Almost every day we come across the term environment in some context or the other. Everybody seems to be talking about environment – adverse effects of the environment as well as its protection. We can often hear or read articles, critical analysis and debates on various environmental issues on radio, television, newspapers, magazines etc. Global summits involving the developed and developing countries are regularly held to discuss environmental issues. The word environment is often confused with air pollution, water pollution, climatic changes; global warming etc. In addition to this the word environment is freely used in the context of social, health and ethical issues also. However, these are but a few aspects of the environment. With this we come to a pertinent question as to what is environment?
What is Environment?
The word environment has been derived from the French word “Environner” which means to surround or to encompass. This brings us to a simple definition of environment as- whatever surrounds an organism is called environment. When we look around us, we will find that we are surrounded by living as well as nonliving entities. We can also observe that we have a constant interaction with them. This extends the above definition to – whatever surrounds us and our interaction with it is called environment.
According to the definition given in Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, an environment includes all the physical and biological surroundings of an organism along with their interactions.
Environment can thus be defined as the sum total of water, air and land and the interrelationships that exist among them and with human beings, other living organisms and materials.
Environment is a multidisciplinary subject. It is due to this multidisciplinary nature of environmental sciences that a large number of issues and areas come within the ambit of environmental studies.
Areas of Environmental Studies
- Biodiversity and its conservation.
- Natural resources – their conservation and management.
- Environmental pollution and control.
- Social issues related to environment.
- Human population and environment.
- Environmental ethics.
Man has always been aware of his surroundings or environment. He has always interacted with the various forces of nature and understood their importance for him. There is plenty of evidence (scriptures and certain rituals) to show that man not only respected nature and the surroundings but also took care of the natural resources. Hence we can say that the study of environment is not a new idea. However, there has been a lot of change in the environment over a period of time. The environment in which we live today is effected by various factors like population explosion, desertification, deforestation, pollution, global warming, climatic change, loss of biodiversity, toxicity etc. This environment is entirely different from the environment in which our ancestors lived. When we talk of environment, it is not only our immediate environment but global environment as well. Any change in our immediate environment will have a rippling effect on the global environment and vice versa. This gives another pointer to the approach which should be followed in tackling environmental issues. Man has now become aware that the environmental issues cannot be treated regionally and require a global approach. To deal with the various hazardous effects on the environment many organisations of national and international origin have come up. To name some – United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Global Environmental Monitoring System (GEMS), World Commission On Environment and Development (WCED), World Conservation Strategy (WCS), World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), Scientific Committee On Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), United Nations Conference On Environment And Development (UNCED).
A new concept of Environmental Ecology has now come into form which studies deeply and critically the adverse effects of the above factors on the environment. Environmental ecology has become a study of relationship between organisms and their environments in all dimensions.
Reasons for protection of the environment.
As we have already seen that the quality of our lives depends upon the environment in which we live, hence it is necessary to create awareness about the environment:
Rapidly changing technologies lead to e-wastes:-
In this modern time of science and technology more and more gadgets like mobile phones, computers, iPad, and electronic goods are now within the reach of common people. These gadgets are mindlessly discarded after they have become useless and this leads to e- waste.
Lifestyle changes that require dependence on various types of energy sources:–
Our lifestyle has changed drastically because of our dependence on various machines which make our work easier and life comfortable. Overdependence on machines not only increases resource depletion and energy consumption but also directly or indirectly affects our health. Electromagnetic radiation from mobile towers and cellphones and toxic gases leaks from industries, noise produced by various activities and polluted water can seriously affect human health along with that of other animals and plants.
There is a sharp increase in consumerism. Increase in buying capacity of the people has lead to over consumption. No doubt, technology has improved the life standard of the people; it has also lead to wasteful life style and disposal of these items leads to environmental degradation. It is essential to educate people about the importance of environment and factors degrading it.
The earth has a definite and limited capacity to deal with solid pollutants and sustain populations.
The Importance of Environment.
Why is our environment important? We hear and read so much about protecting and saving the planet Earth. Why should we be concerned when we are also facing economic crises, wars and unending social problems as a society?
The simplest explanation about why the environment matters is that, as humans, the environment-the Earth-is our home. It is where we live, breathe, eat, raise our children, etc. Our entire life support system is dependent on the well-being of all of the species living on earth. This is commonly referred to as the biosphere, a term created by Vladimir Vernadsky, a Russian scientist in the 1920s.The biosphere refers to one global ecological system in which all living things are interdependent.
The food chain is an example of this. The sun provides light and heat for plants. The plants are consumed by animals who are in turn consumed by other animals who may in turn, be consumed by humans. Or perhaps they are used for material, clothing, etc. Even insects like mosquitoes play a role and of course bees pollinate plants.
Within the overall biosphere, or ecosystem, there are smaller ecosystems like the rainforests, marine ecosystems, the desert and the tundra. When any of these systems are disturbed, it impacts the entire planet. All of the environmental problems that exist have far reaching implications for the health of our planet and its inhabitants. For example, global warming causes a rise in sea levels which effects marine life. The rising sea levels also cause land erosion which harms the habitats of animals living by the coast. Global warming also melts polar caps and leads to arctic shrinking. This endangers the polar bears and other arctic wildlife. Since the icecaps are made of fresh water, they will throw off the saline levels in the ocean which will affect ocean currents. Furthermore, the ice caps reflect light. As they disappear the Earth will get darker and absorb more heat increasing the Earth’s temperature.
Threat of Environmental Degradation
The deterioration of the environment, often referred to as environmental degradation, threatens the earth’s natural resources such as our clean water supply, fossil fuels for energy and food supply. Many of these resources are nonrenewable so when they run out we will be forced to find new alternatives. Another reason why the environment is so important is because it is a source of natural beauty. Unfortunately the planet is in danger. Many species of animals and plants are nearing distinction. Our clean water supply is at risk and more and more of our beautiful, open spaces are disappearing as new buildings and factories are built. However, many experts believe that we can reverse some of the harm the planet has suffered. The challenge is, getting enough people to take drastic enough actions so that we can make a difference in our lifetime.
Guidance from our Scriptures
We have a culturally rich heritage. Killing of animals and plants is prohibited in Buddhism and Jainism. Vedas propound the worship of the elements of nature. Sun, moon, fire, wind etc are worshipped as deities. Our social customs and rituals make us take care of flora and fauna. Our ancient teachings preached tolerance, contentment and helpfulness, which lead to sustainable lifestyle. A saint from the 15th century-Guru Jambeshwar has preached in favour of environment conservation. Bishnois who are the followers of this saint follow his 29 commandants. Bishnois laid down their lives to protect the Khejri trees in Rajasthan. The popular Chipko, Movement of 1973 derived inspiration from the great sacrifices of 1730, led by Amrita Devi who laid her life saying” if tree is saved from felling at the cost of one’s head, it should be considered as a cheap bargain”