The environment is derived from the French word Environner, which means to encircle or surround. All the biological and non-biological entities surrounding us are included in the environment i.e. the physical and biological world where we live is called our environment.
Components of Environment:
The environment has three important components i.e.
- The Physical Surroundings which make up the environment are soil (land), water bodies, and air (or atmosphere) which taken together contain nutrients like carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, water, mineral salts, and various other nutrients and substances.
- The Meteorological Factors or Climatic Factors which form a part of our environment are sunlight, temperature, rainfall, humidity, pressure, and wind speed.
- The Living Organisms which constitute the environment are plants, animals (including human beings), and micro-organisms like bacteria and fungi (called decomposers).
Types of Environment:
The environment can be divided into two categories.
- Natural Environment- The environment that comes into existence without the interference of man is called the natural environment. It operates through a self-regulating mechanism called a homeostatic environment mechanism i.e., any change in the natural ecosystem brought about by the natural process is counterbalanced by changes in other components of the environment.
- Man-made or Anthropogenic Environment- The environment which has been modified by human activities is called a man-made environment. Man is the highest of all creatures on this earth. He is modifying the environment according to his own needs and ways without taking into account its consequence. Increase in the scientific technology which is the product of the human brain is now deteriorating the environment.
Scope of Environment:
The environment consists of four segments i.e.
- The atmosphere implies the protective blanket of gases, surrounding the earth.
- It sustains life on the earth.
- It saves it from the hostile environment of outer space.
- It absorbs most of the cosmic rays from outer space and a major portion of the electromagnetic radiation from the sun.
- It transmits only here ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared radiation (300 to 2500nm), and radio waves (0.14 to 40 m) while filtering out tissue-damaging ultra-violate waves below about 300 nm.
- The atmosphere is composed of nitrogen and oxygen. Besides, argon, carbon dioxide, and trace gases.
(2) Hydrosphere- There is a lot of water on the surface of the earth in the form of ponds, lakes, rivers, oceans, and even underground water. The region of water on the surface of the earth is called the hydrosphere. Most of the water is in the oceans. In fact, life originated in this ocean water and later spread on the land and air. The organisms can exist in water up to about 4 kilometers below sea level.
(3) Lithosphere- Lithosphere is the outer mantle of the solid earth. It consists of minerals occurring in the earth’s crusts and the soil. Examples are minerals, organic matter, air, and water.
(4) Biosphere- The biosphere is called a biological system because just like any other system, the biosphere has different components which receive certain inputs, undergo interaction, and give some output. This is because in a biosphere there is a constant interaction between non-living and living components resulting in the transfer of food and energy.
Need and Importance of Environment:
Every living species of plant or animal influences its environment and in turn, gets influenced by it. The magnitude of such influences is not usually high in these species because of the fact that due to natural checks, their population cannot rise beyond certain limits and they can also not modify their own way of life. However, man is an exception. With increasing scientific knowledge, man is able to modify the environment to suit his immediate needs much more than any other organism. This enables man to improve the quality of his life.
Since the very beginning of human civilization, some thousand years ago, the man started interfering with the environment. He devastated forests by cutting trees for wood and for other household needs. He removed stretches of forests for bringing land under cultivation, only to find his water supply diminishing and his supply of soil eroding away. He killed animals, the gentle ones for food and the fierce ones for safety. He had polluted the rivers with chemicals from factories, thereby making the water unfit for his needs. All these activities, however, did not affect the environment too seriously for a fairly long time, because the population was not too high and the lifestyle was not so complex. The natural self-purifying and self-cleaning capacity of the environment were underteriorated.
After the scientific and industrial revolutions in the recent past, there has been an immense impact of man on his environment. Man has failed to relies that any new factor upsets the balance of the ecosystem as a whole. All the devastating effects of man’s efforts to control nature have occurred because he has upset the balanced relationship of the organisms that make up the environment. Huge industrial installations every year, the introduction of faster modes of transport and sprouting up of large crowded cities, and fast urbanization are the main outcomes of modern civilizations. These and a large number of many others are contributing to what is called environmental pollution, an example of which is also the widespread use of insecticides in the USA during the 1950s. The immediate effect was a reduction in the population of pests and an increase in the yield of crops. But these insecticides also poisoned and killed birds that feed on insects. As a result, the next generation of pests multiplied even faster in the absence of their natural enemies, and damage to crops was much more increasing industrialization is also causing much danger to man’s life by polluting the environment.
International Efforts for Environment:
Environmental issues received international attention at Stockholm Conference, held on 5th June 1972. Since then we celebrate World Environment Day on the 5th of June. At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held at Rio de Janeiro, in 1992, known popularly as Earth Summit, and ten years later, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held at Johannesburg in 2002, the key issues of global environmental concern were highlighted. The attention of the general public was drawn toward the deteriorating environmental conditions all over the world. Award of the Nobel Peace Prize (2004) to an environmentalist, for the first time, came as a landmark decision, showing increasing global concern towards environmental issues and recognition of efforts being made for environmental conservation and protection.