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Two environments, not one

Mar 05,2022 - Last updated at Mar 05,2022

When we in this part of the world talk about the environment, we often refer to nature and the physical spaces within and around villages and cities. We speak less, however, about the social environment, which is no less important, if not more important, than the former.

Work on both environments, not on one, will enable our society to achieve the leap forward that we have been desiring for decades.

For more than four decades, we have been talking about the environment in the first sense. Discourse here centres on several dimensions of the issue.

One pertains to the cleanliness of outing areas which we frequent in weekends and holidays, as well as the cleanliness of public spaces and roads in habitable regions.

Another is refraining from using harmful material, such as chemicals and plastic, as well as disposing of it in primitive or irresponsible ways in nature and in areas adjacent to where people live.

A third is avoiding excessive use of pesticides in agriculture and unhealthy preservatives in the various food industries, and conducting regular maintenance to all types of vehicles, machines, and factories so that they stop emitting poisonous smokes and gases which damage people’s health and contribute to global warming.

A fourth is framing the necessary legislations and putting together plans which prevent construction for housing or business needs from transgressing into arable land and natural spaces, as well as the unregulated, unorganised consumption of water, a practice which contributes to desertification as well draining and waste of precious water resources.

A fifth is the creation and sustenance of natural reserves which are habitat for valuable fauna and flora, as well as geological and topographic wealth.

Two notes about this dimension of the environment:

The first is that our interest and concern about the environment has noticeably increased over the years, and that the amount of what gets written or said by way of spreading awareness is immense indeed. And this, in principle, is positive and constructive.

The second is that what materialised on the ground because of such interest and concern over the years is little, significant but little, compared to what is expected to materialise.

As for the environment in the second sense, the social or cultural, our interest in and concern with it are way below expectations.

By the social or cultural environment, we essentially refer to society’s values, norms, and principles which govern the conduct of its citizenry, at both the individual and collective levels.

To be sure, our society does in fact have many positive values and norms of which we are immensely appreciative and proud, values such as generosity, courage, solidarity and the urge to excel and have a better life.

Nevertheless, there are, at the same time, several negative traits and several subversive practices on the ground, at the level of both discourse and action, which pull us back, prevent our progress, and poison our social environment  —  exactly as harmful material thrown into our public spaces poisons our natural environment.

For this reason and others, we call upon those in charge in the government as well as in society at large to give this dimension of the environment the attention it deserves, because a healthy social or cultural environment, just like a healthy natural environment, is crucial to our pursuit of the healthy life we seek to have.

The connection between the two types of environment and their effect on our lives are crystal clear.

Success at the two levels will only become possible through two main actions:

The first is efficient, quality school education that privileges attention to the two environments, both theoretically and practically.

The second are carefully-drawn action plans by all concerned players, in the government and beyond, that are adopted and implemented expertly.

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