An interview with Mr. Vladislav Smrž, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Environment of the Czech Republic
What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue today and why?
There are a number of interrelated problems, out of which climate change has definitely captured most of the spotlight in the past decade. In my mind, these issues are often a symptom of one problem, excessive resource consumption, which creates large quantities of waste and by-products. In the Czech Republic, we are particularly concerned with plastic pollution and are accelerating our efforts to tackle it. Plastics as a material have helped human society advance significantly in areas such as medicine, construction and energy. At the same time, the speed at which plastic production, consumption and pollution has expanded is unprecedented. An estimated 9 billion tonnes have been produced in the last century, with only 9 per cent of them recycled. At the same time, the durability of the material has become a curse through its inability to decompose naturally.
The resulting waste has devastating impacts on natural ecosystems and is also very costly to human economies, with economic damage to marine ecosystems alone reaching US$13 billion annually. This is why we have introduced our national initiative #dostbyloplastu (Enough plastic!), which works with municipalities, private sector companies and the public to phase out single-use plastics wherever possible and build a culture of conscious consumption.
If you could create an invention to help our planet, what would it be?
It is very difficult to pick just one but I would focus on construction made from living plant material. For example, imagine that a building is made (grown, effectively) from living plant tissue, and is capable of powering itself through photosynthesis. This would revolutionize rainwater management and flood-control in urban areas, with many other advantages as well. The resulting fluorescence could also be utilized for additional lighting when needed. It would also be an ironic twist in which we could live on “trees” while still maintaining a healthy standard of living.
How would you encourage the public to support environmental causes while promoting a higher standard of living? Is it possible to achieve both?
We are at a stage where any further degradation of the Earth’s environment is going to undermine the economic base on which the well-being of the human population is founded. The adverse socioeconomic effects always start with the most disadvantaged segments of the population and would cascade further up into the “middle class” on a global scale. In many parts of the world, climate change is making agriculture more difficult and marine pollution is choking the blue economy. In our case, it can be seen in rising healthcare costs associated with air pollution and the effects of the instability caused by displacement of peoples from more fragile parts of the world. Ultimately, sustainable protection of the environment always pays for itself, it is just a matter of making the right connections.