Our solar system is 4.568billion years old and we, human beings, evolved here as late as 200,000 year ago. Agriculture civilization started nearly 10,000 year ago. Since then we have been using the natural resources of mother earth. Since 1760s, after the advent of industrial revolution, the rate of use of resources has increased tremendously. Population explosion in the developing world also has taken a toll on the limited resources. Better medical facilities and control of epidemic has also contributed to increase in population. The strain on limited mineral and agricultural resources is a cause of concern. The extravagant use of these limited resources without a thought will render the lives of our future generation difficult. Sustainable development will help us to pass to our children what we have inherited from mother earth. Industrial revolution started in 1760s. It brought with it luxuries of life. The power of steam engine rendered use of manpower uneconomical and helped increase the productivity. The sustained increase in GDP of the
Western world was an economic feat which had never been discussed even theoretically. Steam powered engines helped in easy transportation of men and material to far away land through sea and rails. But with increased luxury came a price for which the world was not ready. The indiscriminate cutting of forest for dwelling and industrial use decreased the forest cover and affected the habitat of wildlife leading to extinction of many species and bringing many species in endangered list. The increased carbon dioxide was a result of decrease in forest cover and emission from industries. Use of refrigerants had an adverse affect on the live saving ozone layer. The smoke and fly ash from the industry, the deafening noise of the machines, recurring accidents in the industry caused grave loss of limb and life. The chemicals rendered water, air and land unusable. Increasing use of fertilizer lowered productivity of the land. The effluents from the industries were dumped into rivers affecting and killing numerous riverine flora and fauna. Land fill sites polluted the underground water. Increased use of pumps led to lowering of water table. These resources which should and could have been passed to our future generation unaffected were deteriorated and destroyed due to indiscriminate use of resources beyond sustainable levels. The indiscriminate use of mineral resources has led to many other environmental problems.
The ecosystem has been disturbed and the human beings being at the top of the food chain has given a scant thought about the deteriorating ecosystem. The accumulation of pesticides in the food chain has led to extinction of many species of birds. Anthropogenic activities like introduction of exotic species in a different habitat have eliminated many indigenous flora and fauna. Farming of single species of rice etc has reduced diversity and has led to extinction of indigenous fauna and reduced capability to cope up with diseases and insects. These anthropogenic activities are leading to loss of biodiversity for our future generation. Limited Mineral resources have also led to territorial conflict among nations. Colonisation was result of such greediness. World Wars have been fought over control of colonies and thus their resources. Conflict of interest due to monopoly of China over limited Rare Earth Resources is another example.
Clamour for the scant resources have led us to find other forms of energy sources. One of such resources has been the nuclear energy. Though a potential for huge energy resource, the risk associated with the storing of fissile material and used fissile material has posed great challenge. Also, nuclear accidents like The three Mile Island , Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents have questioned the safety of such installments. The nuclear contamination can be carried far away with the winds and can cause cancer and mutation in large number of living species. A nuclear war can also render earth inhabitable for our future generation.
A large amount of research is going on in renewable sources of energy. Hydropower, wind power, solar power, geothermal power, tidal power etc are a few names. With exception of Hydropower, other sources are not economical. Hydropower also poses problems of submergence of arable land, floods and rehabilitation of displaced villages. Inter State disputes on use of riverine water poses another major challenge. Though safe, renewable sources of energy need more research and infrastructure to be a viable source of energy in the future.
Global warming is another issue of concern these days. The melting arctic, Antarctic and Himalayan ice caps have pointed to increasing global warming. Increase in sea level is conspicuous which will lead to submergence of coastal areas. Tsunami, hurricanes, floods, draughts, melting ice caps etc are manifestations of global warming. Marine ecosystem is affected in ways still unknown to human beings. Though in recent years, some cooling has taken place due to el-nino effect, increase in use of aerosol in developing countries and carbon dioxide absorption in deep sea level, it is a temporary hiatus in global warming. Oceans and rivers which are rich source of food are being adversely affected by untreated industrial effluents and human waste. These effluents increases the Biochemical Oxygen Demand of the water bodies thereby decreasing the dissolved oxygen leading to asphyxiation of the fishes and other aquatic animals. Several form of aquatic life like blue whale, dolphins, leather back turtle are on the brink of extinction. Indiscrimate cutting of forests have led to loss of habitat of tribal people as well as animals living in the forests. Frequent encounters with wildlife have endangered both human and animal lives. Also many birds and other animals are on brink of extinction, a few being, Bengal tiger, asian elephant, cross river gorilla, black rhino etc. Many tribes like Red Indians, pygmies, etc are also on brink of extinction. Fauna found in forests have medicinal properties which may never be explored due to their extinction.
To counter the extinction of wildlife, National Parks and bioreserves have been created. Biodiversity Hotspots have been identified and protocols for conservation of flora and fauna have been put in place. Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has been employed to ban nuclear explosion for military and civil purposes. Convention on the transboundary effects of industrial accidents have been designed to protect people and environment against industrial effects. Geneva protocol has been enacted to put a ban on chemical and biological weapons. Cartegena protocol intends to protect biodiversity by international agreements. Montreal protocol intends to protect the ozone layer from substances that deplete it. Kyoto protocol to UNFCC is an international agreement that sets binding obligations on industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gases.
But these international agreements are being constantly and shamelessly flouted by powerful industrialized nations with scant regard to the environmental degradation. Kyoto protocol has not been signed by USA. Developing countries are being pressurised at international forums to reduce green house emissions whereas transfer of technology to developing country by developed countries to reduce emission remains a distant dream. Pressure to sign treaties to ban nuclear weapon is constantly given on developing countries even when developed countries like USA and Russia account for 90% of the existing nuclear warheads. Passing the buck to developing and least developed countries for greenhouse gas emission and blame game are conspicuous at international forums.
Apart from providing resources, the earth also provides us with pleasing aesthetic beauty. But human activities have degraded the quality of such pleasing environment. Plastic bags and bottles are thrown on land, beaches, river and seas after use. Many animals swallow them or are entangled and asphyxiated in them. Plastics take around 500 years to degrade and thus create a problem of disposal. These reduce our pleasing experience of the nature. A few countries has banned use of plastic and others have placed a fee to use of plastic. Biodegradable plastic is another way to counter this menace.
Nature has endowed us with enough resources to live a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing life. But our greed is leading to the rapid extinction of these resources. If we keep abusing these resources at this rate, nothing will be left for our future generation. We must use these resources in a sustainable way so that they can be used by our generations to come. As Gandhi has said, ―The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.