Science never solves a problem without creating ten more" says George Bernard Shaw. Scientific revolution of the 17th century discovered new knowledge, ideas and theories and its application latter paved the way for industrial revolution. The industrial revolution which started in England in the late 18th and beginning of the 19th century brought about a lot of changes both in the history of economics and environment. Although it did good to boost the economy and raising the standards of life, it always harmed the environment. The introduction of the Steam Engine and a series of other technological advances triggered the major turning point in earth's ecology and human's relationship with the environment.
It is not strange that today we keep hearing about the global warming, melting of the glaciers, rising of the sea levels, ozone depletions etc. all of which have been linked to the environmental degradation. The climate change, energy security and sustainable development are lowering the capacity of the earth to support mankind's increasing population. Our atmosphere is becoming more and more toxic; wastes threaten surface, ground waters and agricultural lands. The problems have become so complex that many individuals feel they can never be solved.
Today we are in a swamp of plastic bags. Fruits, vegetables, bread, oil, shoes, pens all wrapped up in soft as well as well as hard plastic materials which have indeed become integral part of our lives. Animals eating plastics, choking of drainage, river pollution and the burning of polythene in open air is a common nuisance. Our hospitals are known for the treatment of sick persons but we are unaware about plastic, other garbage and filth generated by them while treating a patient. The efforts they do to protect us from diseases is offset at the other end. Polythene is non-degradable and remains intact in soil for hundred of years and in the process of their recycling a large number of hazardous chemicals are used.
Fresh and safe drinking water is a blessing. It can bring down the incidence of water or food-borne diseases. Though our earth is more than 75% water surprisingly, only 0.3% of it is available to us for our daily use as the other water in oceans and glaciers is brackish and in ice form. Today even this small percentage of usable water is also decreasing with each passing day due to increasing water pollution. Our lakes, rivers and streams that were supplying safe drinking water for hundreds of years in the past, today in just few decades of time have either vanished or seriously polluted or have become gutters.
The domestic wastes, sewerages, solid waste from dairies, dumping of garbage agricultural wastes which contain fertilizers and pesticides and biodegradable substances have entered groundwater, rivers and other water bodies through landfills. Decades back groundwater has been one of our main sources of fresh drinking water but today it is not safe. It is polluted from the soakage pits, septic tanks, garbage dumping etc. The things can be best described by the examples of marshy Anchar Lake, river Jhelum and off course the shrinking Dal Lake. The river Jhelum has become a longest drain in the region. These water bodies receive a heavy flux of pollutants in the form of sewage containing nutrients and toxins which have diminished their aesthetic quality for which they were known for.
Nobody can escape the effects of water pollution. The effects of water pollution are not only devastating to people but also to animals, fish and birds. I think those days would not far off when it will be very difficult to find little fresh drinking water. Therefore we have to take measures at the earliest. We have to go back and revive the traditional water streams and water courses and care about not to misuse water anymore. The amount of waste generated can be minimized by careful housekeeping and management. At the same time it is high time for the Govt to take necessary steps to conserve the water bodies and come up with innovative and out-of-the-box solutions.
Air pollution is one of the major ecological problems man is facing today. It is the most dangerous form of pollution because we cannot control the air we breathe. Though the clean air on earth is a balance of nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%), water vapor as well as small amounts of inert gases such as neon, carbon dioxide or helium but the things are not the same. Today human activities on earth are releasing huge and variety of pollutants into the air by burning fossil fuels which have made our atmosphere a gas chamber. This has opened up a Pandora's Box of environmental problems for us which are threatening our survival on earth.
The growing air pollution in the city and the districts is due to the stupendous rise in the number of vehicles over the past few years. If the traffic congestion continues to increase in this manner, then in due course of time it will pose a new threat of changing air quality and we will have full-fledged respiratory, heart and lung disease problems. The Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) like soot, mist, dust, fumes and smoke with less than 10 micron in size emitted in various industrial processes, coal- or oil-burning in power plants, brick kilns, automobiles and residential heating systems are significantly polluting air because of their very harmful effects on human health with some of them being carcinogenic.
It is widely accepted that that an increase in walking and cycling for short journeys could significantly reduce traffic congestion, improve the quality of the environment, promote personal health and contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions. But at the same time it is an admitted fact that controlling air pollution is largely beyond the control of individuals and it requires action by the Govt as well. Curtailment on the registration of vehicles and abandoning the old ones, installing Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) filling stations are the measure we have to take in this regard.
Our energy demands are growing with each passing day and in the days to come we are bound to see the energy crises and more ecological problems. With limited and fast depleting resources of coal, petroleum and the extensive deforestation over the last two decades and with rapidly increasing costs we have to explore new avenues. Conservation is the act of using and protecting resources properly. By encouraging conservation and making investments in clean, renewable sources of energy, we can build a more secure future. There has been efforts world wide to switch to renewable sources of energy and exploit energy from sunlight, wind, rain, tides, geothermal, biomass as they are infinite sources of energy. Initiatives like rain water harvesting for rain water storage, installing solar panels on rooftops, using energy efficient devices can help us a long way.
The problems of environment are so numerous and complex that no single institution can solve these problems alone. It requires concerted efforts by every concerned citizen and various sectors of our society. The various Govt Departments of our state need to take the holistic view of the impending situation and broaden their sphere of activities and involve the universities, colleges for new idea and exploring the ways towards green energy, in this part of the world. While there is no dearth of legislation and programs, conducting of workshops, seminars and symposia on the subject and obtaining voluminous paper work and verbal exercises will be useless unless we mean business.
There is a need to imbibe environmental attitude, behavior and values in developing environmentally sensitive and ecologically aware literate responsible citizens who will ensure the protection and the improvement of the environment. This will be a long term solution to the problem. In this regard our intuitions can play a very important role. At present our students are taught environmental concepts at all levels in our schools and even at college level but there is a room for more improvement. Incorporating core module syllabus even at PG level in all subjects and reviving the forgotten subjects like Atmospheric Physics which we used to have in our days as PG student, stress on field work and hands-on-experiences, preparation of assignments and special reward of certificates could be possible measures we can take in this way.
World environment day is a day to create real awareness about the damage our actions are causing to this lovely planet. It reminds us that our forests are needed for more than human needs. They stabilize global weather and regulate the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and prevent water shortages and droughts. We need to take measures to correct the current situation of deforestation. We need to care for the environment, conserve water and keep the surroundings clean and green. It is our obligation to keep the environment in good condition for future generations. Our mindset has to change drastically and we have to redefine our values and principles and develop same attitude towards the environment as we have for our family.
(The author is Associate Professor & Head Dept of Physics, Amar Singh College, Srinagar. Feedback at email@example.com)