“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos! “-E. O. Wilson
The environment refers to our surroundings – specifically, those that are perceived.Environmental degradation is a process through which the natural environment is compromised in some way, reducing biological diversity and the general health of the environment. This process can be entirely natural in origin, or it can be accelerated or caused by human activities. Many international organizations recognize environmental degradation as one of the major threats facing the planet, since humans have only been given one Earth to work with, and the environment becomes irreparably compromised, it could mean the end of human existence. One of the major threat the planet faces today, environmental degradation, is bound to make life difficult for all the life forms, including human beings, now or later. Studies by some of the eminent organizations reveal that the deterioration of environment is occurring at an alarming rate.
“Our planets alarm is going off and it is the time to wake up and take action!” – Leonardo DiCaprio
In fact, the High Level Threat Panel of the United Nations has enlisted environmental degradation as one of the ten threats for us and this itself highlights the fact that we are heading for a certain disaster.
Environmental degradation is a result of the dynamic inters play of socio-economic, institutional and technological activities.
Environmental degradation can be attributed to various human activities, as well as some natural processes, with the later having an insignificant share. Most of the resources on the planet are vulnerable to depletion, and the rates at which we are exploiting them have already brought some of them to the brink of exhaustion. Exploitation of the fossil fuels is the best example of this phenomenon. Other human activities which have been contributing to environmental degradation include urbanization ,overpopulation, deforestation, pollution, hunting, etc.
Population impacts on the environment primarily through the use of natural resources and production of wastes and is associated with environmental stresses like loss of biodiversity, air and water pollution and increased pressure on arable land.India supports 17 per cent of the world population on just 2.4 per cent of world land area. Its current rate of population growth at 1.85 per cent continues to pose a persistent population challenge. In view of the linkages between population and environment, a vigorous drive for population control need hardly be over emphasized.
Poverty is said to be both cause and effect of environmental degradation. The circular link between poverty and environment is an extremely complex phenomenon. Moreover, degraded environment can accelerate the process of impoverishment, again because the poor depend directly on natural assets. Although there has been a significant drop in the poverty ratio in the country from 55 percent in 1973 to 36 percent in 1993-94, the absolute number of poor have, however, remained constant at around 320 million over the years. Acceleration in poverty alleviation is imperative to break this link between poverty and the environment.
There has been an eightfold increase in urban population over 1901-1991. During the past two decades of 1971-91, India’s urban population has doubled from 109 million to 218 million and is estimated to reach 300 million by 2000.
Such rapid and unplanned expansion of cities has resulted in degradation of urban environment. It has widened the gap between demand and supply of infrastructural services such as energy, housing, transport, communication, education, water supply and sewerage and recreational amenities, thus depleting the precious environmental resource base of the cities. The result is the growing trend in deterioration of air and water quality, generation of wastes, the proliferation of slums and undesirable land use changes, all of which contribute to urban poverty.
Direct impacts of agricultural development on the environment arise from farming activities which contribute to soil erosion, land salination and loss of nutrients. The spread of green revolution has been accompanied by over exploitation of land and water resources, and use of fertilizers and pesticides have increased many fold. Shifting cultivation has also been an important cause of land degradation. Leaching from extensive use of pesticides and fertilizers is an important source of contamination of water bodies. Intensive agriculture and irrigation contribute to land degradation particularly salination, alkalization and water logging.
The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MOEF) in the Government is responsible for protection, conservation and development of environment. Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 is the key legislation governing environment management. Other important legislations in the area include the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The weakness of the existing system lies in the enforcement capabilities of environmental institutions, both at the centre and the state.There is no effective coordination amongst various Ministries/Institutions regarding integration of environmental concerns at the inception/planning stage of the project.
More recently environmental degradation effects are becoming more and more obvious in form of range of environmental issues affecting the planet. The hazardous waste let out by the industries tends to contaminate the water bodies in the vicinity, thus leaving the water unfit for drinking. Similarly, greenhouse gases, such as CFCs and carbon dioxide, let out in the atmosphere have a devastating effect on the environment, thus making the planet vulnerable to a range of problems, including global warming and climate change. Humans have seldom sacrificed their basic necessities, but lately exploitation of resources to fulfill these basic necessities itself is taking a toll on the environment.
“Environment is no one’s property to destroy; it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect. “- Mohith Agadi
As per the estimation of UN, more than two million deaths and billions of illnesses a year are attributable to water pollution. Water scarcity compounds these health problems. Productivity is affected by the costs of providing safe water, by constraints on economic activity caused by water shortages, and by the adverse effects of water pollution and shortages on other environmental resources such as, declining fisheries and aquifer depletion leading to irreversible compaction.Urban air pollution is responsible for 300,000-700,000 deaths annually and creates chronic health problems for many more people. Restrictions on vehicles and industrial activity during critical periods affect productivity, as does the effect of acid rain on forests and water bodies.
Diseases are spread by uncollected garbage and blocked drains; the health risks from hazardous wastes are typically more localized, but often acute. Wastes affect productivity through the pollution of groundwater resources. Depleted soils increase the risks of malnutrition for farmers. Productivity losses on tropical soils are estimated to be in the range of 0.5-1.5 per cent of GNP, while secondary productivity losses are due to siltation of reservoirs, transportation channels and other hydrologic investments. Death and disease can result from the localized flooding caused by deforestation.
Ozone depletion is responsible for perhaps 300,000 additional cases of skin cancer a year and 1.7 million cases of cataracts. Global warming may lead to increase in the risk of climatic natural disasters. Productivity impacts may include sea rise damage to coastal investments, regional changes in agricultural productivity and disruption of the marine food chain.
As humans dump waste products, use chemicals, and over fish in the oceans and seas, areas of beauty such as coral reefs are damaged. At times the destruction is so great that is cannot be reversed. We are killing our planet and the consequences are tremendous.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Various laws has been framed in India for the protection of environment.
i) Section 268 to 290 of Indian Penal Code deals with public nuisances. Public nuisance means pollution of air, water, blasting, excessive smoke, filth and other polluting activities.
ii) Section 133 and 143 of Code of Criminal Procedure Code and Section 91 of Code of Civil Procedure envisages that a person may approach a Magistrate and District Judge respectively by filing a complaint or petition about the public nuisance.
iii) Under Law of Torts, special damage can be claimed from nuisance maker/violator of environment.
iv) The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act’1974,
v) The Environment Protection Act’1986,
vi) Wildlife (Protection) Act’1972,
vii) The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution Act’1981
At one point of time, the damage caused to the environment reaches a stage wherein the environment can’t attain the required balance on its own. In such a situation, we humans need to step in, and ensure that the damage is curbed, and the balance is attained. Simple measures, such as conservation of electricity, use of alternative energy sources, avoiding the use of things that pollute the environment, soil conservation etc., can help in saving the environment from the threat of degradation. Environmentalists, the world over, are trying their best to save our environment, and we need to do our bit to make sure that they succeed. The need of the hour is to identify the causes of environmental degradation, and eliminate them one by one.
“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on? “- Henry David Thoreau
We need to understand the fact that we are a part of the interwoven life system on the planet, and any problems, like environmental degradation and environmental pollution, are bound to affect us directly or indirectly. Though the disaster is not expected to happen tomorrow or a hundred years from now, that doesn’t mean it will never happen at all. That being said, the onus is on us – the most intelligent species on the planet, to make such problems are kept at bay.
The impact of environmental disasters can be devastating on the social, economic, and environmental systems of a country or region as well as the global ecosystem. Environmental disasters do not recognize man-made borders, and threaten the legacy left to future generations of a clean and supportive environment. Because of the interdependency of earth ecosystems international co-operation is paramount to prevent, and when disaster strikes, respond to relieve quickly and effectively the effects of environmental disasters. Thus, Governments, International organizations and communities must work together – at all levels – to lessen the risks associated with environmental degradation and its contributing factors, such as climate change, and ensure that vulnerable people are prepared to survive and adapt. At the same time, companies, organizations and individuals must also ensure that their work is environmentally friendly and sustainable.
“We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.”-Margaret Mead
There are ways which we can help to decrease degradation in our environment. Some of these include;
- Purchase recycled products
- Conserve water
- Do not litter or toss waste into inappropriate places
- Conserve energy
- Join an awareness group
- Talk with others about the impacts of environmental degradation
- “Be an advocate to save our planet!”