Do We Really Need the Environment?

Let’s face it: most of the people in the world live in cities or communities. We live in houses or flats tucked away from the harsh natural world. We don’t live in extreme conditions, or at least not as much. Yes, we live around water, yes we breathe in air, yes we use the plants as food…but those things don’t require an environment. They just require materials.

Think of astronauts, for example. More than just the famous ‘Houston we have a problem,’ or ‘it’s one small step for man…’ actually think of them spending time in those ships. Ships aren’t planets. They don’t have a living biotic and abiotic habitat comprised of biodiverse flora and fauna. They’re just machines. 

  • A machine to purify water.
  • A packet of required nutrients to get through the day.
  • A machine to purify air.

They survive, don’t they? So, if they do that so easily, why do we make such a fuss over the environment? We can clearly live without it, so why protect it?

The water

Yes, water is essential for all human life, as exemplified by Mars and its lack of both water and plants, but on Earth, water is the cause of so many conflicts too.

The Yemen water conflict for example, or the China/India/Bangladesh conflict, or the India/Pakistan conflict. Those are just a few examples of the ones I learnt about in school classes. There are so many examples of how transboundary water conflicts take lives or up the tensions. Failed treaties that cause feuds or rifts that can last for years.

If it causes so much dispute, then why not just supply every country with the water purifying needs for its own population and be done with the transboundary rivers and that whole section of the environment itself? 

Let each country take care of purifying what its population produces, like our own little space bubbles, and say goodbye to the conflict, the posters about water pollution, the whole lot. A perfect solution no?

  • No more water politics.
  • No more international tensions.
  • No more spread of waterborne disease.

Also, no hydroelectric power plants because all the rivers would be gone…not that it matters if we don’t need an environment?

We don’t need the coral reef tourism off the Australian cost. EastEnders already has its shot of the Thames, so we don’t need that either right? Venice doesn’t really need those canals.

The 6.1 million direct jobs in America provided by rivers can be created somewhere else right? Nobody needs the $86 billion annual water-sports generated revenue, do they?

Sure, we can live like a spaceship and do away with it all, but that means no picnics by the rivers, no green grasses on the banks, or birds or fish or animals. No paying for an hour on a pedal boat and zooming around the river, or taking healthy walks by the water during lockdown…none of it, all gone. Done.

Food

Perhaps agreed as one of the best parts of the day is the meal. What’s for dinner? Tea anyone? Can’t wait for my lunch break! 

Eliminating all the pesky choices that clog up our meal plan and the unhealthy choices that cause dietary issues would save a lot of money and pain. Think about the money you’d save on buying only that brand of bread or milk or checking the dates on your fruits. One of the biggest killers in this country is obesity? So, live like astronauts and be done with all those pesky choices once and for all.

Of course, this means no farms. Imagine if we didn’t need to rely on animals for our food…would we have been so motivated to delve research into animal illness if it didn’t affect us?

Would we know that diseases can travel from animals to humans or back again? Think of all the pet dogs and neighbourhood kittens that would suffer. No going to the zoo because if it gets bad enough, what would you save…humans or the zoo?

There are in fact some rather interesting ways to forgo using a farm to provide food, 3D printing being one of them. This would be more sustainable to begin with, relating to meat products, and expands the culinary possibility we currently have.

So yes, in a sense, we could get away with leaving the environment to whatever fate it has and still surviving on a food bases, but economically, the environment was providing $38 trillion a year to the economy in 1997, so with more people benefiting and the extended work the oceans have provided in absorbing greenhouse gases to keep the atmosphere breathable…you can only guess how much it provides now and how much stands to be lost.

The Air

Quite possibly the most outlandish of my claims throughout this article is that there is a possibility we can survive without air. I’m sure we’ve all seen the Lorax and his warnings so how on Earth can we possibly consider not needing the environment when without it, we won’t have air?

Well not how on Earth…how on Mars. New machine developed by NASA called MOXIE which stands for ‘Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Laboratory’ works by extracting oxygen from the atmosphere on Mars by passing Martian air through what is described as a reverse fuel cell called a Solid Oxide Electrolysis unit.

Another technique inspired by Comets and developed by scientist Professor Konstantinos P Giapes uses kinetic energy to essentially rip oxygen off other molecules, which is what occurs on comets when affected by solar winds.

So there, we don’t even need air. This technology would allow us to survive on Mars which has no breathable air, no plants, none of the environment we protest about harming so much as it is…and yet we could make it. We could survive.

Of course, this is taking the only value of the atmosphere to be breathing, which it isn’t. Yes we can survive without the atmosphere but we would lose the protection from meteors and radiation; the natural regulation of temperatures; air pollution cleansing; water services (clouds/rain); fuel combustion (as oxygen is required for combustion); transport (planes) and tourism. In fact the estimate for the value of atmosphere was between 4,300 and 43,000 TRILLION.

So yes, we could survive without it, but in a world that turns because of money, can we afford to survive without it?

So, after all that, can we survive without the environment?

So yes, in theory it can be said that we can survive without the natural world as we know it. Food, water and shelter are the three pillars of life. 

Shelter we have already manufactured away from the natural world: hotels, cities, boats, space stations. We call them our concrete jungles, so we know we can make shelter. Food is reliant currently on farms and veg, but who knew you could 3D print food? So that’s checked off. Air was harder, needing several machines adapted for Martian atmospheres, but even that can be manufactured synthetically, yes, we have the essentials for survival.

However, plants in your office reduce stress and anxiety, walks are recommended for health mental and physical. Ecosystem services are invaluable to our economy, even though we don’t see the money they are worth.

Perhaps the real issue when it comes to saving the environment is just that: it’s really hard to see the true value of what we are losing. Converting the value of flora and fauna into money helps us appreciate some of it, but it does not do justice to the full range of benefits we unknowingly glean from the environment.

Yes, a plant produces oxygen, and yes it also produces materials (trees/food/wood). A single tree could also contribute to the ecotourism of that area, the habitat of dozens of creatures which in turn fuels the food web and provides more food security for us. If a single flower provides help to a bumblebee for example, that bee can now survive to pollinate several other flowers, increasing the floral presence and resilience in the area. It’s all linked, providing so much more than the economic equivalent in a number we can be provided.

So yes, we could survive without the environment, but what we would lose is not yet appreciated, most certainly invaluable, and most importantly, irreversible. We could do it, but does that mean we should?

About the Author: Ani Talwar can be found at @mischief.weavers, she wrote the book ‘ATRO- CITY THE FLOOD’ and is passionate about sustainability.

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