Conservation and…..Development - Press Release, Belize Audubon Society - Conservation and...is contributed by the Belize Audubon Society (BAS). It is meant to inform, educate and mobilize Belizeans to action on environmental issues, highlighting the interconnectedness of environmental issues with other sectors of society.

Development is defined as the act of improving by expanding or enlarging or refining. It is seen as the way to progress from a “developing nation” to that of a “developed nation”. The link between development and conservation is often thought of as controversial as many see conservation as the antithesis of development.

The reality is, however, that NGO’s such as the Belize Audubon Society do support development however, we promote SUSTAINABLE development. BAS envisions the role of NGOs as partners in developing Belize and works with any Government of the day advocating for sustainable natural resources management. Through proper sustainable development, as highlighted in our mission, we seek to balance people with the environment.

Sustainability is essential as it encompasses the capacity to endure. One of the first attempts to define sustainable development was by the United Nations in 1987 where they defined it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The idea mimics that of the Native American Proverb “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”

The UN definition, however, is not universally accepted and has undergone various interpretations, reason being that its goals and interpretations are vast. Some conservationists feel that the whole idea of sustainable development is an oxymoron as development seems to entail environmental degradation. The concept is difficult to embrace as ecological economist Herman Daly has asked, "what use is a sawmill without a forest?" From this perspective, the economy is a subsystem of human society, which is itself a subsystem of the biosphere and a gain in one sector is a loss from another.

It is as a result of this we need to promote sustainable development, which is founded on three pillars: Environment, People and Economics. We cannot divorce one from the other. It is a difficult balance, but one we strive to achieve. Without people there would be no discussion on sustainable development nor would there be any need to do so.

Unfortunately, sustainability (in all its facets) has become a catch all, a wide-ranging term that can be applied to almost anything. In terms of ecology, the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. For humans it is the potential for long-term maintenance of wellbeing, which in turn depends on the wellbeing of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources. Consequently, a universally-accepted definition of sustainability is elusive as it is expected to achieve many things. On the one hand, it needs to be factual and scientific. The definition of sustainability as "improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems", is perhaps best as it conveys the idea of sustainability having quantifiable limits.

Although adequate, the latter definition does not encompass the fact that sustainability is also a call to action, a task, a “journey” and a political process, hopefully with defined common goals and values.

The complexity of sustainability exists for many reasons but partly because of its expansive nature as it applies not only to human sustainability on Earth, but also to many situations and contexts from small local ones to the global balance of production and consumption. For these reasons and more, sustainability is perceived, at one extreme, as nothing more than a feel-good buzzword with little meaning or substance.

Sustainability is studied and managed over many scales of time and space and in many contexts of environmental, social and economic organization. The focus ranges from the total carrying capacity (sustainability) of planet Earth to the sustainability of economic sectors, ecosystems, countries, municipalities, neighbourhoods, individual lives, individual goods and services, occupations, lifestyles, behaviour patterns and so on. In short, it can entail the full compass of biological and human activity or any part of it.

Sustainable develop involves the management of human consumption of resources. Herman Daly suggests three broad criteria for ecological sustainability: renewable resources should provide a sustainable yield (the rate of harvest should not exceed the rate of regeneration); for non-renewable resources there should be equivalent development of renewable substitutes; and, waste generation should not exceed the assimilative capacity of the environment

Thus sound sustainable development is the goal. This involves resource management, proper assessment of resources before development (as this determines consumption/usage rate), assessment of environmental impact to resource—precaution and prevention being of greater value than loss of resource completely. Additionally, planning is vital to sustainable development; plans that encompass financial, socio-economic and environmental resources benefits and losses to each.

The promotion of sound development, sustainable development has to come from all sectors. Every sector of our society and economy impacts nature as such each must be responsible for wise use of resources they have come to depend upon. Belize Audubon Society has actively advocated for properly planned development particularly, in cases where development is occurring in a sensitive area or using/potentially can cause irreversible damage to Belizean natural resource. We call for developments that are properly planned and are sustainable, thus socially desirable and economically feasible with the least negative impacts to the environment.

The Bottom Line

It boils down to our vision for the country. What do we foresee for our tourism product, export portfolio, agricultural sector, energy needs, etc. all essential to our future? What form of development in the coastal area are we looking for?

The best way we can address the issues of sustainable development is through the pursuit of a holistic and responsible vision for the nation, one that is sensitive to the socio-economic realities of the nation in addition to the natural resources we are blessed with. Essentially sustainable development demands that we be socially responsible for ourselves and future generations.

It is perhaps best put by Mahatma Gandhi who said “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.” Or alternately William Ruckelshaus “Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites.” Sustainable development must be an interactive relationship between conservation and development…in essence a marriage of the two where compromises are made and decisions are made out of mutual respect and kindness from both sides.

We, as a nation, must no longer use sustainable development as a buzz word but rather implement systems for it to become a reality. To be truly functional it must be in the mindset of all involvement in the management and use of our natural resources.

If you have a question or concern that you would like discussed in this column please write to Belize Audubon Society, Re: Conservation and…, 12 Fort Street, P.O. Box 1001, Belize City; Belize City, Belize or email us at advocacy@belizeaudubon.org