many Canadians has been shaped by these animals.
Serious declines in the herd population prompted the formation of The Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board in 1982. The board has not only encouraged herd management, but it has enhanced the use and protection of the caribou. As a result, a very valuable resource is being managed for future generations.
You Can Do It!
Practise conservation. Conservation is a bundle of related activities that all help to ensure our supply of wildlife. Your actions will be your contribution to sustainable development.
There are all sorts of things you can do:
- Plant seedling trees to replace those that have been cut.
- Create a bird sanctuary.
- Reduce your use of water on lawns during dry spells.
- Lower your thermostat slightly during the winter.
- Leave strips of trees around farm fields to reduce soil loss caused by wind.
- Reduce your use of a car by walking or riding your bike.
Here's an example of how it works: Let's say you decide to improve streamside wildlife habitat. You do this by planting trees, bushes and grasses along the edge of the stream, which is called a riparian zone. Thanks to the assortment or riparian vegetation you've planted, a wide range or water-loving wildlife will find food and shelter. Even large mammals like deer may drop in for quick snacks as they pass through.
Your actions will provide solid, long lasting homes for wildlife. Riparian vegetation creates strong banks and helps prevent erosion, so soil will be conserved for future plant growth. The good achieved by your planting will be far-reaching, too: Because the banks where plants grow store moisture when the water is high and release it into the stream at dry times, there'll be less chance of flooding, and habitat downstream will be more likely to remain intact.
It's easy to see that everything on earth interacts, isn't it? And this means it's important to think about all aspects of the environment when you plan conservation efforts. Working to improve a whole ecosystem — a community of plants and animals and the air, water and soil that support them —is the way to go.
Be Part of the Solution
So, how would you like to join the challenge of the century? We're not kidding — that's what sustainable development is — the biggest challenge this country and the world have ever faced. For generations, we acted as though the earth's resources were available for our convenience. We used our water, land and air as dumping grounds for toxic chemicals and other hazardous wastes. We busily chopped down forests with little thought for the future. And in between times, we used our wildlife. It seemed there was an endless supply of resources.
The sad truth has finally dawned on us. Our natural resources are not endless. Slowly but surely many wildlife species are disappearing.
We are starting to learn that wildlife is a lot more than cute animals, pretty birds or colourful wild flowers. It's becoming obvious that healthy wildlife is an excellent sign of a healthy environment. So, now we understand that our social and economic well-being depends on both healthy wildlife and habitat.
We already have government departments that manage our land, water, air and wildlife. But here's the catch. If it's going to work properly, everyone must practise sustainable development. Even our government has to find better ways to manage our environment and resources. Don't worry – we'll show you how to start being good resource managers through projects in this booklet. And no doubt you'll come up with some great ideas of your own too.
Join the Challenge
You're not alone when you work for sustainable development. We hope you'll become one of the growing number of young managers of the global environment. Remember, your enthusiasm and concern will rub off on others — brothers and sisters, friends and adults — in your life. The greater the number of people who roll up their sleeves and do their bit with you for sustainable development, the greater the impact you will have. Your support is urgent because it will lead to long-term health for the earth and its wildlife. And that's good news for people, too.
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