Why should we protect our environment?

Nowadays you must have heard about the growing concern towards global environmental problems. One may ask why there is so much concern about the environment. The answer is simple and clear; our very existence depends on conservation of the environment. The unprecedented economic progress of 19th and 20th centuries has pushed the environmental and ecological awareness into the background. However, today the whole world, particularly the developing countries, faces a near-crisis situation – both economic and environmental.

Perception of environmental concerns differs. Broadly, there are three types of responses. The first one says that environmental concern is a conspiracy of the developed First World against progress in the Third World and that environment will become an issue of importance only when the underdeveloped countries reach the levels of production and consumption of the industrialized nations.

The second argues strongly that all this nonsense about preserving the tiger and aesthetic beauty of green belts is diverting the attention from the problems of the poor and that environment has nothing to do with trying to give a better deal to the large and ever-growing population responsible for environmental crisis, maintaining that there is too little of everything except people. The three different views illustrate how little we know of ecosystem and ecobalance. Let us examine each of these arguments briefly.

The first argument is that environmental concerns are the business of rich countries, which cause most of the pollution. But environment and development are not necessarily incompatible. The mistake made by developed countries can be avoided if proper developmental strategies are worked out. Further, there is no division such as the environment of developed countries and that of developing countries. Degradation of the environment is going to affect each of us irrespective of the country, region or area.

Proponents of the second argument would prefer development to improve the lot of the poor at the cost of environmental conservation. But in this model the poor will get the worst of everything, including the effects of pollution resulting from industrialization and urbanization. We had a burning example of this in Bhopal tragedy in which thousands of the poorest of poor people died. They are worst affected by impure drinking water, insanitary living conditions, disease and so on.

The point raised in the third argument that population pressure leads to environmental degradation is an old one. The problem is not so much of the poor destroying the environment by their sheer numbers as that they are deprived of their share in the distribution of resources. It should, therefore, be clear that there are factors other than poverty and population, which are responsible for the pollution of earth. Mrs. Indira Gandhi said in the United Nations Conference on Human Environment held at Stockholm in June, 1972 that poverty is the biggest pollutant. So you can see that causes of environmental degradation may differ but the dangers of this degradation are enormous for mankind.

In the main, the environmental problem is three-dimensional:

(i) Environmental pollution,

(ii) Ecological decay or destruction, and

(iii) Resource depletion.

Many of these are irreversible. The greatest pollutant or “environmental killer” today is radioactive fallout from nuclear testing, nuclear plants and the long-term storage of nuclear materials, disposal of nuclear wastes and occasional nuclear accidents.

The other types of air pollution have also been a matter of international concern. One, the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in atmosphere due to large scale burning of fossil fuels, coal and petroleum, in modern industry and transport leading to a “greenhouse effect”. The other threat arises from aircraft exhausts and the chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) used in aerosol sprays and refrigeration causing ozone layer depletion.

Apart from air pollution, land and water are being widely poisoned by the large-scale use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in modern agriculture in developed countries and developing countries including India. All these will be dealt with in detail in the next block.

Another serious environmental and ecological problem has arisen from large-scale deforestation, which, in turn, has led to increased floods, soil erosion, silting of rivers and eventually desertification. This reckless operation, especially in the Third World, leads to deforestation to the extent of 11 million hectares every year. These are some major problems, which threaten the environment.

Environment is not just pretty trees, threatened plants, animals and ecosystem. It is literally the entity on which we all subsist, and on which the entire agricultural and industrial development depends. Development without concern for the environment can only be short-term development. In the long run such a development can go on only at the cost of enormous human suffering, increased poverty and oppression.

On a world, scale environmental awareness often finds expression at the Conferences of Human Environment organized by the United Nations Environment Programmes. India is an active member and also an original signatory to the protocol adopted at the UN conference held at Stockholm in the year 1972. The concern of India toward environment is also reflected in articles 48A and 51A of the Constitution, which read as follows.

Article 48A

The State shall Endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wild life of the country.

Article 51

It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.