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28: Ecologically Sustainable Development

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    Learning Objectives

    After completing this chapter, you will be able to:

    1. Outline the process of an environmental impact assessment, and describe several Canadian examples.
    2. Discuss how monitoring and research are necessary to understanding the causes and consequences of environmental damage.
    3. Explain how environmental reporting and literacy are crucial to dealing with the environmental crisis.
    4. Outline the roles of governments, non-governmental organizations, scientists, and citizens in designing and implementing an ecologically sustainable economy.


    The previous parts of this book allowed us to learn the subject matter of environmental science by examining key ideas and by analyzing a body of supporting information. In this final chapter, we bring many of these topics together in an interdisciplinary fashion.

    In the first sections of the chapter, we will examine topics related to environmental management and protection at the broader societal level. These topics include environmental impact assessment, monitoring and research, environmental literacy, and sustainability. All of these are necessary for maintaining an acceptable level of environmental quality and healthy ecosystems—two necessary objectives for a truly sustainable socio-economic system. We will also examine a range of actions that each of us can undertake to help resolve environmental problems.

    In the concluding section of this chapter, we will briefly discuss the future prospects for advanced economies, such as that of Canada, and for spaceship Earth.

    Environmental Impact Assessment

    An environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a planning process that is used to help prevent environmental problems. Environmental impact assessments do this by identifying and evaluating the potential consequences that a proposed development may have for environmental quality. Because it can consider ecological, physical-chemical, and other environmental effects, as well as socio-economic consequences, an EIA is a highly multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary activity.

    An EIA may be conducted to examine various kinds of activities, or planned developments, that could affect environmental quality, such as the following:

    1. an individual project, such as a proposal to construct an airport, dam, highway, incinerator, mine, or power plant
    2. an integrated scheme, such as a proposal to develop an industrial park, a pulp or lumber mill with its attendant wood-supply and forest-management plans, or other complex developments that involve numerous projects
    3. a governmental policy that carries a risk of substantially affecting the environment

    The scale of an environmental assessment can vary greatly, from the examination of a relatively small proposal to construct a building near a wetland, to a megaproject associated with natural-resource development.

    In Canada, environmental impact assessments for proposals that involve federal funding or jurisdiction are regulated under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), which was enacted in 1992. The Act is a law that requires federal decision makers, referred to as “responsible authorities,” to consider the predicted environmental effects of a proposed project before it is allowed to go ahead. If significant adverse effects are predicted, the project is not allowed to proceed until the damages have been addressed by a change in design or through some other mitigation.

    Initially, the CEAA required that EIA studies be done on a wide range of projects involving jurisdiction of the federal government. However, in 2012 the Act was greatly weakened by requiring that only big projects are considered (CEAA, 2013). Provinces and territories also have legislated requirements for EIA, as do some local levels of government, such as municipalities and First Nations.

    EIA is based on the reasonable premise that all proposed projects, programs, and policies carry risks for human welfare and for other species and ecosystems. For example, a proposed project may emit toxic chemicals into the environment. In such a case, it is necessary to determine if the anticipated emissions might exceed the regulated levels. The most stringent standards and guidelines are related to the maximum exposures that humans can tolerate without suffering risks to their risks, while criteria to protect other species and ecosystems are less exacting. For example, the guideline for uranium in drinking water is 0.02 mg/L (Health Canada, 2008), but that for the protection of aquatic life is 40 mg/L for a short-term exposure (<1-4 days) and 5.5 mg/L for a long-term exposure (CCME, 2009).

    In addition, a project might cause disturbances to natural habitats during its construction or operation, which could result in ecological damage. These effects should be identified and quantified, and the potential environmental damages evaluated, before permission is granted to start the project.

    The process of environmental impact assessment is intended to predict these potential damages and to suggest ways of avoiding or mitigating them as much as possible. However, this does not necessarily mean that no damage will be caused by a proposed development. In almost all cases, some damage is inevitable.

    Because most developments potentially affect a great variety of species and ecosystems, EIAs are limited to predicting the effects on only a selection of so-called valued ecosystem components (VECs). These components are valued because society perceives them to be important for one or more of the following reasons:

    1. They are an economically important resource, such as an agricultural crop, a commercial forest, or a stock of fish, mammals, or birds
    2. They are a rare or endangered species or ecological community
    3. They are of cultural or aesthetic importance

    The initial phase of the process of environmental impact assessment is known as a screening. The screening determines the level of assessment that a proposed activity will undergo, such as whether a minor review or a full assessment is appropriate. In fact, the great majority of environmental assessments in Canada are restricted to the screening level – in general only larger projects require a more extensive, comprehensive assessment. The decision about whether to proceed to a more comprehensive assessment is made by a responsible authority of the relevant level of government (such can be federal, provincial, territorial). Usually, the responsible authority is a department or agency with a mandate or experience that is relevant to the proposed project. The decision is based on the likelihood that the proposed development will cause significant adverse environmental effects, but expressions of public concern are also an important consideration.

    A full EIA requires the proponent to prepare an environmental assessment report, which is a series of documents that describe the proposed undertaking, as well as studies of its likely environmental and socio-economic effects. The proponent must also inform the public of its detailed plans, which is usually done by holding meetings in local communities and making planning documents available for review by individuals and concerned organizations. For the largest projects, a review panel of experts may be appointed by the federal Minister of the Environment to hear submissions from the proponents, as well as from individuals and organizations that have been given permission to intervene in the process. Once the panel has considered all written and verbal submissions, it delivers a summary report and a list of recommendations to the responsible authority and the Minister of the Environment, who make the report public. The federal government must then decide whether to allow the development to proceed as proposed, or with required mitigations that would avoid or lessen environmental effects that are deemed unacceptable. A follow-up program may also be required, such as environmental monitoring and the mitigation of unanticipated damages.

    Once the level of assessment is decided, a scoping exercise is undertaken. This identifies potentially important interactions between project-related activities on the one hand and human welfare or VECs on the other. In essence, the scoping compares the predicted spatial (space) and temporal (time) boundaries of stressors that are associated with the proposed development with the areas where people and VECs are found. If potential interactions are identified, the assessors must determine whether significant damage is likely to be caused.

    Sometimes an impact assessment is not well funded or it has to be completed relatively quickly. In such cases, ecologists, sociologists, toxicologists, and other professionals may have to provide expert opinions about the likely importance of interactions between project-related stressors and human welfare or VECs. These professional opinions should be based on the best-available scientific information and understanding, while recognizing that such knowledge is incomplete and differences of opinion may arise among qualified specialists. When sufficient time and funding are available, it is possible to conduct field, laboratory, and/or computer-based (simulation) research to investigate the potential interactions identified during the screening process. It must be understood, however, that even well-funded, properly designed, and well-executed research may yield uncertain results, particularly about damage that might occur at low intensities of exposure to project-related stressors.

    Planning Options

    If potentially important risks to human welfare or VECs are identified, a number of planning options must be considered. There are three broad choices.

    • Prevent or Avoid: One option is to avoid the predicted damage by ensuring that there are no significant exposures of people or VECs to damaging stressors related to the project. This can be done by modifying the characteristics of the project, or in cases of severe conflicts with human welfare or ecological values, by choosing to cancel it entirely. Because prevention and avoidance may involve substantial costs, they are sometimes considered to be less desirable options by the proponents of a development. Politicians and regulators may also dislike this option since it may involve intense controversy and substantial economic opportunities may be cancelled. Nevertheless, there is always public and regulatory pressure to take as many precautions as possible before undertaking a proposed development.
    • Mitigation: Another option is the mitigation of any predicted damages, or to repair or offset them as much as possible. Because any direct damage to people is considered unacceptable (and therefore to be rigorously avoided), mitigation is mainly relevant to damage inflicted on VECs or to indirect, low-level risks to people. For instance, if the habitat of a valued species is threatened, it may be possible to move the population at risk to a suitable habitat elsewhere, or to create or enhance a habitat at another place so that no net damage is caused. For example, a wetland may be unavoidably destroyed by a proposed development, but the damage may be offset through the creation of a comparable wetland elsewhere. Mitigations are a common way of dealing with potential conflicts between project-related stressors and VECs. However, it is important to understand that mitigations are never complete, and there is often residual damage.
    • Accept the Damages: The third option is for decision makers to choose to allow a project to cause some or all of the predicted damages to human welfare or VECs. This choice is often considered tolerable by the proponents of a project and by politicians (although such a preference would rarely be explicitly stated). Their rationale is due to their perception that the socio-economic benefits gained by proceeding with a threatening project are likely to be much greater than the costs of environmental damage. From an environmental perspective, however, this choice might not be viewed as being acceptable, usually because the environmental “costs” are being grossly undervalued.

    Environmental impact assessments generally find that a proposed development carries risks of causing some degree of environmental damage. Usually, the development is allowed to proceed in some form, with the predicted damage being avoided or mitigated to the degree that is considered technologically and economically feasible. As noted previously, however, there are always residual risks that cannot be avoided or mitigated. Any damage that does occur represents some of the environmental costs of development, which are real even if there is financial compensation or other kinds of offsets.

    Once a project has begun, compliance monitoring is usually necessary to ensure that regulatory criteria for pollution or health hazards are not being exceeded. It is extremely useful, although not always required, to also monitor the ecological effects of a project. This tests the predictions of the impact assessment and identifies unanticipated effects or “surprises.” Ideally, a monitoring program for ecological effects is begun before a project actually starts, in order to establish the baseline conditions. The monitoring should then continue for some years after the project is completed, until it is determined that important damage is not being caused. If unanticipated damage is shown by the monitoring, it may be prevented, avoided by an adaptive change in the project design, mitigated in some way, or accepted as an ecological “cost” of development.

    Examples of Impact Assessments

    EIAs have been conducted in all regions of Canada, examining projects that varied widely in both scale and potential effects. Each of these unique cases is instructive, in the sense of illustrating the environmental implications of development projects and the role played by impact assessment. In the following sections, we briefly examine selected elements of some environmental impact assessments in Canada.

    Diamond Mines in the Northwest Territories

    This proposal involved the development of mines to extract diamonds from five deposits discovered about 300 km northeast of Yellowknife. A variety of potential environmental damages were identified with this project. First, some of the diamond-bearing rock lies beneath lakes that would have to be drained to develop a mine. These aquatic ecosystems would be destroyed.

    In addition, large amounts of gravel are needed to construct roads and other infrastructure. Much of this material would be obtained from long, sinuous features known as eskers, which provide critical denning habitat for grizzly bear, wolf, and other high-profile species.

    Further, large numbers of caribou traverse the region during their seasonal migrations. These are potentially affected by the mine and its network of roads. Substantial damage to the caribou would harm the Aboriginal people in the region, who engage in a subsistence hunt for these animals. Those people might also suffer from interference with their commercial harvest of fur-bearing mammals.

    Finally, the proposed mines are located in a region that was a huge, roadless wilderness. Conservationists, led by the World Wildlife Fund, objected to the approval of the mine before a system of protected areas was set up in the region for the preservation of natural ecosystems and native species, including large carnivores such as grizzly bear, wolf, and wolverine.

    The diamond-mine proposal passed its environmental impact assessment and was allowed to proceed. It was subject to stringent requirements, however, such as the implementation of acceptable methods of disposal of mining and milling wastes and the protection of waterbodies and rivers (other than those that must unavoidably be damaged to develop the mines and dispose of tailings). A ban was imposed on local hunting by project personnel. As well, a monitoring program was to be undertaken to ensure that unanticipated damage is not caused to air or water quality or to wildlife. The mine must also meet socio-economic criteria, including several that deal with employment opportunities and other ways of engaging local people (including Aboriginals) in the development. As a measure outside the scope of the formal impact assessment, the government of the Northwest Territories committed to establishing protected areas in the larger region, although this has not yet been followed through in its entirety.

    Destruction of Diseased Bison: Agriculture Canada proposed to slaughter almost all the bison in the southern region of Wood Buffalo National Park and its vicinity. Some of these animals are infected with bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis, and there are concerns over the potential spread of these diseases to herds of cattle to the south and west of the area. The bison targeted for slaughter are hybrids between the indigenous wood bison and plains bison that were introduced to the region during the late 1920s. The proposal did not include the elimination of small populations of genetically “pure” wood bison living farther to the north, and in fact, these were predicted to receive a measure of protection from the potentially harmful effects of interbreeding with hybrid animals.

    This proposal was made in support of commercially important livestock interests, but it quickly engendered intense controversy. It was opposed by virtually all conservationists and by local Aboriginal people. Although this project successfully passed the impact assessment process, it was later suspended by the federal Minister of the Environment, largely in recognition of the intense opposition from conservation and First Nation interests.

    The Hibernia Offshore Oil Development: Several decades of exploration resulted in the discovery of large reservoirs of petroleum in undersea geological formations on the Grand Banks, east of Newfoundland. An EIA examined a proposal from a consortium of companies to develop this valuable resource. A system of underwater wells was proposed that would feed to a central collecting system on a huge platform located in 80-m deep water. The petroleum would be delivered periodically to onshore refineries using tanker ships.

    The offshore waters of the Hibernia field sometimes experience intense wind, and immense icebergs pass through the region during most years. Some icebergs are large enough to scour the ocean floor. These natural forces pose risks to the production and storage facilities. As well, accidents may result from equipment failure or human error. Alone or in combination, these factors could cause a massive petroleum spill. Such an accident would result in enormous damage to the fishery, to marine mammals and seabirds, and to other ecological and economic values. The Hibernia development includes a sophisticated system of weather and iceberg monitoring, coupled with stringent spill-prevention and control technologies. These measures have been accepted by regulators and politicians as providing an acceptable degree of environmental safety. Consequently, the Hibernia development passed the impact assessment process, and it began producing petroleum in 1997.

    Grande-Baleine Hydroelectric Complex: Some regions of Canada have an enormous potential for the development of hydroelectricity. One area in which this renewable source of energy is being vigorously developed is northwestern Quebec. Several large rivers flowing into James and Hudson Bays have been dammed, allowing the storage of immense reservoirs of water. Electricity is generated at times when consumer demand is greatest.

    The Grande-Baleine Complex was a proposal to add to the hydroelectricity capacity of Quebec by constructing three generating stations, with a total capacity of 3,212 MW, on the Grande Baleine River. The associated dams would have flooded 1,667 km2 of terrestrial habitat. Other disturbances would have included the construction of roads and transmission lines to deliver the electricity to southern markets.

    This development would have had important environmental impacts. The most critical of these was the ecological damage associated with the creation of such enormous reservoirs, including the loss of terrestrial and wetland habitat, changes in flow regimes, damage to the ecology of rivers, and effects on water quality and ecosystems in the affected riverine estuaries of Hudson Bay. In addition, the local populations and movements of caribou and fur-bearing mammals would have been affected, with consequences for the livelihood of Aboriginal people living in the region.

    These and other potential effects were considered during a detailed environmental impact assessment, and plans were made to avoid or mitigate the damage to the degree that was possible. Ultimately, however, the proposed development did not proceed, not so much because of environmental concerns, but as a result of insufficient commitments to purchase the electricity in the northeastern United States. Without access to that foreign market, the estimated $13 billion cost of the project’s construction was not considered economically feasible. Since then, in 2014, the project is being re-considered due to improved prospects for selling the electricity in New York State and Ontario.

    A Municipal Incinerator: This was a proposal to construct a facility to incinerate large quantities of municipal waste from metropolitan Halifax, Nova Scotia. Some of the heat produced would have been used to generate about 16 MW of electricity (this is also known as a waste-to-energy facility). The incinerator would have been fitted with advanced technologies to control the emissions of potentially toxic chemicals, such as metals, gases, and organic particles and vapors, the latter including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, and furans. Such emissions can never be totally eliminated, however, and there is controversy about the risks to human health inherent in even minute exposures to some chemicals, particularly dioxins and furans. As it turned out, the proposal to build the incinerator was turned down by the provincial Minister of the Environment, partly because it was considered too costly in comparison with alternative methods of disposal of municipal waste, but also for environmental reasons.

    A Peat Mine: Peat mined from bogs is used as a horticultural material, and it can also be burned as a source of energy. This proposal would have developed a mine on a bog in Nova Scotia to provide peat as an industrial fuel. The EIA focused on the fact that the bog in question provides habitat for several rare species, including a carnivorous plant called the thread-leaved sundew (Drosera filiformis). This species is endangered in Canada and also in much of the rest of its range in the eastern United States. Because the bog harbours the largest of only four known populations of the sundew in Canada, the provincial Minister of the Environment did not allow a mine to be developed on that site. This was a controversial decision because it cancelled a local development initiative in a region in which the economy is chronically depressed.

    Image 28.1. The thread-leaved sundew (Drosera filiformis) and its bog habitat. The largest known population of this carnivorous plant in Canada occurs on a site in southwestern Nova Scotia that was proposed for a peat mine. An environmental impact assessment predicted that the mining would obliterate the most important population of this endangered species, and as a consequence the government of Nova Scotia did not allow the mine to proceed. Source: Bill Freedman.

    In Detail 28.1. Cumulative Environmental Effects Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a planning activity that is used to identify and evaluate environmental problems that may be caused by a proposed economic activity. According to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, this includes the need to evaluate cumulative environmental impacts, or those resulting from the effects of a proposed undertaking within some defined area, in addition to those caused by any past, existing, and imminent developments and activities. The concept of cumulative effects recognizes that the environmental effects of separate anthropogenic influences will combine and interact to cause changes that may be different from those occurring separately. It is sensible and precautionary to consider all of the anthropogenic influences when examining the potential effects of a newly proposed project or activity.

    Assessment of cumulative impacts requires knowledge of both the likely effects of a proposed development, as well as those of other anthropogenic activities in a study area, plus additional ones that are likely to occur. If all of this is known, then the incremental effects of a proposed undertaking can be evaluated for their relative importance. Cumulative effects can result from multiple pathways, and they may be manifested in physical, biological, and socioeconomic damages.

    There are a number of examples of cumulative environmental effects that are primarily ecological and have occurred in Canada:

    • aggregate damage caused to populations of migratory salmon in the Fraser River watershed in British Columbia as a result of commercial fishing in the open Pacific or in the river itself, along with sport and subsistence fishing, plus degradation of freshwater habitat through such influences as the dumping of sewage, agricultural erosion and pesticides, warmer temperatures and woody debris in streams caused by forestry operations, risks of sea-louse infection from aquaculture in coastal waters, and warming oceanic waters caused by climate change
    • incremental losses of wetlands in the Prairie provinces caused by various agricultural practices, such as drainage, excessive fertilization with nutrients, toxicity caused by pesticides, and trampling by cattle, along with drying caused by periodic droughts whose frequency may become exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change
    • losses of biodiversity throughout Canada, but particularly in southern regions, caused by deforestation to develop land for urbanized and agricultural uses, fragmentation by roads and transmission corridors, disturbances by forestry and mining, and various kinds of pollution
    • ecological damage in a region of boreal forest in northern Alberta in which there are diverse anthropogenic stressors associated with timber harvesting, exploration and mining for oil and gas, oil-sand extraction and processing, and pipelines and roads to service all of those economic activities
    • threats to the ecological integrity of national parks that are associated with the internal development of infrastructure to support tourism, such as campgrounds, interpretation centres, roads and trails, golf courses, and skiing facilities, along with economic activities in the surrounding area such as forestry and agriculture, as well as regional influences such as acid rain and climate change. A requirement that environmental impacts be studied in a cumulative manner acknowledges the complexity of ecosystems and the fact that all aspects of their structure and function are affected by a diverse array of influences.

    Environmental Legislation

    Many activities that could potentially degrade environmental quality are regulated by legislation passed by various levels of government. In addition, Canada has signed a number of international treaties and protocols that deal with important environmental issues.

    Environmental law in Canada is made extremely complex by jurisdictional overlaps and other factors. One problem is that of harmonization of related pieces of legislation among the provinces/territories and the federal government. In 1998, these governments adopted the Canada-Wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization, which was intended to achieve progress in this direction. However, that action was resisted by certain interest groups, including the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA). CELA views the accord as a mechanism for devolving federal environmental roles and responsibilities to the provinces and territories. Nevertheless, the subsequent years has witnessed a considerable devolution of federal authority in the environmental realm, particularly since 2006 during the tenure of the Conservative government.

    Environmental law in Canada is changing rapidly as new legislation is passed and older laws are modified or more specifically interpreted by the courts. One important interpretive decision of the Supreme Court of Canada affecting environmental impact assessments (described in Chapter 20) was the Rafferty decision of 1989, which made it clear that an EIA was needed for any undertakings involving the federal government.

    In addition, in 1999, the Supreme Court’s Marshall decision involved a case in which an Aboriginal person had been convicted of catching fish out of season, without a licence and for commercial sale. This conviction was overturned on the basis of treaty rights, negotiated in 1760-1761, that guaranteed Mi’kmac and Maliseet Indians the right to commercially harvest natural resources at any time of year within an extensive treaty area in the Maritime Provinces. The Supreme Court interpreted the modern resource-harvesting rights of those Aboriginal nations as being sufficient for individuals to earn a “moderate living.” The Marshall decision restored to Aboriginal people a legal right to engage in fish and timber harvests that are not subject to the same seasonal and geographical restrictions as for non-Aboriginals. The Marshall decision resulted in controversy and conflict with non-Aboriginal fishers and government agencies.

    In 2003, the Supreme Court extended aspects of the Aboriginal resource-access rights to Métis in Canada, ruling that those persons could also freely hunt and fish for subsistence purposes. Some key issues were left unresolved, such as the definition of a Métis person as well as restrictions that might be imposed for the purposes of safety and resource conservation. These aspects are being resolved through ongoing negotiations of interest groups with federal, provincial, and territorial governments. The social and economic repercussions of these decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada will take years to work out.

    Subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court in 2013 and 2014 have clarified Aboriginal rights to land tenure and resource rights in British Columbia. These cases involved proposals to build mines and oil pipelines in areas where First Nations has not signed land-claim agreements with the provincial government and as such had never ceded their rights to property in areas where large industrial developments were being proposed. In essence, the Supreme Court affirmed those Aboriginal rights. Although the implications of that decision are not yet fully appreciated (it is likely that additional legal actions will be needed to accomplish this), it appears that substantial negotiations will be needed to gain Aboriginal approval for industrial projects being proposed within their domain.

    The settlement of comprehensive land claims with indigenous nations in Canada (in effect, the modern equivalent of “treaties”) includes the formulation of suites of environmental laws. For example, such settlements include provisions that govern many aspects of resource harvesting and management, waste management, and protected areas within the settlement regions.

    An important example of the need for effective legislation concerns the protection of species at risk and their habitat. That sort of legislation has existed in the United States since 1973 as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service (2015). As of 2014, 1,330 species of animals and 889 of plants were listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA (685 of the listed animals occur in the United States and 645 in other countries, while 886 of the plants grow in the United States and three elsewhere). In addition, approved recovery plans were in place for 479 of the listed U.S. animals and 676 of the plants.

    In Canada, the conservation status of species is designated by a group of experts from government, conservation organizations, and academia known as COSEWIC (the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada; see Chapter 27). As of 2014, COSEWIC had assigned at-risk status to 721 indigenous species and other taxa (such as subspecies; only native taxa are designated). Moreover, in 2002, a federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) became law. SARA has toughened the legal provisions in support of the protection of species listed by COSEWIC. Its provisions are particularly strong with respect to at-risk species and their habitat occurring on lands owned by the federal government or otherwise falling within its jurisdiction.

    However, the SARA legislation is much weaker with respect to species and critical habitat on lands beyond direct federal jurisdiction, such as areas owned by provincial, territorial, municipal, Aboriginal, or private interests. Although there are provisions in SARA for the federal government to intervene in such cases, and to provide compensation to affected landowners, it is not bound to do so. Many such interventions would inevitably be expensive and controversial, and so far this mechanism has not been used much to protect at-risk species in Canada. Most of the provinces and territories have also passed laws related to the protection of species at risk within their own jurisdictions, or they are preparing such legislation.

    Of course, it is not sufficient to simply pass good laws that are intended to regulate actions that might degrade the quality of the environment – it is also necessary to enforce them. Between 2011 and 2015, there were 95 successful prosecutions (that is, with a conviction) under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) or the Fisheries Act (Environment Canada, 2015). There are, however, a much larger number of cases that can be resolved with softer regulatory actions, such as writing a warning letter to a non-compliant party.

    Several non-governmental organizations have taken on the mandate of advocating improvements to environmental law and policy in Canada, while ensuring that the existing laws are rigorously applied. The most prominent of these are the Canadian Environmental Law Association and Ecojustice. These organizations lobby politicians and suggest specific changes to existing or proposed legislation. In some cases they also take government agencies to court in order to force them to enforce the existing laws or to seek interpretation from a higher court such as the Supreme Court of Canada.

    Environmental Monitoring and Research

    There are widespread and well-founded concerns about severe damage being caused to the quality of the environment. In response, many nations are implementing programs to monitor changes in environmental quality over time. Most of these programs are intended to document changes that are occurring over large regions or entire countries and to help predict future variations. These efforts are much larger in scale and scope than programs that monitor whether a particular industrial facility is complying with regulations and guidelines. Most large-scale monitoring is conducted by governmental agencies, or in some cases, by non-governmental organizations. The resulting data and knowledge are used to guide decision making in government, to enhance the work of NGOs, and to provide material for environmental research and education.

    In the sense meant here, environmental monitoring involves repeated measurements of factors that are related to either the inorganic environment, the structure and functioning of ecosystems, and any intersections with human welfare. Because not everything can be monitored, successful monitoring programs depend on the careful choice of a limited number of representative indicators and on the collection of reliable data. If a monitoring program detects important changes, the possible causes and consequences of those changes are usually researched.

    An environmental indicator is a relatively simple measurement that is used to represent a complex aspect of environmental quality. Indicators are usually sensitive to changes in the intensity of stressors. For example, the level of chemical residues in species high in the food web is often used as an indicator of contamination of its larger ecosystem. This is why residues of chlorinated hydrocarbons (such as DDT and PCBs) are routinely monitored in herring gulls and cormorants on the Great Lakes, and in marine mammals in coastal waters of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic Oceans (Chapter 22). Similarly, many lichens are known to be sensitive to gaseous pollutants and so are monitored as indicators of air quality over large regions, including cities.

    Other indicators include species that are considered to represent the general health of the ecosystem of which they are a component. For instance, the population status of grizzly bears is considered a good indicator of the quality of their extensive ecosystem, as are populations of spotted owls for western old-growth rainforest, pileated woodpecker and pine marten in some other forests, salmon and trout in certain aquatic ecosystems, and orca and other cetaceans in the marine realm.

    Sometimes, composite indicators are monitored to track changes in environmental quality. These are environmental analogues of the composite indexes that are used to monitor complex trends in finance and economics, such as the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE) index. Because they allow complex changes to be presented in a simple manner, composite indictors are especially useful for reporting to the general public.

    Composite indicators of air and water quality have been developed using data for various kinds of important pollutants, such as major gases, vapors, and particulates in the atmosphere. However, composite indicators of environmental quality (or of ecosystem health or ecological integrity; see In Detail 28.1) are not yet well developed. This is mostly because scientists have not yet agreed on what the component variables should be.

    When a change in indicators is measured in an environmental monitoring program, or when one is predicted, it is necessary to understand its causes and consequences. This is generally done by using the accumulated knowledge of effects of environmental stressors on ecosystems, along with research that is designed to address important questions that are not yet understood. We can examine the linkages between environmental monitoring and research by considering several examples.

    Suppose that environmental monitoring has detected that precipitation has become acidified in some large region (Chapter 19). The cause(s) of the acidification might be understood by determining the concentrations of chemicals in the precipitation and by investigating local emissions of gases and particulates to the atmosphere. Researchers must also understand the consequences of an increased deposition of acidifying substances to freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as the implications for buildings and other urban features. At first, the research would examine the existing knowledge of the causes and ecological effects of acidification in various kinds of habitats. However, that knowledge is always incomplete and therefore it must be augmented with new research examining risks of acidification that are not yet understood. The accumulated information helps society to understand whether the causes of acidification can be controlled, and if so, to assess the potential environmental and economic benefits.

    In another example, monitoring might indicate that the ecological character of a region is changing because the natural forest is being extensively converted into plantations through industrial forestry. The ecological consequences would initially be interpreted in the light of existing knowledge of the effects of forestry, supplemented by additional research that investigates poorly understood issues. Specific research questions might address effects of the ecological conversions on biodiversity, forest productivity, watershed hydrology and chemistry, and global environmental change through effects on carbon storage (Chapters 17 and 23). This information is needed to help decision makers evaluate whether they should permit further conversions of natural forest into plantations.

    Environmental monitoring and research in Canada are carried out by various agencies. Environment Canada is the most active agency at the federal level. In addition, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans deals with fisheries and oceanic environments, Natural Resources Canada provides data about non-renewable and some renewable resources, the Canadian Forest Service provides information relevant to commercial forests, Parks Canada examines changes in national parks, and Health and Welfare Canada deals with influences of environmental quality on human health. Statistics Canada plays a key role in compiling information and making it available to governments, companies, and the public. All of the provincial and territorial governments of Canada also have comparable agencies that deal with environmental issues within their jurisdiction.

    A few non-governmental organizations also undertake a considerable amount of environmental monitoring and research. For instance, the WWF-Canada has programs that fund work on endangered species and ecosystems. The Nature Conservancy of Canada is active in work associated with conservation planning and stewardship. Universities also have considerable technical expertise in environmental issues. University personnel are not necessarily involved in long-term monitoring programs, but many professors and graduate students undertake research into the causes and consequences of environmental changes.

    Environmental monitoring programs provide society with crucial information and knowledge. Both are necessary for the implementation of effective programs to prevent further degradation of environmental quality and the health of ecosystems, and to repair existing damage. These actions are necessary if society is to conduct its economy in a truly sustainable manner.

    In Detail 28.1 Notions of Environmental Quality Environmental quality, ecosystem health, and ecological integrity are important notions that help us understand the importance of changes in environmental conditions. However, like other notions, these ones cannot be precisely defined, although it is possible to develop a general understanding of what they mean.

    Because they integrate changes in many components of ecosystems and environments, these concepts involve complex phenomena. Environmental quality, for example, is related to the concentrations of potentially toxic chemicals and other stressors in the environment, to the frequency and intensity of disturbances, and to the effects of these on humans, other species, ecosystems, and economies. Of particular concern are stressors associated with human activities, because these have become so important in the modern world.

    Ecosystem health and ecological integrity are similar to each other and, in many respects, to environmental quality. However, these indicators focus on changes that may be occurring in natural populations and ecosystems, rather than on effects on people and their economy. All of these notions involve many variables that are related to stressors and socio-economic or ecological responses. As a result, they are sometimes measured using composite indicators, which integrate many possible changes that are thought to be important. Composite indicators are not exact measurements of environmental quality, ecosystem health, or ecological integrity, but they do allow society to determine whether conditions are getting worse or better.

    These ideas can be explained by using ecological integrity as an example. Obviously, most stressors associated with human activities will enhance some species, ecosystems, and ecological processes, while at the same time damaging others. However, ecological theory suggests that systems with higher values for any or all of the following characteristics will have a greater degree of ecological integrity:

    • The ecosystem is resilient and resistant (see Chapter 9) to changes in the intensity of environmental stressors
    • The system is rich in indigenous biodiversity values
    • The ecosystem is complex in its structure and function
    • Large species are present
    • Top predators are present
    • The ecosystem has controlled nutrient cycling, meaning it is not “leaking” its nutrient capital
    • The ecosystem has a “natural” character and is self-maintaining, as opposed to being strongly affected by human influences and management

    These sorts of criteria for ecological integrity are off particular relevance to managing protected areas. IF ecological integrity is being maintained or enhanced, then a protected areas is doing its job of maintaining biodiversity and ecological functions.

    Some Challenges and Successes

    As we noted earlier, programs of monitoring and research should be capable of detecting changes in environmental quality, while also helping to predict future effects. Well-designed programs should deal with the most important known stressors or potential threats to the environment. They should measure or predict the effects on people and on sensitive ecosystems and species, particularly those that are economically or ecologically important.

    These are the simple requirements of a sensible program for monitoring and investigating environmental problems. Unfortunately, these criteria are not well met by many existing programs, and as a result some important environmental problems are not yet well understood. Consequently, they are not being addressed effectively, and they could become worse in the future. The following are some examples selected from preceding chapters.

    • What constitutes an acceptable exposure of humans to potentially toxic chemicals? Some toxins, such as metals and many biochemicals, occur naturally. How much can anthropogenic emissions be allowed to increase exposures beyond the natural background? Is any increase in exposure acceptable for non-natural toxins, such as dioxins, furans, PCBs, synthetic pesticides, and radionuclides? Or are there acceptable thresholds of exposure to those substances?
    • Is a widespread decline of migratory birds occurring? If so, what are the causes, and how can we manage the responsible stressors to repair the damage and prevent further losses of these native birds?
    • Anthropogenic emissions of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) may be causing a depletion of stratospheric ozone, resulting in increased ground-level exposures to ultraviolet radiation. What risks does this change have for human health and for wild species and ecosystems? How can the damage be prevented and repaired?
    • What are the dimensions of the global extinction crisis? How is biodiversity important to the health of the biosphere and to human welfare? Which Canadian species and ecosystems are most at risk, and why? Should Canada expend more effort to help conserve tropical biodiversity, or should we focus on problems within our own boundaries? How are Canadians linked to biodiversity-depleting stressors in tropical countries?
    • Extensive declines and diebacks of forests have been reported in various parts of the world, including Canada. Is that damage being caused by natural environmental changes or by stressors associated with human activities? If anthropogenic stressors are important, how can they be managed to prevent and repair the forest damage?
    • What are the environmental consequences and costs of conventional and nuclear warfare? The effects of war are devastating to people, their economy, and ecosystems. If these effects were better known, this inherently destructive behaviour might be avoided.
    • Is it possible to valuate the worth of species, communities, and ecological services (that is, to measure their worth in dollars) so that these can be integrated into economic cost-benefit models?
    • How intensively can renewable resources be harvested and managed without causing unacceptable risk to their long-term sustainability and without inflicting damage to other species and ecosystems?

    To deal properly with these and many other important issues, we must improve our understanding through better monitoring and research. We can illustrate the achievable benefits by examining a few “success stories” in which monitoring, research, and effective actions helped to resolve important environmental problems.

    • Eutrophication of fresh water was identified as an important environmental problem during the 1960s and early 1970s. Research discovered that phosphate was the primary cause and that the damage could largely be avoided by constructing sewage-treatment facilities and by using low-phosphorus detergent.
    • Contamination with persistent chlorinated hydrocarbons, such as DDT, dieldrin, and PCBs, was found to be widespread in the 1960s and 1970s. Research showed that some species, such as predatory birds, were being seriously harmed and that there were possible effects on humans. The toxicological evidence convinced decision makers to ban these chemicals in most countries, to the great benefit of the environment.
    • Acidification was recognized during the late 1970s and the 1980s as an extensive phenomenon causing many ecological damages. Research showed that the problem was largely due to the atmospheric deposition of sulphur and nitrogen compounds. This convinced decision makers to require reductions of industrial emissions, and that action led to some improvements.

    Environmental Literacy and Reporting

    Environmental literacy refers to a well-informed understanding of environmental issues, and it is an important societal goal. Knowledge about the causes and consequences of environmental damage can influence the decisions and choices made by politicians, regulators, corporations, and individual citizens. If appropriate, those decisions and choices can influence environmental quality in a positive way (Figure 28.1). People acquire this knowledge in various ways, the most important of which are environmental reporting and other forms of education.

    Figure 28.1. Influences on Environmental Quality. This is a conceptual model of the many influences on environmental quality, including the roles of monitoring, research, regulation, and literacy. Environmental monitoring and research provide an understanding of the causes and consequences of changes in conditions. Ideally, this understanding is based on objective information from monitoring and research programs, interpreted by environmental scientists and other qualified specialists (although their explanations may be conditioned by social and cultural influences). This knowledge is communicated to decision makers in government, who may implement regulations and undertake management activities that affect environmental quality.

    Knowledge about environmental and ecological changes is also communicated to the general public, through state-of-the-environment reporting, the educational system, activities of non-governmental organizations, and the mass media. Social attitudes regarding the environment are affected by environmental literacy, and they may result in more appropriate choices of lifestyle and a public influence on the policies and actions of governments and corporations. Source: Modified from Freedman (1995)

    Environmental literacy has a pervasive influence on the attitudes that people develop. Individuals who are knowledgeable about environmental issues are more likely to make appropriate lifestyle choices and to influence decision makers to ensure that sensible policies are implemented. In contrast, poorly informed public opinion encourages less-appropriate environmental choices, such as rampant consumerism and a wasteful use of natural resources. Environmental illiteracy also fosters the development of controversial “red herrings”, or illogical beliefs that mislead or distracts from important issues.

    An example of an environmental red herring is the common misunderstanding that many people have of the differences between contamination and pollution. Related unhelpful syndromes are known as NIMBY (not in my backyard), LULU (locally unacceptable land use), BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody), and NIMTO (not in my term of office). NIMBY, LULU, and BANANA are common views that many people have about proposed developments that may affect their local environment, while NIMTO is a frequent political response. These attitudes can result, in part, from a lack of credible information about the risks that may be associated with developments in the neighbourhood. Alternatively, NIMBY, LULU, and BANANA may result when planners and developers are insensitive to the legitimate concerns of local people.

    In addition to affecting the siting of commercial and industrial facilities, NIMBY, LULU, BANANA, and NIMTO cause huge problems for planners who are attempting to build certain kinds of environmental management facilities that society wants and needs. For example, even though all voters recognize that their community needs facilities for the disposal of solid wastes and the treatment of sewage, not many people wish to have such works located in their own neighbourhood.

    Decision makers in government and industry need objective cost-benefit analyses when dealing with environmental problems. These people have the responsibility of making societal-level choices to avoid, mitigate, or accept environmental damage. Their choices are often based on their perceptions of the costs associated with environmental damage, offset by economic benefits promised by the activity that is causing the degradation. Unfortunately, the perspective of many decision makers is that of conventional, short-term economics rather than ecological economics (see Chapters 1 and 12). Because many social controversies have resulted from seemingly non-balanced choices, the role of decision makers is changing in many countries. In addition to, or even instead of, actually making choices, these people are increasingly being expected to create an appropriate climate for multilateral consultation and consensus-driven decision making.

    Environmental reporting is one process that is used to communicate information about environmental changes to various interest groups. Such reporting should involve clear and objective presentations of information about changes in environmental quality, and should also offer unbiased interpretations of the causes and consequences of those changes.

    Environmental reporting is delivered to the broader public by various agencies, including government departments, educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, and the mass media. A governmental instrument that has been prominent since the mid-1980s is known as state-of-the-environment reporting. For a time, the federal government released well-regarded, comprehensive reports on the state of the Canadian environment (in 1986, 1991, and 1997). Most of the provinces have also released periodic state-of-the-environment reports. Unfortunately, Environment Canada has now largely abandoned this function, and in 1996 it closed down its division responsible for the preparation of comprehensive state-of-the-environment reports. Nevertheless, various federal agencies continue to make useful information about the environment available to the public. One excellent example is Statistics Canada, which makes available a wide range of useful information.

    Of course, most people become informed about environmental issues through the mass media, such as the internet, newspapers, and television. These can be effective means of environmental education, but there are drawbacks. Often, media presentations of issues are biased, and sometimes they are inaccurate. The focus is often on controversy, especially when there are unresolved issues that are characterized by scientific uncertainty. This can result in high-profile disputes dominating the environmental agenda, which can detract from efforts to deal with some other important problems whose causation and resolution are better known.

    To some degree, this approach can be counterbalanced by providing the broader public with more objective information and by fostering a better understanding of the issues. One means of accomplishing this is to ensure that environmental issues are dealt with, adequately and objectively, in the education system. Ideally, this exposure would occur throughout the system – from primary and high schools, through colleges and universities, to continuing education for the working public.

    Within all of these contexts (but particularly in schools, colleges, and universities), there are two broad ways of delivering environmental education:

    1. The first involves discrete, interdisciplinary classes in environmental studies and environmental science. Arguably, environmental issues are important enough to social literacy to justify their treatment as a primary subject area, comparable to biology, languages, literature, mathematics, music, physics, and other disciplinary subjects.
    2. The second way of delivering environmental education is to integrate appropriate case material across the curriculum. Environment-related elements can be used to assist the teaching of all disciplinary subjects, ranging from the physical sciences, through the other natural sciences and medicine, to the social sciences.

    Measures to ensure that citizens are environmentally literate are a necessary part of any strategy that is designed to resolve environmental problems. If people understand these critical issues, they will be more willing to make personal choices in support of the protection of environmental quality, biodiversity, and natural ecosystems.


    We previously defined sustainable development as progress made toward an economic system that is ultimately based on the wise use of renewable resources (Chapters 1 and 12). Therefore, a sustainable economy would not deplete its capital of natural resources, and so would not compromise the availability of those necessities for use by future generations of humans. We also noted that ecologically sustainable development would allow the human enterprise to continue, but without causing unacceptable damage to other species or natural ecosystems.

    By these criteria, the so-called “advanced” economies of modern times (such as that of Canada, the United States, countries of Western Europe, Japan, and Australia) are clearly non-sustainable. There are two major reasons for this alarming conclusion:

    1. The first is the obsession that politicians, economists, and other managers of national and international economies have for rapid economic growth, both to keep up with an expanding population and to increase the standard of living.
    2. The second reason involves the likelihood that the present size of advanced economies is already too large to be sustained for long. The rationale for these two statements is briefly explained in the following paragraphs (and is further supported by more detailed examination in earlier chapters).

    Economic growth is typically achieved by forcing both non-renewable and potentially renewable resources through an economy, thereby making the economy larger. Since about 1990, nations with advanced economies have been achieving economic growth rates of about 1-3% per year, which, if maintained, would double the size of their economies in only 26 to 70 years. Rapidly developing economies, such as those of Brazil, China, Chile, India, Mexico, and Thailand, have been growing even faster (but from a much smaller per-capita base), at up to 5-10% in some years, which is sufficient to double their economies in only 7 to 15 years.

    As we learned earlier, this sort of rapid economic growth can be achieved only as long as resources continue to be readily available. In Chapters 13 and 14, we examined many examples of rapidly depleting stocks of both non-renewable and potentially renewable resources. Such examples suggest that modern economic growth rates cannot be sustained and, in fact, will reverse themselves when crucial resources become depleted. Moreover, many scientists and environmentalists believe that the present sizes of advanced economies (such as that of Canada) are already too large to be sustained. The arguments in support of that assessment are similar to those just noted – the large, “developed” economies are maintained by the forced throughput of mined resources, the supplies of which are rapidly becoming depleted.

    It is common today for politicians, corporate spokespeople, and resource managers to assert publicly that they support efforts to make progress toward sustainable development. However, almost all of these people are confusing genuine sustainable development, as it was defined at the beginning of this section, with “sustainable economic growth.” In a resource-constrained world, unlimited economic growth can never be sustained over the long term. This is why ecologists and environmentally astute economists believe that further growth is undesirable: “Economic growth as it now goes on is more a disease of civilization than a cure for its woes” (Ehrlich, 1989).

    It is important to understand that, although they are pushing society in an ill-advised direction, advocates of economic growth are not a malevolent force. These people hope that growing economies will allow larger numbers of people to be productively employed and thereby enjoy the benefits of an advanced, material society. These are highly desirable goals.

    However, is it prudent to seek to achieve a gigantic economy that would only temporarily support a large number of people? Or would it be better to limit the scale of the human enterprise to a level that can be supported by Earth’s biosphere and resources over the longer term? Fundamental considerations in a sustainable human economy are:

    • the numbers of people that must be supported
    • the total intensity of their resource use
    • the equitability of standards of living among the world’s peoples
    • and the environmental damage that is caused

    Ultimately, an ecologically sustainable economy is limited by the carrying capacity of planet Earth for our species and its enterprise. Vital elements of a sustainable economy must include control over:

    • the population sizes of people and our mutualistic species (such as cows and other domestic animals)
    • and per-capita and total-population resource consumption

    In part, the resolution of resource dilemmas will require a more equitable sharing of wealth among people living in poorer and richer countries. This would moderate the importance of poverty as a key factor in causing environmental degradation.

    Canadian Focus 28.2. Speaking for the Fishes Many fisheries are collapsing, and the reason is that these potentially renewable bio-resources have been subjected to irresponsibly high rates of harvesting. People are deeply concerned about the ruination of vital marine resources, and about the collateral ecological damage caused by industrial methods of harvesting. The ecological damages include effects on native species, natural communities, and ecosystem functions such as productivity and clean-environment services. A number of Canadian ecologists have devoted their careers to documenting the causes and consequences of these ecological tragedies, and in finding ways to recover the degraded stocks.

    These people are environmental heroes because they are champions of both resource sustainability and the need to maintain healthy ecosystems. These ecologists work in universities, environmental organizations, and governmental research laboratories and policy divisions. These scientists are many, and only some are profiled here. All are professors who have devoted their great opportunity of academic freedom to engage in research to document and understand calamities of aquatic bio-resources. They are also engaged in honest and effective public advocacy to ensure that society moves toward a more sustainable use of its limited stocks of bio-resources, and of its natural heritage of indigenous biodiversity.

    Ransom Myers was a population ecologist who worked on ocean fisheries, initially as a scientist with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and then as a professor at Dalhousie University. He and his students undertook highly regarded research that documented collapses of fish stocks, as well as global declines of other marine bio-resources. A special contribution was to bring these important issues to the attention of politicians and regulators, as well as to the broader public. Myers was a leader in outreach from the academic community, and he helped to focus attention on the vital need to conserve both marine bio-resources needed as food as well as the biodiversity of the oceans. Fortune magazine nominated Myers as one of its “10 people to watch” globally because of his powerful influence on marine policy. Unfortunately, Myers died suddenly of cancer in 2007, a shocking event for his family and many colleagues. However, there are valuable lessons to be learned from his work, including the value of high-quality research, enthusiastic support of students and colleagues, scientific integrity, and the need for at least some professors to be engaged in public discussions of issues of the day that fall within the domain of their expertise.

    Jeff Hutchings, a colleague of Myers and also a professor at Dalhousie, engaged in research that documented the causes of the collapse of cod stocks in the northwest Atlantic, a bio-resource tragedy that had awful economic consequences. At the time, Hutchings and Myers were working for DFO, where bureaucratic interests were profiling the collapse of cod as a somewhat natural phenomenon from which the stocks would quickly recover. Hutchings and Myers publicly opposed those views, because their interpretation of the ecological data clearly showed that the damage had been caused by overfishing. They also showed that the damage had mostly occurred within the context of quotas set by DFO that were too large to be sustainable, and that were often over-ruled by politicians who used their authority to set permissible catches that were even larger than what DFO was recommending. Hutchings won a prize as a “whistle blower” for the effectiveness with which he communicated evidence about the cod calamity to both scientists and the public.

    Daniel Pauly is a French-born fishery ecologist at the University of British Columbia. He takes an international approach to his research, being engaged in projects around the world, all with the common thread of studying marine bio-resources, documenting threats to their sustainable use, and proposing management and policy solutions to those problems. Pauly is the leader of a collaborative international venture known as the Sea Around Us Project, which is using GIS (geographic information systems) to map global fisheries catches to help document and mitigate the damaging effects of this industrial activity. His work has focused on collapses of fishery resources, on risks to critical marine habitats (such as reefs, seamounts, and upwellings), and on damage caused to marine biodiversity. Pauly has won many professional awards, is an advisor to governments, and a frequent commentator in the media on issues related to the marine realm.

    Boris Worm and Heike Lotze are part of a younger cohort of professors whose enterprise is focused on identifying, and then repairing, damage that the human economy is causing to the marine realm. They work at Dalhousie University, and both are interested in Canadian and international marine issues, particularly collapsing stocks of bio-resources and damage caused to biodiversity. Like the others noted above, Lotze and Worm are engaged with a broad network of collaborators, including scientists in universities and governments from around the world, as well as many graduate students. Worm and Lotze have similar motivations in their professional life. They have a love and fascination with science and with the natural world, and a deep concern about terrible damage that is being caused to vital resources and to biodiversity.

    But neither they nor the other ecologists mentioned in this section are just complainers about these important problems – they are leading the charge to find ways to fix these problems, and are demanding that those fixes be rapidly implemented.

    Environment and Society

    All levels of society have a responsibility to protect the quality of our common environment. These obligations are a central aspect of the social contract by which enlightened communities function.

    The role of government is an overarching one, because it is empowered to regulate the activities of itself, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and individuals. Of course, many activities of government and the private sector carry risks of causing environmental damage, and there is always an obligation to avoid or mitigate damage as much as possible.

    The role of environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) is to lobby government and industry about issues, to raise public awareness, and increasingly (because of shortages of governmental capability), to raise funds that can be used to prevent and repair environmental damage. Finally, all individual citizens have an obligation to live their lives in an environmentally responsible manner.

    In the following sections, we will briefly examine the roles and activities of key environmental organizations.

    International Organizations

    The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the principal international organization that deals with environmental matters. UNEP is responsible for coordinating global environmental efforts with other agencies of the United Nations, national governments, and non-governmental organizations. UNEP also coordinates the development of multinational treaties and other agreements and periodically hosts global conferences on environmental themes.

    Other agencies of the United Nations also have mandates that involve environmental issues. These include the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

    A wide range of non-governmental environmental organizations are also active on the international stage:

    • ENGOs involved in the international conservation of biodiversity include Conservation International, the Cousteau Society, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy (U.S.), the Smithsonian Institution, and the World Wildlife Fund.
    • Those dealing with population issues include the Population Institute, the Population Reference Bureau, and Zero Population Growth.
    • Those with general mandates concerning resources and other environmental issues include the Earth Island Institute, the Environmental Policy Institute, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace International, Resources for the Future, the Sierra Club, the World Resources Institute, and the Worldwatch Institute.

    Canadian Organizations

    At the federal level, Environment Canada plays a central role in preserving and enhancing environmental quality. Its mandate includes the protection of water, air, and soil quality, renewable resources, and biodiversity. Its institutional objective is to foster a national capacity for sustainable development, in co-operation with international, provincial, territorial, municipal, and Aboriginal governments, as well as other departments of the federal government, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations.

    Other agencies of the federal government also have important environmental mandates:

    • Natural Resources Canada deals with mineral and forest resources, including aspects of the environmental impacts of mining, the use of fossil fuels, and forestry
    • Health and Welfare Canada deals with environmental issues related to human health and also has primary jurisdiction over pesticide registrations
    • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada deals with issues involving agricultural practices, including sustainability and pesticide-use registrations
    • Fisheries and Oceans Canada has a mandate to promote understanding, conservation, and beneficial use of aquatic bio-resources.
    • The Canadian Coast Guard helps to protect the marine environment by preventing marine pollution
    • Parks Canada manages national parks
    • Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada is responsible for environmental and resource issues in extensive northern regions
    • The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency conducts environmental assessments of projects involving the federal government
    • Statistics Canada compiles environment-related data and makes them available to other agencies and the public

    All of the provincial and territorial governments have agencies similar to those listed above for dealing with environmental responsibilities under their jurisdiction.

    Canada also has a wealth of non-governmental organizations that deal with environmental issues. National organizations that focus on the conservation of biodiversity include the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Nature Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and the World Wildlife Fund of Canada. Organizations with general mandates concerning resources and other environmental issues include the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, Canadian Ecology Advocates, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Energy Probe Research Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace Canada, Pollution Probe, the Royal Society of Canada, the Sierra Club (Canada), the Tree Canada Foundation, and Wildlife Habitat Canada. In addition, all of the provinces and territories have non-governmental organizations that deal with environmental issues on a more regional basis.

    Image 28.2. The Nature Conservancy of Canada is an ENGO whose activities focus on acquiring land or land-use rights for the protection of natural values. This project involved the purchase of property on an island in Nova Scotia that provides habitat for several rare plants, including the best known locale in Canada of the eastern mountain avens (Geum Peckii). Source: B. Freedman.

    Environmental Citizenship

    Although each of us individually has a relatively small effect on the environment, our collective influence is enormous. If all Canadians were to pursue a lifestyle that has softer environmental effects, there would be great benefits for all of us, for future generations, and for other species.

    Environmental citizenship involves actions that are taken by people and families to lessen their impact on the environment. Individual acts of environmentalism involve making lifestyle choices that include having a small family, using less energy and material resources, and causing fewer damages to the natural world. In addition to the many “green” actions that people can undertake, they can give moral and financial support to ENGOs that deal with environmental issues at international, national, and regional levels.

    Libraries, bookstores, and web sites stock many so-called “green” handbooks and pamphlets. These list hundreds of specific actions that people and families can take to lessen their effect on the environment. The diverse possibilities include shutting off the lights when leaving a room, turning the thermostat down to 15° or less during the winter (while wearing warm slippers and a sweater!), avoiding wasteful travel habits (such as commuting alone in a car), avoiding the use of pesticides in lawn and garden care, planting native trees to store carbon on one’s property and to provide wildlife habitat, becoming a vegetarian, and giving money and volunteer time to environmental charities (see In Detail 27.2).

    Image 28.3. Each of us can choose to adopt a lifestyle that is less intensive in terms of its environmental impact. Being a “green” person involves many appropriate choices, such as commuting by bicycle instead of by automobile. Source: B. Freedman.

    However, few individual Canadians will make all of the green choices that are possible. To do so would be to voluntarily adopt an austere lifestyle, and most people are unwilling to choose this. Instead, most will undertake some positive actions, perhaps including recycling of many household wastes, riding a bicycle to school or work, not worrying about a weedy lawn, and favouring several environmental organizations. This would be selective environmentalism rather than a fully green lifestyle. However, if selective environmentalism is substantial enough, and is adopted by many people, there will be huge benefits. Each of us is responsible for demonstrating our environmental citizenship by making as many green choices as possible and by encouraging relatives, friends, and acquaintances to do the same.

    If the citizens of Canada and other countries do not make these sensible, environmentally astute choices, the results will eventually be tragic.

    In Detail 27.2. Environmental Choices Each of us is confronted by many choices on how to live our lives, and how to influence our family, friends, and society at large. Many of our choices have significant environmental consequences, in terms of resource use, pollution, and the conservation of biodiversity. In this box, we examine a selection of “green” choices that can contribute to making our lifestyles and economy more sustainable by consuming and wasting less. Consider each of the suggested choices, and think about the environmental benefits that would result if large numbers of Canadians were to adopt them. Environmental Themes: Reduce:

    • Do not purchase more than you really need
    • Avoid disposable or over-packaged products
    • Buy products that are durable and long-lasting
    • Do not discard items until they are truly worn or cannot be fixed.


    • Be practical and creative in finding uses for disused goods to avoid discarding them
    • Use empty glass and plastic containers to store bulk food and odds and ends
    • Reuse shopping bags at the grocery store and for other purposes
    • Save cardboard, paper, string, and rubber bands for reuse
    • Pass along disused clothing, toys, furniture, books, and magazines to family or friends, donate them to social service organizations, or sell them


    • Discover what materials can be recycled in the area where you live, and then do so as fully as possible
    • Purchase products manufactured from recycled materials; this helps to develop a market for the goods


    • Do not purchase any goods or services that are produced at an unacceptable cost in terms of the destruction of natural habitat or excessive pollution or resource consumption

    Support Environmental Initiatives:

    • If you think that a company, government bureaucracy, or politician is not supporting environmentally sound initiatives or policies, complain regularly by writing letters or e-mail, or in other ways –if you think they are doing a good job, let them know that also
    • Support environmental organizations (ENGOs) with your money and/or time (as a volunteer)

    Lifestyle Choices:

    • Become a naturalist by learning to identify wild plants and animals and to understand their habitat needs and ecological relationships
    • Become a vegetarian, which allows you to feed lower in the food web and be less involved in the economy of industrial livestock rearing and slaughter
    • Live more simply by consuming fewer resources

    Some Specific Actions: Water and Sewage:

    • Use a flow-reducing attachment on faucets and shower heads to decrease the use of water
    • Turn off taps to reduce dripping, and ensure they are in good repair
    • Do not run water continuously when hand-washing dishes, brushing your teeth, washing, or shaving
    • Only wash full loads in a dishwasher or washing machine, and use the energy-saver or shortest possible cycle
    • Keep a container of drinking water in the refrigerator, instead of running the tap until the water gets cold
    • Put food scraps into the compost bin or discard them as garbage; using an in-sink disposal unit wastes water and adds excess organic matter to the sewage system
    • Reduce water use by about 20% by placing two 2-litre plastic bottles filled with water into the toilet reservoir, or install a low-flush toilet
    • Insulate your water heater and pipes to obtain hot water more quickly and reduce energy wastage
    • Do not flush anything down the toilet that was not previously eaten (plus toilet paper) – cigarette butts, disposable diapers, dental floss, tampon holders, and condoms create problems at sewage treatment facilities and litter the environment.
    • Use cleaning products that cause little environmental damage and avoid the use of bleach and fabric softener
    • If you are not hooked up to a central sewer system, use a composting toilet, which saves water and results in much less organic waste

    Energy Use:

    • Turn off lights, television, stereo, and other appliances when you leave a room
    • Use energy-efficient lights; compare these efficiencies for comparable amounts of lighting:
    • Where possible, use a pressure cooker or microwave instead of a regular oven; they cook food faster and use much less energy
    • In winter, set your thermostat to the lowest comfortable temperature and wear a sweater
    • Also in winter, turn down the heat at night and when you are away during the day
    • If you use air conditioning in the summer, set your thermostat to the highest comfortable temperature
    • Ensure that storm windows and doors fit their frames snugly, and that any crevices are caulked – these actions greatly reduce heat loss during winter and prevent cooling loss in summer
    • Install solar panels to produce heat and/or electricity for your house or office
    • If you are burning wood in a stove or furnace: only use well-seasoned fuel dried for at least six months, use a high-efficiency burner but do not excessively dampen the combustion because a smoldering burn pollutes the atmosphere, and do not burn painted wood, plastic, or garbage

    Use of Household Products:

    • Avoid using hazardous cleaning products; instead, use “old fashioned” alternatives such as baking soda, borax, and vinegar
    • To clean windows, mix 10 mL of vinegar into 1 L of water, and wipe with newspaper, which can then be composted
    • Clean sink drains with hot water containing 60 mL of baking soda and 60 mL of vinegar per L
    • Clean your oven with a pasty mixture of water and baking soda or pour salt onto fresh grease spots and wipe clean minutes later
    • Clean the toilet with baking soda and a mild detergent using a toilet brush
    • Clean sinks and counters with a pasty mixture of baking soda and water
    • Polish varnished furniture with a mixture of one part lemon juice and two parts olive or vegetable oil; for unvarnished furniture use 15 mL lemon oil in 1 L mineral oil
    • If you must use hazardous household products, inquire about appropriate waste depots and hazardous-waste collection days in your community
    • Always store hazardous products in their original containers, so that handling and disposal instructions on labels can be followed
    • Store hazardous products in closed containers and in well-ventilated places, and do not store bleach close to acid or ammonia (if mixed, deadly chlorine gas is emitted)
    • Use curtains, carpets, furniture, and other household items that contain minimal or no hazardous chemicals and materials, such as formaldehyde
    • Use low-toxic paints, stains, varnishes, solvents, waxes, glues, adhesives, and cleaners

    In the Garden:

    • Water your garden only when necessary, in the coolest part of the day (early morning or late evening), while avoiding over-watering and watering on windy days (to avoid excessive loss by evaporation)
    • Cut the lawn to a height of about 6-7 cm, because taller grass holds water better
    • Recycle your lawn clippings by leaving them in place for in situ composting
    • Use a push mower, which saves fuel, avoids pollution, and provides exercise
    • Use a mulch of tree leaves, grass clippings, or wood chips to reduce water evaporation around garden plants, shrubs, and trees
    • Avoid using synthetic fertilizer and pesticides, instead fertilize using compost and use alternative pest-control products such as insecticidal soap and manual methods of control (such as digging weeds by hand and hand-picking pest insects)
    • Rotate species of vegetables and flowers in your garden from year to year and between locations, to discourage soil diseases and pest insects
    • Plant basil, chives, chrysanthemums, garlic, horseradish, marigolds, mint, and thyme amongst garden plants, because their natural odors and root secretions repel many pest insects
    • Maintain bird feeders, as birds contribute to natural insect control
    • Naturalize your garden by cultivating native plants instead of alien species and let commercial horticultural businesses know that this is what you want to buy
    • Compost as much of your organic discards as possible, which greatly reduces the garbage put out for collection and provides an excellent organic fertilizer and soil conditioner
    • To avoid pollution, use sand instead of salt to deal with ice on your sidewalk or driveway
    • Home gardeners can be efficient and productive food producers, and even if you do not have a backyard you can obtain a plot in your community’s allotment site
    • Plant as many trees as possible to offset some of your CO2 emissions
    • Plant well-positioned trees to cool your house instead of using air conditioning
    • Collect and use rainwater for watering the garden

    When Shopping:

    • Patronize small local businesses and farmers’ markets instead of large chain stores, which helps to avoid products that have been transported long distances and keeps money in the local economy
    • Buy products that are not over-packaged and are in returnable or recyclable containers
    • Buy storable products in bulk rather than in over-packaged smaller sizes, and store them in containers that you have saved
    • Avoid fruit or vegetables that are sold in blister or plastic packages
    • Use a cloth-diaper cleaning service instead of buying disposable diapers
    • Buy products in paper containers instead of plastic or polystyrene ones
    • Buy unbleached, non-coloured, recycled paper products
    • Use fabric shopping bags that can be re-used, or re-use plastic shopping bags

    Getting Around:

    • Use a bicycle whenever possible
    • If you must drive a car or truck, own one that is as small as possible because fuel consumption and overall resource use are strongly related to vehicle weight
    • Drive at moderate speeds – a car uses about 10% less fuel when driven at 90 km/h rather than 100 km/h
    • Turn off the engine when waiting in your vehicle
    • Avoid carrying unnecessary weight, as it causes your vehicle to burn more fuel
    • Combine errands to reduce your total mileage
    • Keep your vehicle well serviced so it works efficiently
    • Use alternatives to the personal motor vehicle as often as possible, such as public transit, car or van pools, walking, or bicycling

    In the Office:

    • A tablet or laptop computer uses considerably less energy than a desktop computer
    • Ink-jet printers use up to 95% less energy than laser printers
    • Make two-sided copies when photocopying and printing, and use a machine that has an automatic “stand by” or “sleep” mode
    Image 28.4. Ecotourism is an economically important activity that depends on the local availability of high-quality natural habitats. This is a view of part of a jungle lodge in southeastern Peru known as Explorer’s Inn. It is a famous destination for naturalists because of the extraordinary richness of tropical birds and vegetation that can be seen there. Source: B. Freedman.

    Prospects for Spaceship Earth

    It is crucial that people understand how human activities cause damage to our common environment, in both direct and indirect ways. We must also design ways to prevent or effectively mitigate that damage. Over the long term, our society can prosper only if it institutes a sensible limitation on its population and ensures that its use of natural resources is ecologically sustainable.

    The coupling of population control with sensible strategies of environmental management will be decisive in attaining a sustainable prosperity for humans, while accommodating other species and their natural communities on the only planet in the universe that is known to sustain life and ecosystems.

    Try not to see things as they are, but rather as how they should be. (A principle of Buddhist thought)

    Questions for Review

    1. What are the circumstances that would trigger an environmental impact assessment, and how would the VECs (valued ecosystem components) be chosen for examination?
    2. Define the following terms: economic growth, sustainable development, and ecologically sustainable development.
    3. Give an example of environmental legislation in Canada, describe the problem it is intended to address, and clarify the roles and responsibilities of governments, the private sector, and individuals.
    4. Make a list of 10 important choices that a Canadian student might consider making in order to soften her or his environmental impact.

    Questions for Discussion

    1. There has not yet been a full assessment of the environmental impacts of a broad governmental policy, such as entering into a free trade agreement with another country. Does this mean that important environmental considerations are not being adequately considered when Canada’s trade policies are developed?
    2. Imagine that a large industrial development (such as a power plant, sewage-treatment plant, incinerator, pulp mill, or mine) is being proposed for the area where you live. Make a list of the important environmental considerations that you think should figure in an EIA of the proposed development.
    3. Consider a landscape that is being managed for the harvesting of timber for a pulp mill. What economic and ecological values would have to be accommodated by an ecologically sustainable system of land-use in that wood-supply area?
    4. Considering all you know about environmental science, do you believe that there is a crisis in the region where you live, or in Canada, or on Earth? If you do believe that there is an environmental crisis, what are the core elements of a societal strategy that would alleviate the damage?

    Exploring Issues

    1. Make a list of actions that you and your family could easily take in order to become less damaging in your environmental impact. For each action, consider the environmental benefits that would result, as well as the implications for your lifestyle.
    2. You have just been elected to the position of “Benevolent Dictator” of Canada. You will have this position of power until you decide you no longer want it, and you have the responsibility to quickly make the national economy operate according to the principles of ecological sustainability. What would be the central elements of such an economy? How would you choose to implement any changes necessary to achieve such a sustainable economy?

    References Cited and Further Reading

    1. Abrams, R.H., W. Goldfarb, R.L. Graham, L. Heinzerling, D.A. Wirth, and Z.J.B. Plater (eds.). 2004. Environmental Law and Policy. Aspen Publishers, Aspen, CO.
    2. Beanlands, G.E. and P.N. Duinker. 1983. An Ecological Framework for Environmental Impact Assessment in Canada. Institute for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS.
    3. Benidickson, J. 2011. Environmental Law in Canada. Kluwer Law International, Toronto, ON.
    4. Berthold-Bond, A. 1997. The Green Kitchen Handbook: Practical Advice, References, and Sources for Transforming the Center of Your Home into a Healthful, Livable Place. Harper Perennial, New York, NY.
    5. Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment (CCME). 2011. Scientific Criteria Document for Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life – Uranium. CCME, Winnipeg, MB.
    6. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). 2011. Canadian Environmental Assessment Act: An Overview. CEAA, Ottawa, ON.
    7. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) 2014. Environmental Assessments.
    8. Canter, L.W. 1995. Environmental Impact Assessment. McGraw Hill, Columbus, OH.
    9. Ehrlich, P.R. 1989. Facing the habitat crisis. BioScience, 39: 480-482.
    10. Environment Canada. 2014. Enforcement. and Wildlife Service. 2015. Endangered Species Program. Arlington, NA.
    11. Fosket, J. and L. Mamo. 2009. Living Green: Communities that Sustain. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC.
    12. Freedman, B. 1995. Environmental Ecology. 2nd ed. Academic Press, San Diego, CA.
    13. Freedman, B., C. Staicer, and N. Shackell. 1993. Recommendations for a National Ecological-Monitoring Program. Occasional Paper Series No. 2, SOE Reporting Organization, Environment Canada, Ottawa, ON.
    14. Glasson, J., Therivel, R., and A. Chadwick. 2007. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment, 3rd ed. Taylor & Francis, Oxford, UK.
    15. Government of Canada. 1996. The State of Canada’s Environment. State of the Environment Reporting Organization, Environment Canada, Ottawa, ON.
    16. Hanna, K. 2009. Environmental Impact Assessment: Practice and Participation. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, Toronto, ON.
    17. Harris, M. 1991. Ecological Gardening. Your Path to a Healthy Garden. Random House Canada, Toronto, ON.
    18. Health Canada. 2014. Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines. Health Canada, Ottawa, ON.
    19. Kubasek, N.K. and G.S. Silverman. 2004. Environmental Law. 5th ed. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
    20. Lawrence, D.P. 2003. Environmental Impact Assessment: Practical Problems to Recurrent Problems. Wiley and Sons, New York, NY.
    21. Marriott, B.B. 1997. Environmental Impact Assessment: A Practical Guide. McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing, Columbus, OH.
    22. Morris, P. and R. Therivel (eds.). 2001. Methods of Environmental Impact Assessment. Spons Architectural Price Book, New York, NY.
    23. Muldoon, P., A. Lucas, R. Gibson, and P. Pickfield. 2009. An Introduction to Environmental Law and Policy in Canada. Emond Montgomery, Toronto, ON.
    24. National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. 1991. The National Waste Reduction Handbook. National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Ottawa, ON.
    25. National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. 1992. Green Guide: A User’s Guide to Sustainable Development for Canadian Colleges. National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Ottawa, ON.
    26. Pollution Probe Foundation. 1991. The Canadian Green Consumer Guide. McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, ON.
    27. Trainer, T. 1995. The Conserver Society: Alternatives for Sustainability. Zed Books, London, UK.
    28. Vasil, A.. 2007. Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services in Canada. Vintage Canada, Toronto, ON.
    29. Yepsen, R. 1997. 1001 Old-Time Garden Tips: Timeless Bits of Wisdom on How to Grow Everything Organically, from the Good Old Days When Everyone Did. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA.
    30. Zygmunt, J.B.P., R.H. Abrams, W. Goldfarb, and R. Graham. 1998. Environmental Law and Policy: A Coursebook on Nature Law and Society. Wadsworth Publishers, Belmont, CA.

    This page titled 28: Ecologically Sustainable Development is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Bill Freedman (BCCampus) .

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