Environmental Questions

Question 1


According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, an environmental refugee is a person dislocated or forced to move out of their natural and traditional habitats, either temporarily or permanently, as a result of environmental disruption, which is either natural or triggered by human actions. This eventually jeopardizes their existence and affects their quality of life (Karpilo, 2012, p.45). Thus, the environmental refugees constitute those people that due to environmental causes like land loss, degradation, and natural disasters get displaced.

Myers (2005, p. 124) defines environmental refugees as those people who cannot get a secure livelihood in their natural habitats due to droughts, desertification, soil erosions, deforestation and other environmental problems. The environmental refugees can either be temporary or permanent refugees. With the strike of disasters, many areas may become destroyed and end up being uninhabitable. For instance, disasters such as floods, wildfires, and droughts may make places uninhabitable for a short while. In addition, some disasters may make places uninhabitable causing the rise of permanent refugees (Karpilo, 2012, p.21).

The Causes

From the definition of an environmental refugee, people become environmental refugees due to natural disasters or land degradation.


Some disasters that cause people to become environmental refugees are as a result of natural causes. For instance, causes such as drought, floods, volcano eruptions, hurricanes, and earthquakes make up the list of natural factors that make people to become environmental refugees (Karpilo, 2012, p. 211). The latest in the United States is the Hurricane Sandy that has made parts of the affected areas cause tension for the inhabitants. In this light, it means that environmental refugees abandon their homelands on a temporary  or  permanent basis. In addition, people move from their homes and resettle in other places. In 1995, the total number of environmental refugees was at least 25 million people, and estimates indicated that they will double by 2010 (Karpilo, 2012, p. 237).

If global warming takes hold, the number of environmental refugees may be about 200 million people. Desertification and general land degradation in some parts of central Asia is one of the leading causes of environmental refugees in some Asian countries. Countries like Turkey have lost about 160,000 square kilometres of farmland due to erosion (Myers, 2005, p.106).

Across the globe, the deficit of water is also another cause of environmental refugees. This is because the need for water has increased over the past fifty years. It is essential to note that water is an indispensable resource in the world. Thus, people will face serious environmental problems if the resorts depleted (Peters, 2011, p.39).

Another cause of environmental refugees is the gradual desertification process that is occurring. This is evident in the sub Saharan region where most of the land becomes a desert. As this happens, the land becomes unproductive and cannot support profitable agriculture. This compels the inhabitants of these regions to leave there homes and move elsewhere. They, in turn, become environmental refugees.

Socio economic factors could also lead to environmental refugees in numerous ways. For instance, inequitable distribution of resources. There arises a mass migration of the underprivileged to find alternative resources. Forced resettlement of people due to development projects, like hydroelectric power stations, leaves people environmental refugees.


There are many policies that countries and policy makers will choose in order to lower the number of environmental refugees. Thus, policies can mitigate against the need of migration and maintain an acceptable livelihood in their homelands.

The first way through which countries can reduce the number of environmental refugees is; by putting in place, measures that will increase their approach to refuges. This is to include those affected by natural or human resources. Policy makers should put institutions that will deal with the cases of environmental refugees.

Secondly, it is essential to widen and deepen the understanding of environmental refugees. This will involve the establishment of the root causes of the problem of environmental refugees by including the security concerns under the umbrella of environmental refugees (Myers, 2005, p.304). Thus, policy makers must integrate every cause and the roles that population pressures and poverty have in accentuating the problem of environmental refugees (Myers, 2005, p.304).

It is also vital to examine the root causes of natural factors of environmental refugees like famine, drought, desertification, fires, and soil erosion. For instance, if human conditions cause these factors, then it is possible to reduce its effects from a human approach.

Q2.      Is it likely that most of the developing countries too will go through second demographic transition in the near future? Give your reasons with reference to the four key shifts involved in second demographic transition (to answer this you may use experiences of two/three developing countries).

Scholars define demographic transition as that phenomenon in which a population shifts from experiencing high birth and death rates, to having low birth and death rates as a country transforms from a pre-industrial to industrialised state. We achieve this through implementation of various policies by governments. So far, there have been first and second demographic transitions in developed countries while the developing countries are still undergoing the first demographic transition. It is, however, believed that most of these developing countries, too, will undergo the second demographic transition.

Declining mortality and fertility rate characterised the first demographic transition, witnessed from the 18th century onward in the European countries and to present in developing countries (Rees, 1996, p. 67). Higher life expectancies above 70 years characterised the end of the first demographic transition, no population growth and a stable population. This balance between births and deaths   solved the problem of immigration. Families shall be nuclear and conjugal in nature having married couples and their children.

The second demographic shift (STD), on the other hand, argues that the attained equilibrium will not be the terminus. New developments will come along with a number of issues. One of these issues being the disconnection between marriage and procreation leading to no stationary population. Population will shrink and no doubt and shall need compensation by new immigrants. The outcome of these shall be further growth of multicultural societies.

The second demographic shift tackles the new social challenges, linked to integration of immigrants and other cultures, unstable families, extreme poverty and challenges related to aging (Caselli, Vallin, & Wunsch, 2006 p341).

The second demographic transition has four key shifts that brought controversy in the (FDT). Assessing these key shifts, one can easily tell that the developing countries too shall undergo the second demographic transition. The first key shift was adult self-realization motivating parenthood, and choosing one lifestyle from several others. That preference attached to a kid has weakened, and adult relationship gained prominence instead. Looking at developing countries, we observe emphasis on education until one is adult enough before venturing into parenthood. At that level, one has attained self realization. With time, therefore, the developing countries will undergo the second demographic transition too.

Richard Easterlin (1973, p. 136) postulated the cyclical fertility theory arguing that small cohorts would have better job opportunities leading to higher fertility and early marriages. Large cohorts on the other side would have wanting economic lives. The second demographic transition however, does not expect cyclical effect strongly enough to determine the fertility trend. In most developing countries such as Malaysia where despite encouragements into having small cohorts are about to bear fruits, employment opportunities are not that forthcoming. This confirms that there are other factors, cultural and economic, that conditions these trends.

The key role assigned to the ideational factor and to the dynamics of cultural shift conditioned the third key shift in the SDT. SDT did not consider the explanations granted to macro level structural changes and micro-level economic calculus as sufficient but non-redundant. The second demographic transition thus takes into account both economical and sociological reasoning. This will act a significant role in helping the developing nations restructure their macro and micro economic policies so as to cater for their socioeconomic needs. Culture, too, need not to be looked at as a form of addiction. Cultural shifts relate to the dynamic processes of cohort succession and individual values repositioning as a function of paths followed during the life course. This clearly shows that the developing countries shall have to undergo this second demographic transition.

Finally, Abraham Maslow’s (1954, p.201) theory of changing needs has formed a substantial key shift in the second demographic transition. This theory of post materialism states that as people become wealthier and more learned, their needs shifts from those linked to survival, solidarity, and security. Focus now changes to recognition, democracy, self-realization, education values and expressive work. Developing nations have already started adopting this trend. Kenya, for instance, is integrating the two in which we focus on better education, sound democracy, self-realization, just to mention a few. With time, focus will shift entirely to higher order needs.

To conclude, it is just a matter of time before we witness the second demographic transition in developing countries, just as it happened in a developed nation state.

Q3.      “Deforestation in the tropics has made a significant contribution to global warming and to date attempts at limiting it have failed”. Critically assess the accuracy of this statement and identify the approaches to limiting continuing deforestation that offer the best opportunities of success.

Tropical deforestation is responsible for over 15 percent of the causes of global warming, more that that produced by locomotive pollution. Deforestation refers to the felling of trees to provide land for other activities such as land cultivation, industrialization, provision of wood fuel, timber exploitation among other reasons. The reasons behind deforestation range from population pressure on available land, economic expansion calling for more land to put up industries, increased cost of fuel to other varied reasons. Statistics reveal that, in the entire world, only 80 million hectares of primary tropical forests remain, with 16.2 million hectares  cleared yearly to pave the way for agricultural activities, timber exploitation, and  for wood fuel (Yeo, 2009, p.45). Global warming, on the other hand, means an increase in the global temperature as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions to in the atmosphere.

Deforestation thus, leads to global warming in many varied ways. To begin with, during the process of photosynthesis, plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. The timber of the tree also stores carbon. Deforestation therefore, means that there are no leaves to act as carbon sinks and absorb carbon dioxide, implying that most of it escapes to the atmosphere. The exploited timber may also be left to rot or used and eventually converted to carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas behind global warming. Either way, deforestation contributes to global warming.

As we cut trees, the hydrological cycle gets disturbed and the amount of rainfall reduces drastically. The amount of oxygen reduces while that of carbon dioxide increases. When the carbon dioxide increases, the terrestrial radiation from the earth’s surface suspends on the earth, making it unusually warm. This increases global warming effect and increases the green house effect.

Deforestation on the other hand exposes the earth’s surface as it leaves it bare. As a result, there is usually high rate of evaporation from the earth’s surface. Water vapour is one of the greenhouse gases hallowing our planet as it impedes heat loss from the earth. High concentration of water vapour coupled with other gases like methane, CO2, and ozone increases the global temperature (Jepma, 1995, p.111).

There are a number of attempts put forward to try and cub deforestation. In developing nations such as the Sub Saharan region, emphasis channelled towards population control. This advocacy aims at having a manageable population that will not put pressure on available land and hence reduce deforestation. This advocacy, however, has experienced challenges of cultural misunderstandings as some people do not believe in family planning measures.

There has also been an encouragement on reforestation and a forestation practices so as to reclaim the deforested land and bring it back to forest cover. Seminars conducted on how well to encourage people to plant trees all over. Groups such as “Green Youth for Green Future” crop up with the purpose of encouraging the youth to plant more trees and conserve the environment (Chafee, 2010, p. 326).

The human population accepts to deviate from using wood for fuel as well as felling trees for charcoal burning. Instead, people need use renewable sources of energy like the solar. This form of energy proves environmentally friendly in almost every aspect. This campaign has received challenges those people in developing countries cannot even afford to acquire a solar panel for use. In spite of this campaign, the population in the rural areas of developing countries still rely heavily on wood fuel.

There are approaches, however, that if followed to the latter can help can help manage deforestation a vast deal. There is the need to enact strict laws through the legislature that protect our tropical forests from exploitation. This has had a positive influence in the U.S where the Wilderness Act and the Roadless Rule (Jepma, 1995, p.254) have undoubtedly help protect the forests. Other countries, especially in the sub-Saharan region need to borrow a leaf from the US.

Consumer power is another approach that can be used to effectively cub deforestation. In this case, the consumers of varied products need to put pressure on manufacturing companies to observe environment conservation. There should be limited use of paper by companies and encouragement should be put on recycling of used papers. All these play a role in controlling deforestation. Community based organisations need to be formed with the aim of conducting education on the adverse effects of deforestation. This will empower people to look after their own forests thereby reduce deforestation incidences.

Q4.      Although the advent of the second demographic transition in more developed countries and the progress of modified versions of the traditional demographic transition in less developed countries will ensure that population will not be the greatest threat to the environment that showed two decades ago, rising affluence and increasing globalisation of national economies will ensure that the world’s main ecosystems will face severe pressures over the next several decades.

Critically evaluate the validity of this statement with reference to specific examples from more developed and less developed countries.

About two decades ago, researchers warned that if population growth globally remained unchecked, then this population was going to have a serious threat to the environment. This prompted simulation of second demographic transition in developed countries and modification of the traditional demographic transition in developing countries. These were all aimed at providing a realistic approach that would reduce the pressure on the environment from population. Population control measures, models and policies came to force and this has bore fruits as there is a general drop in the population growth globally. This, however, has come along with increased industrialization, globalization, and increased living standards (Mol, 2003, p.31).

As a result, therefore, our ecosystem is faces severe pressures for several years to come. Rising affluence in this case refers to improved prosperity while globalisation of national economies refers to the increasing economic interdependence of national economies around the world. This happens through tremendous increase in cross border movement of goods, capital, technology and service. Economic globalization increases economic integration and correlates with production, markets, technology, competition, corporations and industries.

These two aspects, rising affluence and globalisation of national economies, will however have a number of adverse effects on the ecosystem. For instance, the TED Case Study, concerned with the NAFTA treaty came to being to settle most environmental concerns between the United States and Mexico. The study also reveals that the US and Canada have disagreed on matters of transborder pollution. There is a number of environmental concerns in the NAFTA treaty (Igoe, 2004, p.207). The main problem facing Mexico is pollution from its industries that poses a threat to the environment. The establishment of several industries both in the US and Mexico implies that these industries emit a lot of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere causing pollution. On the other hand, the effluent discharged to the water affects the aquatic life adversely. Effluents from industries have led to the degradation of the soil that has been supporting profitable agriculture. This treaty therefore, helps improve environmental accountability. Those countries without such treaties or policies pose a danger of polluting our ecosystem. Mexico was, however, the first developing country to sign the Montreal Protocol on substance that depletes the ozone and a signatory to the Global Climate Change Convention held at the Rio Conference (Igoe, 2004, p.261).

From the above case study, developing countries too in their quest to embrace industrialization, pose a serious threat to the ecosystem in a number of ways. Fallow land cleared to erect these industries, which in turn brings imbalance in the ecosystem as a result of oxygen carbon dioxide imbalance. Natural habitats for birds and other wildlife get destroyed making their existence endangered.

A case study done in the United Kingdom reveals that effluents from industries contribute substantially to air pollution. The effects were even severe in the city of Birmingham which had a high number of industries (Leichenko & O'Brien, 2008, p.135). The gases emitted here had a greenhouse effect that leads to global warming. Every company   signs a treaty that binds them not to exceed a given limit of gas emitted to the air. Improved standards of living occasioned by wealth acquisition prompt people to use vehicles whose exhaust lead to air pollution. Other organizations start   to deal with carbon business. The nature of this business being that people plant trees and then they are paid as per the volume of carbon dioxide that these trees absorb. This mechanism helps lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the air (Mol, 2003, p.439).

From the two case studies above, rising affluence and globalisation of national economies if not closely checked will lead to total degradation of the ecosystem. Despite the fact that population might no longer be a threat on environment, pressure for land to be developed into industries will lead to loss of forests and their associated wildlife. This in turn disrupts the rainfall patterns and hence affects the whole ecosystem. Better standards of life puts more pressure on available energy resources that in turn increases emissions of greenhouse gases that deplete the ozone layer exposing the earth to global warming. In a nutshell, therefore, there is the need to have control over globalisation.

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