By Tadrash Shah:
The environment can, very generically be defined as one encompassing all living and non-living things occurring naturally on the earth or some region. This can be literal definition of the environment, the natural environment to be specific. But today this definition does not prevail. The term has to widen to explore the unprecedented and unanticipated factors and agencies that have moved into the setting. Enlisting them is very difficult, but these are too obvious to be mentioned.
The setup that was formed to help humans sustain has been rendered so unsustainable that it is not just a matter of concern but has now turned into a subject of anxiety for survival. The environment cannot just be confounded to nature; it also includes the economy and the society, which collectively call for preservation and sustenance of the environment.
Choosing the top ten environmental problems from a plethora of the same has been a herculean task as for me. However, here we have a few:
Population: It is the first and perhaps the only issue that has given birth to a socio-economic and natural imbalance. If the resources available and demanded are accounted over a balance sheet, the credit we have taken is a lot more than what we have returned. Hence, all other social, economic and environmental issues stem from the fact that we over-populate our planet. Statistics say that world’s population has tripled in last 60 years. This has led to a huge amount of stress on all the resources that nature has blessed us with. I reiterate, all. Also socio-economic factors like poverty, illiteracy, housing, food consumption, fuel, sanitation, health etc suffer because of this explosion.
Climate Change : Climate Change was always too mild a term and this clearly is evident to all the residents on this globe. We can all see that the season cycles have changed in past few years. We see some regions facing drought and other being alarmingly flooded. Summers get hotter and hotter and winters are bone-chilling. The reason for worry is the fact that this change is not undoable in a brief span of time. This also encompasses the problems like, Ozone Depletion, Green House Effects, disrupted Nitrogen and Oxygen cycles, inherent birth of epidemics among others.
Biodiversity Burden : There is of course a loss in biodiversity which is pretty evident. There are several plants and species that are on verge of extinction. Those small sparrows that we used to see in our houses each morning are no more to be seen and the radiations from the mobile towers is the reason for the same. Some plantations and berries that could be cultivated easily in our backyards are dying and new cultivations are failing. Deforestation is the major cause and the uproar of urbanization compounds the problem. Urbanization is destroying the habitats of these species. Also unplanned growth of cities, apart from a few like Delhi, have caused fragmentation in these habitats and hence, at times the jungle animals are seen in cities, confused and wild. Else why would tigers and leopards attack humans. The nuisance of monkeys is also well known in certain cities. This loss of biodiversity is termed ‘The Sixth Extinction‘. This reminds me of a book by Rachael Carson titled ‘A Silent Spring’ where the spring is silent due to the death of birds as a result of industrialization.
Water : Said to be the cause of third world war, water is the scarcest natural resource. Let’s hope we do not see the nightmarish bloodshed once more! There are other resources getting depleted too, but there exists some or the other alternative source for them, however water cannot be substituted by anything else. Water cannot just be selfishly thought of as potable for humans. It also should be fishable, swimmable and even irrigable. Over-exploitation of ground-water has led to the depletion of the same and intrusion of salty water into the grounds near the coastal areas. Haven’t we all heard of the case of Aswan dam? What is the plight of Ganga? The river is not even swimmable now due to disposal of industrial wastes and dead bodies. Statistically, one third of humans do not have access to clean and fresh water, thanks to water pollution, water depletion and climate change.
Ocean Acidification : This is a lesser known issue. Due to the excessive emission of CO2 the oceans have turned acidic and thus are posing problems for the aquatic life forms and the food chain. About 1/4th of CO2 produced every year by human activities is dissolved in the oceans. This decreases the amount of carbonates in water and hence creates similar effects in marine life as osteoporosis does in humans. The shells and skeletons dissolve completely. Now, the point for our concern is the fact that if oceans also turn acidic our ideas of processing ocean and sea water to make them fit for human consumption would go to waste.
Pollution : Air, water, soil and other lesser known forms of pollution have the most adverse effects. There are a few toxic substances that pollute these environmental components. What is even worse is that these toxic substances conveniently flow across the environmental components. Industrialization and urbanization is the prime source. I shall give you an example here: In a particular area in Ahmadabad, which is close to the sewage treatment plant, the amount of acidity in the air is so high that people are faced with respiratory troubles and pure metals like copper are known to get rusted and dissolve easily. Improper waste disposal is also another cause of concern.
Deforestation : On a historical note, it has been recently found that the cause of fall of the Mayan civilization and the Khmer Empire was singly due to the effects of deforestation. Since 1990, half of the rain forests have been cleared. Increasing the suburbs of all the cities causes deforestation. Thousands of trees are cut down to broaden the highways to accommodate the ever increasing traffic. It should be noted that there efforts made towards tree plantations, but the method has not shown any substantial positive results. Agricultural lands are also converted to industrial lands at cheaper costs and are thus getting depleted. If this continues for a prolonged period of time then the problem of food would arise. There are techniques like green houses for agriculture being adopted for better and greater crop yield but the initial investment in these techniques is so high that a farmer can seldom afford them.
Energy : This is one area where a lot of entrepreneurial options are coming up and the future seems not all that doomed as of now, provided the opportunity is grasped firmly. Conventional sources of energy are no more sustainable so we need to turn towards renewable sources of energy. But the major drawback is the initial investment. Petrol, these days, is no less than a priceless possession of gold and diamonds. I still remember my school textbooks where petrol was nicknamed ‘The Black Gold’. Either we need to change our outlook towards the usage of fuel or the fuel itself. If we change both, prosperity is bound to follow.
Health Care and Sanitation : With the ever increasing population and the shortage of housing, there is this major challenge of providing proper sanitation to the citizens. More so in the rural sector where the construction is typically unstandardized. Also due to pollution there are number of diseases which have made their way owing to the mutation of viruses in an unstable environment. Who had heard of H1N1 flu, Chikungunya, and other such diseases in the past? There is certainly a lot of development in the health care industry but we have failed to contain health problems because we have not been able to provide proper sanitation.
Us : This is actually out of context. But yes, we are the ones who have by far been negligent towards the environment. The commitment to do our bit would be the greatest gift ever. We have always believed that nature is at our command to fulfil our needs and have always ignored the call for co-existence. The Government and United Nations policies are merely guidelines and abiding by those is at our disposition.