Monday, March 8, 2010


“The learned is happy, nature to explore
The fool is happy that he knows no more”
- Alexander pope.

‘Gaia’ or the ecosystem of the earth is a vast collection of mass of matter which is self regulating. It is amazing that such awesome manifestation of being always remains in perfect balance. In nature everything is in a cyclic existence even in mega-timeframe.
Ecosystem of the earth consists of all the earth, atmosphere, marine world, forests, vegetations, and all living species including the human beings who are most important ingredient of the whole system.
Man is important on two counts. Firstly, because it is a thinking species, and secondly, because the human activity has grave and long lasting effect on the ecosystem. Compared to other living species humans are the only species who are always trying to find another ‘niche’ for themselves in the whole earth’s ecosystem. All living species exist in complete harmony with nature. It is only the humans who consider themselves as master of universe and are always making efforts to twist or bend the rules of nature to suit material comfort and development. Humans are only one of about 1.6 million living species but have acquired the mantle to rule over all. We are the last to arrive on the history sheet of the earth but have mastered the art of destruction in the shortest time.
Life appeared on the earth about 3.6 billion years ago. And if the calendar of life on earth is compressed into 24 hrs dial the Homo sapiens arrived on the scene only one second before midnight, and industrial revolution, which has accelerated maximum changes took place only 0.0001429 second before the midnight (GT Miller 1994).
First let us consider ecological balance. It is apparent that ecology is maintained in a critical balance. Balance of such a complex arrangement is also very complex but at the same time very simple. Life is a form of energy and the body i.e. manifestation is a complex house of chemicals which render the living being apparent, and which at the end of living cycle returns to nature.
On a more tangible plane the air we breathe is also maintained by balancing the gases. Whenever we breathe out we cause aberration in this balance, which fortunately is only temporary. The composition of air (Oxygen and Nitrogen etc) changes momentarily. However the flora uptakes the excess C02 emissions and use these to bind sun’s energy to provide food (energy so essential for life). But it must be understood that the ability of the ecosystem to purify the air is also limited. At the same time due to human activity the forest cover is reducing day by day. Normally 33% forest cover is required to maintain adequate eco-balance, which in India has now dwindled to only about 13% or so (official figures may be about 18 %). This has resulted in other adverse impact a well. Like the soil erosion from the mountains, silt in the rivers, rising level of rivers during rainy season, floods, lack of proper monsoon etc.
Some other activity of human beings leading to eco imbalance are increasing green house gases’, air, water and soil pollution, erosion of top soil (which is essential for crops), ozone layer depletion etc. Desire to live like superhuman has led to concomitant industrial activity and resultant degradation. Malthus was a scientist of 19th century who had predicted that the exponential growth of human population will overtake growth of crop production and thus predicted that population will stabilize.
He had not contended with crafty mind of humans. His theory is being disproved everyday. Population continues to grow exponentially and the mother earth continues to provide life support. But for how long?

The ability of ‘Gaia’ to support life on earth is limited. The ability of the ecosystem to clear aberration caused by activities of living species, specifically the human being is limited. The mother earth is reaching its ‘break point’. In this context it would not be out of place to mention what Mahatma Gandhi had to say ‘The earth provides enough for every man’s need but not for everyman’s greed.” (Mahatma Gandhi an Apostle of applied ecology - TN Khoshoo).
The greenhouse gases are causing Global warming. It has been estimated that in the next few decades the Polar ice caps may partially melt to raise the ocean’s water level by 6-7 Mtrs, thus submerging large number of islands and a large part of littoral land.
The beautiful balance maintained between the glaciers and the rivers and oceans is something to realise. The glaciers collect more and more ice during cooler months and give away water to rivers during summer/rainy season. But latest studies have shown that Himalayan glaciers are receding @ 30 Mtrs per year and are developing crevices which are sure sign of recession (Down to Earth, Apr 30, 1999). If glaciers cannot hold ice when high level of water is not required then one can imagine what can happen. If would be like a mother who had milk before birth of a child but dried up immediately thereafter.
Generation of waste is in direct proportion to the population growth. Whereas the population of other species has remained static, or dwindled; the human population has been increasing by leaps and bounds. Waste generated also has gone up accordingly and now the scene is that in all localities at least in the developing world, heaps of waste lie all over posing serious health hazard. With limited ability to purify and reestablish the eco-balance it must be a very difficlt task for the nature.
While living cannot stop, progress towards reaping the benefit of scientific and material advancement cannot be rolled back, but for survival through next millennium proper strategy will have to be adopted. In tact the key word today is ‘Sustainable development’. Meaning thereby, enjoy life of today but leave the world livable for the future generations.
What needs greatest attention therefore is:
(a) To control the population
(b) To develop the awareness and concern for the future generations.
(c) To understand overload created on the ecosystem and urgent steps to minimize it.
(d) To treat the whole ecosystem as one, and not divided by geographical boundaries, because eco degradation at one place my have impact at another place.
(e) All must unite to preserve the beautiful earth and its ecosystem.
Action taken today will determine the viability of future generations. Unfortunately human beings’ life span is so limited that one cannot appreciate the gradual degradation, taking place. It is however hoped that today’s generation will realise and make sincere effort to leave livable world to its progenies. Egocentric humans must change to being ecocentric (earlier the better) in thought and action.

“Hope is the last bastion”.

When mind stops to perceive,
or to acknowledge new ideas
one attains intellectual death”.

- Laljee K Verma

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