In the universe, perhaps the earth is only known planet to have livable environment for the animal and plant life. Till about the end of the nineteenth century, there was a perfect harmony and balance between the nature and human populace but things started rapidly changing in the twentieth century. With advent of the modern comforts thanks to the science and technology as also growing consumerism among the human population, the environment has gradually deteriorated posing threat to very survival of the planet.
Undoubtedly, the man is main culprit for the indiscriminate use or misuse of natural resources. Consequently, we are fast losing natural resources including fossil oils and coal reserves, depleting vegetation cover and forests and destroying wild life including some rare species. Unchecked human activities have even led to widening of the Ozone hole, rising sea level and melting of glaciers and ice caps in high mountains and Antarctica. The danger of global warming is looming large which may lead to severe climatic changes over the years. Of course, the worst impact of these activities is on the environment and in turn on the man himself as various health hazards and disasters. If the trend goes on unabated, the much talked about doom day in theology may not be far from the mother earth.
Broadly, major harmful environmental issues relate to climatic changes, pollution and continuous degradation of environment and depletion of natural resources.
Climatic changes may inter alia include global warming, disturbed season cycle, rising sea level, greenhouse gas effects, floods, melting of glaciers etc. Phenomenon of global warming is being observed world over and it may severely affect weather pattern, decrease glaciers and lead to rising sea levels with far reaching implications not only on human health and well being but also weaning vegetation and wildlife at large. The way fossil fuels have been burnt for energy usage over the years, on one hand it contributing to the rising pollution level and global warming, on the other hand it may leave future generations high and dry. Rising pollution level and warming may have adverse impact on ecosystems too in terms of bio-security, bio-diversity, habitat destruction, marine pollution and fishing, deforestation, resource depletion, endangerment and extinction of species.
Deteriorating quality of air and water due to airborne, soluble and particulate pollutants pose serious health hazards like asthma and other respiratory diseases, leukemia, birth defects and disabilities, genetic disorders and mutations, harmful radiations, lead poisoning. Hydrology changes impact flooding, landslides and erosion of soil leading to loss of life, property and fertility of soil. Indiscriminate use of chemical, fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides is impacting the nature and quality of agriculture soil posing the issues of land degradation, infertility and adulterated farm produce including fruits and vegetables.
Indiscriminate exploitation and use of ground water and water pollution by dumping industrial and municipal wastes in rivers, lakes and other reservoirs is increasingly posing issues like potable water crisis and groundwater recharge, threat to aquatic life, marine pollution due to ocean dumping, oil spills and debris, acid rains etc. Constant and large scale use of coal, naphtha, oil and other energy sources is raising air pollution to an unacceptable limits making atmospheric air loaded with particulate matter, Sulphar, Nitrogen and Carbon gases, and other volatile organic compounds which are serious mental and physical health hazards to human and other living beings.
The large scale mining to extract coal, oil and other natural resources by removing green cover is another serious threat to environment resulting in deforestation, drought, flood, landslides and other natural disasters. While many ambitious nations are constantly pursuing programmes to tap nuclear energy for its peaceful and war potential, not enough is being done for the safety and security from the nuclear fallout in terms of leaked nuclear radiation and accidents besides radioactive waste management. It poses a real and deadly threat for the environment and living beings.
While increased nutrition and living standards, medical health and sanitation measures have improved longevity of human life world over, enough has not been done to control the human population. This is creating serious imbalances in gender ratio, distribution of commodities, water and energy crisis, poverty and even burial problem.
While the large scale industrial and manufacturing activities have brought significant material comfort for the human race, it is also posing serious threats and issues relating to disposal of toxicants and wastes. Toxicants inter alia include toxic heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, asbestos, expired explosives, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, radioactive substances, harmful gases from coal industry, volatile organic compounds and so on so forth. Wastes include human litter, kitchen garbage, electronic, medical and other toxic waste, landfill, marine debris, exported hazardous waste etc. The above mentioned toxicants and wastes are only illustrative and not comprehensive. If not properly disposed of, which is so often the case, these substances pose serious threat as environmental pollutants and health hazard.
There have been numerous incidents of accidents and disasters due to toxicants and wastes, including radioactive substances, in the world over during the past. A recent incident of contamination of steel scrap with radioactive substance in Delhi could be illustrated as a case in point. The incident led to the death of one person and another 7-8 of them fought a gruesome battle for their life for days. It was found much later that the radioactive cobalt was mixed up with the scrap due to human error and ignorance. The incident underlines the ground realities in India, and perhaps in respect of other similarly placed nations too, and the threat it poses to workers in terms of their chances of exposure to radioactive and other toxic materials.
Then many of us may be aware of the gaseous Ozone layer in the upper layer of atmosphere (i.e. the stratosphere) above the earth surface and how it protects life on the earth by absorbing the ultra-violet radiation from the Sun. It has been scientifically observed that the ultra-violet radiation is linked to skin cancer, genetic disorder and suppression of the immune system in living organisms besides affecting productivity of the agricultural crops. Release of substances like chlorofluorocarbons, halons, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform and methyl bromide in the atmosphere deplete and damage Ozone layer. These substances are commonly used in refrigerators, air-conditioners, aerosols, foam, fire extinguishers etc. as also as cleaning electronic equipment.
These are some of the more important factors responsible for the environment degradation. Mostly they are manmade or man-induced threats facing the planet today. Besides, the emission of greenhouse gases is also causing a major concern and attention these days. In the past, the industrialized and rich nations were mainly contributing to such emissions and were expected to take remedial measures. Now with the rapid growth in industrialization and manufacturing activities in the counties like China and India, they too need to increasingly share responsibility to take effective measures to reduce the greenhouse gases effect.
Thus top environment concerns include climatic changes due to human activity, weakening of Ozone layer, global warming, energy security due to depleting fossil fuel reserves and lack of commensurate investment in alternative energy sources and explosion of human population (already crossed six billion mark) world over competing for the same available resources. Till recently, the consumption pattern in Europe and North America had remained undisputed with their supremacy in world politics, but now more developing regions and power centres are emerging in the form of countries like China, India, Russia and Brazil posing more challenges due to growing consumerism and geopolitical interests in the times ahead. One can safely infer that a small population world over in the developed countries is accounting for more than eighty percent of consumption expenditures. Growing consumption pattern and resultant rivalry among nations is likely to increase social and political conflicts in time to come leading to serious security concerns not only for environment but also for the very survival of the planet.
The contamination of drinking water has direct bearing on the health and sanitation. Water pollution affecting rivers, lakes, oceans and other fresh water reservoirs due to household waste, industrial discharge, ocean dumping, oil spills etc. is posing threats to plant and animal life, acid rain, ocean acidification etc. Soil contamination by wastes, pesticides, other farm chemicals and lead; poaching and loss of natural habitat endangering flora and fauna resulting in extinction of species and break in food chain are other emerging threats to environment and planet.
The environmental problems have become so complex that many people feel they cannot be salvaged. Now the question arises as to what as an aware and sane citizen we should do to save our environment and, in turn, planet earth. There are areas where intervention of the government, groups and corporate bodies globally would be necessary. Then there are areas too where we as individual or community can work to make a difference. Some such areas and measures are enumerated in the following lines:
As mentioned, human population has already reached over six billion people who are competing for the same space and resources world over. First and foremost, it is necessary that we as educated citizens adopt family planning norms and also educate less aware people about the need and benefits of adopting such norms. Some legislation or norms and incentives have already been fixed by many governments in this regard, they need to further review and revise it for effective implementation from time to time.
Environmental pollution by Carbon emissions and particulate matter could be minimized by optimizing use of mechanical transport. As for as possible, the public transport should be used for long distances travel and bicycle or walk should be preferred for short distances. The government should work on priority to create requisite public transport infrastructure in areas where it is lacking. This will help our dependence on petroleum products and minimize aviation emissions. A resolve by each person not to use car one day in a week and for manageable short distances can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a significant level. By using buses or car pools to school and workplace, students and office goers can save fuel as also contribute to reduction of both traffic and air pollution.
Energy needs and its efficiency could be dramatically improved by the cost-effective small-scale generation at home, particularly through solar panels and wind turbines. In fact, for the individual households it could be a source of revenue too by using smart energy meters if they are able to produce surplus electricity for injection into the grid. Similarly, they can save a lot of energy by using energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, and other electrical appliances. This will relieve pressure on consumption of coal and other fossil fuels which are a major cause for pollution and global warming too. On their part, the Government could ensure better incentives to people taking energy efficient measures at home.
We must cultivate a habit of switching off light, fan, air conditioner and other appliances when we are going out or not in use. Even computers should be switched off instead of keeping in sleep mode when we are not using them or away for long hours.
Every household may aim for a ‘zero waste’ culture and harvesting of rain water for optimal use to reduce dependence and pressure on municipal support. As for as possible, the dependence on bottled water should be minimized. One can set up a compost bin near house. Compost, particularly in rural and semi-urban areas, can significantly reduce solid waste besides it is a useful natural fertilizer.
We must take special precaution and care by not dumping chemicals or non-biodegradable substances in landfill. They are harmful to animals and plants, besides they may also contaminate our potable water. Due to human error and carelessness, at times cattle and other domesticated animals consumes polythene bags with residual food and harmful substances only to die a painful death later.
An average household can contribute to the cause of ‘save environment – save planet’ in numerous ways by optimizing use of electrical appliances, water, food substances, clothes, electronic gadgets, paper, paper napkins, diapers, batteries and many other miscellaneous objects. For those who are predominantly non-vegetarian, even one meal without meat in a week would go a long way to save environment and planet.
Besides, a lot of awareness and action is needed at the individual, community and government levels to save forests, wildlife and environment in an endeavor to save planet from global destruction.
We are all aware that we get oxygen, food, medicines, and wood for furniture and shelter from the plants and trees in forests. Besides, they keep balance of the climate, weather and atmosphere by protecting us from heat, cold and heavy rains. A majority of environmental problems today are attributable to deforestation due to indiscriminate exploitation of forests. We must save and conserve forests and plant more trees for our own future safety and well being.
Truth is the planet belongs to all living beings and that the man came on earth much later. Through their intellect and skills, humans have dominated, overpowered all other living beings besides killing and using them at ease. Many species, including animals and birds, have become extinct or facing the threat of extinction. As a matter of fact, all living organisms together form the environment, ecology and food chains. If the ecology and food chains are disturbed, the environment is at stake and very survival of human beings is in question. Hence it is necessary that we save, protect and conserve wildlife for our own future good.
Too much human interference has rendered the nature and natural resources under the threat of destruction. As mentioned earlier, the Ozone layer is depleting, ice is melting at poles and high mountains, sea levels are increasing, global warming is taking place. Climate is showing erratic pattern every year with heavy rains or no rains, heat waves, cold waves, floods and other disasters. It is high time now that we realize long term consequences of these changes in nature and must come together as individuals, community and government to take necessary measures to save the environment and planet.
The usual approach of expecting the government to do everything may not work. As there is a saying ‘it is better late than never’. If only every aware citizen decides to do his part and, to the extent feasible, educate ignorant people to work keeping their home and surrounding air clean, our water unpolluted and our forests and wildlife safe, we still have a hope for the environment and the chance for survival of the planet.
Image (c) gettyimages.com