Earth: Our wonderful abode
The search for another Earth has inspired many hit Hollywood movies and NASA runs extensive research on it, however we haven’t been able to make Interstellar a reality as yet! So, our home planet is quite unique in this solar system and probably the galaxy. It has all the environmental conditions that support a great variety of life forms and a treasure of natural resources like water, minerals, fossil fuels and forests.
Life originated on earth 3.5 billion years ago in the oceans and over millions of years a variety of life forms evolved. Homo sapiens appeared much later, around 200,000 years ago. And in this time, how we have degraded our home!
Resource overuse and misuse
Every life form that exists on earth plays a definite role in its habitat and maintains the balance in nature. A tree takes up minerals and water from the soil, manufactures organic food for other life forms, and releases water vapour into the water cycle and oxygen into the air. But what about us? We only take resources from nature and in turn, pollute it and exhaust the resource reserve.
Can you imagine a world without the fossil fuels — petroleum, natural gas and coal? Soon it could be a reality. It took millions of years for fossil fuels to form from dead plants and animals. Their first recorded use is during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, when coal was used to fuel steam locomotives. The discovery of fossil fuels accelerated the development of the human civilization, but its indiscriminate use damaged the environment and has almost exhausted the reserves. Professor Al Bartlett, a world authority on energy resources, estimates that the fossil fuel reserve might not last for more than a hundred years and we may have consumed more than half of this non-renewable resource in less than 200 years!
The exhaust from burning fossil fuels contains harmful greenhouse gases, causing global climate change. In December 2015, Beijing issued a red alert due to unprecedented smog formation. Closer home, the air quality of Delhi and Mumbai is worsening.
Wastage of resources
We are just years away from an acute fossil fuel crisis but how many people switch off their engines at red lights? Most of our power plants are still coal-based, yet fans running in empty rooms and lifts, lights switched on during the day and people taking the elevator to go down a floor is common.
Another acute crisis which may soon hit us is a freshwater shortage. Although earth is a watery planet, it has only 3% freshwater reserves; out of which only 0.9% is available as surface water, 30.1% as groundwater and the rest is frozen in glaciers and ice caps. And what is the state of our freshwater reserves today? Most of our rivers are highly polluted and drying. The groundwater reserves are fast depleting. Climate change has made the monsoons quite unpredictable. As a result, there are major water cuts in all big cities, and in many rural areas people walk miles to get water. However, even today, a dripping tap, a shower bath, a broken municipal pipe, an overflowing tank, washing cars with water are all common scenarios.
Biodiversity is another great resource which is under threat. Wetlands, mangroves and forests are essential to maintain the natural balance in the environment. However with the ever-increasing population, more and more natural habitats are being destroyed to make houses and factories. When you destroy the habitat of a leopard or a snake, where do you expect it to go? Of course, you will find them someday sitting in your own home!
This Makar Sankranti, I was surprised to see plastic kites in shops, which shopkeepers promoted as being “durable”. But do I really need a durable kite or just fly a colourful paper kite, enjoy the moment and then let paper get biodegraded? And where would the plastic kite finally end up? In the garbage bin and finally in a landfill!
On 27 January 2016, a massive fire broke out at the Deonar landfill in Mumbai. The fire could not be put out for days and was so huge that it was visible from space, as captured by NASA’s satellite. What made the fire worse? The plastics in the landfill burned, releasing tons of toxic gases and affecting many people. Since biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste is not segregated at source, everything including plastic items is dumped in the landfill. Also, a lot of kitchen waste which could have been composted, rots in the landfill, releasing an unbearable stench.
Prudent use of resources
Natural resources like water and soil are irreplaceable. They need to be conserved and used judiciously. On the other hand, most of the industries and automobiles are designed to run on non-renewable fossil fuels and it will take some more years of research to develop machines that are compatible with alternate energy resources. Also, clean energy sources like solar power, wind power, etc., has to be made cost-effective. Therefore, the buzz word today is ‘Sustainable Development’. It represents the need to create a long-term balance between human welfare and the ecosystem. For example, all five-star hotels in India are now mandated to have eco-friendly practices like a sewage treatment plant, rain water harvesting, waste management and use of non-CFC equipment for refrigeration and air conditioning. At an individual level, initiatives such as car-pooling, installing low flush toilets, using CFL bulbs, reusing plastics, segregating recyclable waste, etc., are some ways to optimise resource use.
It’s your Earth!
We are sorry that the youth of today are inheriting the earth in its current state but the damage is already done. Initiatives have also started to control the damage, but it’s you who can make a big difference. The youth have the power to think green and be innovative.
Take the first “green” step in your own home. Think of ways to decrease your household electricity consumption. Devise a method for garbage segregation in your kitchen. Install a low flush toilet. Use a bucket and mug for bath instead of showers.
Get your friends together to make an eco-club. Arrange various eco-awareness drives in your locality, e.g., recyclable material collection, water conservation day, 1 hour light out for Earth initiative per week, etc.
Apart from initiatives, innovation is another way to solve environmental issues. Fifteen-year-old M. Tenith Adithyaa won the IGNITE Awards conducted by National Innovation Foundation-India (2014) for his eco-friendly inventions. He says, “I do not want to live with problems, I want to solve them.” Adithya invented a chemical-free technology to preserve banana leaves and make disposable plates and cups with them to replace plastic ones. The manufacturing cost is quite low and the banana leaf articles can also be composted. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has approved this project.
Such is the power of youth that when you set your mind and heart to it, you can make many wrongs right and create a cleaner, better earth for yourself.