Laws are put in place for many reasons. Some are for the public good, health, and protection. Others are put in place to avoid other forms of harm. Environmental laws are enacted inside borders and as transborder measures for many reasons with public health and resource protection being amongst the most common.
For Health of Current Generations
Healthcare is an expensive business no matter where you are in the world. Some of the world’s oldest environmental protections were designed with human health in mind. The Clean Air Act is an excellent example of this following the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. Although focused on ecology, areas of the book touched on human health and the damage that industrial activity of the past 100-150 years was doing to our lives. Even today, people who live in the most heavily industrialized areas tend to suffer more health issues (8) and more longer-term health problems too. It’s vital that we clean up the air, water and other aspects of the environment to improve their health.
For Health of Future Generations
It isn’t just the health of current generations about which we need to be concerned. Our children and their children and so on will experience the growing cost of healthcare (9), sometimes due to environmental reasons, leading to greater instances of some conditions. All over the world, even in countries where there is socialized healthcare, instances of health problems and the costs of implementing a health system continue to increase. It is the mission of some environmental health laws to preserve future generations against further costs, the mitigate problems now, for ensuring a healthier populace and environment. We are also seeing new emergent diseases in areas that never experienced them before and greater instances of existing diseases where they are prevalent but controlled. Some of the reasons are believed to be ecological in nature with warming air and damper environments encouraging virus replication or the species that carry them such as mosquitoes.
Maintaining Resources and Lifestyle
In many ways, environmental laws are a form of insurance policy for the future for such things as food and water security, resource protection, energy, and ecological balance (10). Fossil fuels are a depleting resource and though many metals are finite, they could potentially last centuries. There will come a time when certain resources are gone and that’s why it’s important to ensure we use as few of them as possible and take out insurance policies. Fishing rights are one of these issues. Overfishing in many parts of the world not just damages our food supply and the industry, but has the potential to upset the ecological balance of the oceans. That’s why many countries have agreed to fish quotas.
The importance of protecting ecology cannot be overstated. The food chain, the water cycle, our resource security all depend on how well our environment is protected (11). Any upset to this balance such as a resource depletion or removal, the introduction of an invasive species, damaging tree cover and uncontrolled emissions can cause long-term and wide-scale problems for an environment. We are already seeing the depletion of the ice caps and rising sea levels. Dilution of salts in our oceans can affect the ecological balance of that ocean. We also know that the jet streams and oscillations can change with atmospheric carbon, leading to erratic long-term weather changes which can also cause imbalances elsewhere. Global ecology is a network that transcends national interests and borders.