RELEVENCE OF ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION
IN THE 21ST CENTURY
Quest of man for better living explains the environmental exploitation. Every other living species know how to live in complete harmony with nature except the human beings. Resources of the nature are being used, and not replenished in every field and industrial activity. In fact industrial activity of the 18th century can be said to be the watershed in the development of exploitive societies. With the industrial revolution one can easily see the connection of population explosion which again is an indirect cause of environmental degradation. Environmental resources are limited whereas the human population is not. With increase in human population there is demand for more houses, more clothes, more buildings, more hospitals, vehicles, aircrafts, and everything else; and greater generation of waste. Human activities put a strain on the resources of the nature and exploitation leads to ecological imbalance. When we see the population growth in the last few centuries it is clear that every 100 years the population has been more than doubling:
1750 791 million
1850 1262 million
1950 2526 million
2000 Over 6000 million
-And the population is growing exponentially in geometric progression. Malthusian theory that it will limit itself due to limit on availability of food stands falsified due to ingenuity of human mind. How long this ingenuity will let the growing human population sustain is yet to be seen.
Effects of growing population can be depicted in a pictorial form as below: -
Hospitals & Health Facilities
Waste generation including bio- medical
Individual & Societal stresses
Stress related to diseases
Quality of Food
Quality of Air
Quality of Water
Quality of soil
Physical & mental tolerance
Lower Health Status
Environment is something which surrounds, and environment & ecosystems are interdependent. It is the environment which sustains life on the planet. Basic fact is that the building blocks of life start from the capture of solar energy. If there were no plants or green life there would be no chlorophyll action and no life even if there was enough sun’s energy. Pollutants of human activity threaten human existence, and it is no more a question of ‘sustainable development’ but simply a question of ‘sustainable existence’. Pollutants cause environmental degradation of every conceivable dimension. It would be uncared for pollutants which will threaten the human existence and may not be shortage of food or water in the coming centuries. Progress and environmental sustainability appear adversarial but both can co-exist provided we take care of waste products in a manner that the waste of one can be used as input of resources of the nature for other activities. Today, there are initiatives focused towards ‘Zero Waste’ concept. Therefore one should aspire for achieving sustainable existence through application of principles of Zero Waste Concept.
That would only be possible when one knows about the environmental pollutants due to human activities. Environmental pollutants can be grouped in four categories as follows: -
1. Physical Pollutants
2. Chemical pollutants
3. Radiological pollutants
4. Biological pollutants
Noise pollution, pollution caused by floods, hurricanes, heat & GHG, particulate emission, global warming are all a result of physical pollution. Chemical pollutants are by far the biggest in the group. It means pollution caused by any of the chemical pollutants such as the Green House Gases, Dioxins & Furans, volatile gases, arsenic, mercury etc. Radiological pollutants would mean any waste or procedure which carry radiological waste along with such as the radiological means of treatment & diagnosis, x-rays, radiotherapy etc. But the chemical pollutants are by far the biggest scourge. Chemical pollutants are by–product of industrial activities, as well as of patient care activities. Chemical pollutants are also of the group commonly known as ‘dirty dozen’.
POPs are a group of toxic chemical pollutants harmful to human and wild life health (in fact all animals, birds, plants, and the human beings)
12 POPs also known as “dirty dozens” are listed by UNEP:-
- Hexachlor benzene
- Polychlorinated biphenyles
Other chemical pollutants are pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, chemicals used during war such as ‘agent orange’ etc, chemical fertilizers, chemicals in health care waste & in municipal waste etc.
Microorganisms cause diseases in humans. There is a relationship between host, environment, and the agent. All these act on each other and amongst each other to cause a disease. This is to say that biological pollutants would cause disease only when interaction between host, environment, and the agent has a positive derivation. Due to the fact that a lot many microbial floras in untreated medical waste keep on proliferating there is always a chance of bacterial mutation. SARS & Avian Flue is results of mutation and the microbes are becoming more deadly by the day.
Pollutants are known to cause many adverse effects on the health of an individual. Most of these chemical pollutants are neurotoxic and nephrotoxic. In fact most of these chemicals are known to cross the placental and blood brain barrier. Thus a child is exposed to the ill effects of all these pollutants from the womb itself. Dioxins have a predilection for depositing in the fatty tissues ad therefore there is greater prevalence of breast cancer etc amongst population living near to incinerators. All these pollutants enter food chain, bio-magnify through trophic levels and are cumulative. Thus effects of these chemicals are result of accumulated dosage. Wastes generated from industrial activities get accumulated in the aquifer by leaching, such as mercury waste, which also undergo the process of bio-magnification in the food chain. Thus one would find higher concentration of mercury in the tuna fish which is at the top of marine life in the context of trophic level. Children are more vulnerable to the ill effects of the pollutants as they consume more food, water, and air proportionately due to higher metabolic rate. Most of these chemicals get absorbed through skin, and thus a child is exposed to the chemical pollutants during early part of childhood more than adults while they play in the grass and come in contact with the foliage.
Therefore there are many reasons why one should know about the environment. But most important one is for the survival of the generations to come, for sustainability, and for existence with healthy surroundings and healthy environment. Education to a child starts from birth. Child learns to cry to demand food (milk). Thus there is acquired knowledge through self realization. The other would be imparted knowledge which comes through teaching and learning by examples. It is the later type of gathering knowledge where the role of elders is relevant. It is the bounden duty and responsibility of each citizen to impart knowledge to the children through teaching, examples and actions etc. Education on environment must not only come from the teachers and school but also from parents and elders in the family and society.
Environmental education today is inescapable and must be included in teaching schedule at all levels. Many tools may be employed for this, but the most important tool would be demonstrative teaching and training which will have greater impact on the mind of a child. Interactive group discussions, debates etc should be included in the teaching curriculum of schools and colleges. Demonstrated evidences of environmental degradation such as fly and mosquito breeding, putrefaction of waste, river pollution, water pollution etc could be some of the areas. Simple hygiene practices should be demonstrated and practiced in schools. Principles of healthy food intake, use of chemicals &fertilizers in agriculture & in food preservation, and its ill effects etc should be taught. Advantage of organic farming should be taught in schools. In fact it is rather surprising that there is hardly any emphasis on farming and agriculture in schools in a country like India where 80 % of population is agro-based.
Waste management such as segregation & collection of household waste in proper containers could be one of the important teaching schedules. Composting and other methods of waste disposal should form a part of syllabus. Children should be exposed to health care waste, its infectivity and danger it poses to the society at large. Facts that health care waste may be responsible for higher incidence of communicable diseases, higher hospital admission, compromised health status, and aberration in the personality of an individual etc should be included in the syllabus.
Astronomer Sir Martin Rees give 50-50 chance of making it to the 22nd century. The way we are exploiting the resources of the nature and the way wanton destruction is taking place almost everyday due to violence and terror his prediction may not be totally out of place. It is high time humanity wakes up to the challenges it has built upon itself to survive and thrive in the 21st & 22nd century.
Lalji K Verma
September 7, 2004