Is Earth a safe place to live?

“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
-Henry David Thoreau, Familiar Letters
The quote above speaks volumes about the topic in hand and points us at the right direction -our roots of existence, the very cause that lets us survive- the environment we live in, our planet earth, the only planet which supports life for humans. Is it too much to ask for – to save your only home?
Environmental problems have moved far from a distant threat affecting humanity to a grim reality facing us. It would be an understatement, if I say that environmental concerns deserve our attention because it has become the need of the hour. The stories and campaigns about the ill and adverse effects has now become a rancorous call from environmentalists and green service organizations. In lieu of the fast growing population and its needs to survive we must ensure sustainable sources of natural engagement and adapt ourselves as history has shown us time and again the days are not far when we will be face disastrous punishments as a reactive impact of nature’s fury.The most developed of nations; the most technological advanced countries have bent knees and given up hopes when faced with forces of the nature and their derivatives. 
Before we understand why should we be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to protecting the environment, let us first realize why do we need to do it in the first place? Some key facts with respect to the environment which force us to trigger an alarm and work for its cause are as below:
  • In 1995 over 200 of the world landfills were full.
  • Each person throws away approximately 4 pounds of garbage per day.
  • Approximately 5 million tons of oil produced in the world each year ends up in the ocean.
  • Every ton of paper that is recycled saves 17 trees, 2 barrels of oil, 4100 kilowatts of energy, and 3.2 cubic yards of landfill space and 60 pounds of air pollution.
  • 14 billion pounds of trash is dumped into the ocean every year.
  • 84% of all household waste can be recycled.
  • More than 1/3rd of all the energy is used by people at home.
  •  Most families throw away 88 pounds of plastic every year.
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a swirling vortex of waste and debris in the Pacific Ocean. This area is twice the size of the continental US and is believed to hold almost 100 million tons of garbage.
  • The human population has grown more in the last 50 years than it had grown in the previous 4 million years.
  • One in every four mammals is at risk of extinction- 78% of marine mammals are threatened by accidental deaths such as getting caught up in fishing nets intended for other species.
  • At least 50 million acres of rainforest are lost every year, totaling an area the size of England, Wales and Scotland combined.
  • Average temperatures will increase by as much as 12 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the 21st century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at current pace.
  • Only 11% of the Earth’s surface is used to grow food.
  • If every newspaper was recycled, we could have saved about 250000000 trees each year. Unfortunately only 27% of all American newspapers are recycled.
  • By using renewable energy sources to provide your daily energy needs we can decrease CO2 emissions with 20000 pounds less of carbon dioxide each year, including 50  pounds of nitrogen oxide less and 70 pounds of less sulfur dioxide omitted into our atmosphere.
  • According to National Academy of Sciences there are 27 oil spills every day somewhere in the waters of the worlds.
If I tell you that due to industrial pollution, mining and transporting species into habitats where they had not been  leads to consequences like:
  • One billion people in the world have no clean water.
  • Two billion people have inadequate sanitation.
  • One and a half billion people (mostly in large industrialized cities) breathe air that is dangerous or unhealthy.
  • Whole countries are on the verge of famine.
Our lakes and oceans have become dumping grounds for dangerous chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, oil and refinery products, industrial wastes and heavy metals). These concentrate in food chains (mercury in fish). The United Nations World Conservation Monitoring Center predicts the 25 % of all the earth’s species of mammals and 10% of birds may become extinct in the next 30 years.
Nations’ are becoming aware of their roles and responsibilities and are realizing the greater roles they need to play in this regard. Though the Mayan calendar predictions have come false and the world did not come to an end but the day is not far when man creates an environment in which all resorts would be rendered helpless. The activities that are disturbing the natural cycle have to be curbed and restoration measures have to be taken up pro-actively else the sweet and slow poison of environmental degradation would consume or burden us all.
People don’t like to be ridiculed as “tree huggers” or”environmental wackos” but we need to understand our responsibilities sooner than ever before it gets too late. Ecosystems are complicated and complex and any attempts to manipulate the unintended may lead to disastrous consequences. A change in any one niche is likely to affect other niches and their occupant species. There was extinction then and no second chance. It has happened before and can happen again.
There are three types of responses against the varied perception of environmental issues:
  • Some believe that environmental concerns is the business of rich countries which cause most of the pollution and that it will become an issue only when the underdeveloped countries reach the levels of production and consumption of the industrialized nations.
  • The second argument is that the environmental conservation is diverting attention from the problems of the poor. They would prefer development of the poor at the cost of environmental conservation. But they again forget that the poor would get the worst of everything including the harmful effects of pollution due to industrialization and urbanization. The Bhopal gas tragedy was an eye opener in this regard where thousands of poorest of poor people died, they were worst affected by impure drinking water, insanitary living conditions, disease and so on.
  • The third argument is the age Old Testament which points that population pressure leads to environmental degradation. It needs to be clear that it is not the poor deprived of resources responsible alone or the population which can be blamed upon.
As far as our own country is concerned, India is an active member as the Conference on Human Environment organized by the United Nations Environment Programmes.India is also an original signatory to the protocol adopted at the UN conference in Stockholm in 1972. 
Even constitutionally we have the following provisions under Article 48A and Article 51.
  • Article 48A states that –“The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wildlife of the country”.
  • Article 51 states that-“It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures”.
But all these would be rendered helpless if there is a lack of awareness amongst the public in general. The active participation of people is required in order to make a difference just like single drops of water can fill a pot or empty it out. Similarly, little extra and concentrated effort might change the whole scenario. The facts stated above make it very clear that recycling and proper waste disposal can indeed create a sustainable impact.
It is high time when the masses need to be mobilized both in prayer and action in across all boundaries and demographies of the world to fight against environmental pollution and also to bring a wave of change which would safeguard the future of mankind and help make a difference to the world: our worldas we call it.
[The article has been written by Priyo Ranjan. He is presently pursuing his MBA from XISS, Ranchi.]

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