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Sustainable development in parts of the world where too many people must be provided for with too few resources involves a variety of techniques. Modifications must be made to current architectural practice to allow low cost construction where the methods used in the developed world are inappropriate. Agroforestry can preserve valuable woodlands while providing an income for those who live there. Permaculture and ecotourism also allow residents to gain a living from the land without the destructive practices of current techniques of exploitation.
Humans require shelter in any climate, and development requires infrastructure like schools, clinics, roads and airfields. All these things take resources to construct. Building them with the minimal possible resources allows more of them to be constructed in areas where they are desperately needed. Structures made of earth, whether earthbags, cob or traditional adobe give good results as long as the exterior finish and roof are appropriate to the climate. Where heavy rain occurs earthen structures must be protected with wide overhangs. Another option where straw grows is the use of plastered straw bales for construction. These are fireproof when properly plastered and provide substantial amounts of insulation. Coupled with similar low tech practices in sanitation, provision of water and the building of roads, such methods can make a real impact on the lives of people, especially poor people, in all parts of the world.
Trees, particularly old growth forests, do a great deal of good in the natural environment. On a global scale the help regulate the composition of the earth’s atmosphere, providing everyone with clean air to breathe. Trees provide shade to smaller plants and living environments to forest animals. They also hold the fertile topsoil in place, particularly in a rain forest setting where the shallow roots of the great trees are the only anchors the soil has. Here the cutting of the forest for cultivation almost always results in substantial erosion. This renders the soil unfit for agricultural use, and the farmers must move on to cut more forest. The scrub wood that grows back has nothing like the beneficial effect of the old growth forest that was cut down. A far more sensible practice is to harvest the products of the forest, selling nuts, fruits and limited amounts of wood to provide sustenance for woodland residents without sacrificing the forests themselves.
For land that has already been cut, long term fertility can be ensured by practices such as permaculture. This is a method where the ground is rarely broken. Perennial plant communities are designed to produce crops again and again. These may be plant products sold directly, or feed for poultry or pigs. A permaculture installation designed to feed pigs, for example, would include perennials that need not be replanted that would provide sufficient nutrition for the swine throughout the year, either as grazing or harvested and fed during the winter months or the dry season. The property would also produce food for the pigs’ human attendants and water for both and would absorb their waste products. It is not quite a zero sum situation, since the pigs are sold off the property to provide funds to purchase things the land cannot produce, but it minimizes the carbon footprint of the process of producing pigs or any other crop.
Possibly the most obvious way to protect the ecologies of the developing world is to give people who live there an economic stake in its well being. One method that has worked in some areas is ecotourism. Vacationers from the developing world travel to natural areas, usually in poorer countries, and enjoy the flora and fauna unique to that environment. Local residents provide food, lodging and other services and frequently earn a far better living than they could by utilizing destructive agricultural practices. The few remaining poachers become undesirables in their own communities, since the animals they kill are the same ones that the tourists come to see. When coupled with intensive education so that future generations of local residents can undertake the management of their land themselves, ecotourism can have a positive impact on an area’s economy. Care must be taken that the tourism itself does not become a hazard to the wildlife it tries to preserve, as when marine mammals are brought too closely into contact with boats to the detriment of their health and safety.
The direction of development for the developing world seems like a decision that should be made by the people who live there. Such choices affect everyone, however, and that gives the rest of the world not only an interest in the health of the world’s remaining wildlands, especially the rain forests and the oceans, but a responsibility to help manage them. What will come of this in the end has yet to be decided. What is certain, though, is that each decision will affect every human being on earth.
Comments (0) Jul 31 2011