Earth is the only planet endowed with an environment. The thin cover of air and water that surrounds the earth is known as the biosphere and it protects and sustains life. The biosphere is a finely balanced mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, argon, and water vapor. It has been maintained and established by the life cycle of plants, animals, and bacteria. Without the biological processes that have gone on the soil for thousands of years, we could have neither coal, oil nor food crops. Without the photosynthesis activity of green plants, there would be no oxygen to support human or animal life. Similarly, for the supplies of pure water, we have to be thankful for the myriads of micro-organisms in the aquatic system as also as the action of plants and animals.
Man has always made use of his inventive genius to force nature to yield its secrets. He has made spectacular breakthroughs in technology firmly believing that the sort of progress he is making is an unmixed blessing. He has seldom given thought to the fact that the air he breathes, the water he drinks, or the food he eats could be exhausted. And so would be the rich raw materials which he makes the earth yield. He has always assumed the bounties of nature to be inexhaustible. There is a little realization on his part that he considers progress is seriously disturbing the ecological balance and leading to the breakdown of the life-supporting system on the earth.
Nature has been suffering for the past several hundred years but the problem did not assume serious proportions so long as the damage was containable and not beyond self-repair. These limits were exceeded with the spectacular technological breakthroughs accomplished in recent years. The highly developed nations which benefitted from these breakthroughs were the first to experience the environmental diseases bred by advanced technology.
In India, the problem of environmental pollution is related to an increase in industrial activity which is regarded as an inevitable and a sure sign of economic progress. Along with such industrial advancement comes pollution of water and air. Massive amounts of lead are disseminated into the environment leading to toxic levels of lead accumulation in the bodies of human beings breathing in that environment. Likewise, the widespread use of insecticides has recoiled on human beings. The increasing use of synthetic detergents has contaminated water supplies. The growing use of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers has led to the introduction of harmful amounts of nitrates into food and surface waters. The violation of environmental integrity by nuclear testing and the resultant fall-out has increased the incidence of cancer and congenital diseases. The invasion of the stratosphere by aircraft is rapidly changing the earth’s heat balance, of which we know very little, and it may well usher into a new ice age or cause vast floods.
The factory impurities apart, there is the problem created by the dumping of human refuse into rivers and streams in various parts of the country. Filtering arrangements exist, but even after this process, the water of the rivers has been found to be unfit for drinking. It is not the big cities or the industrial towns which alone face the danger, for the danger is gradually spreading all round. We have already become conscious of how polluted now the Ganga is. And the government has launched a very costly project to clean the Ganga. But the Ganga is not the only river of India. Our other rivers are equally polluted and equally in need of cleansing.
In recent years, there has been an increasing realization of the gravity of the problem. The U.N. itself has been taking steps to focus attention on this hazard. In fact, the degradation of the environment is not merely the question of pollution but embraces the whole concept of the quality of human life. The destruction of forests, the erosion of the soil, the neglect of lands, the loss of wildlife, the accumulation of wastes, and the plight of urban areas are some of the examples of the degradation of the environment. So are disease, dirt, hunger, malnutrition, and other companions of poverty. All these grossly affect Nature’s balance which is so vital to healthy human and animal life. To meet the situation in an effective manner, the anti-pollution laws have to be made more stringent. Laws have to be passed banning the use of certain types of fuels and inefficient equipment. Enlightened public opinion can play a very useful role. More scientists and technical experts should be employed to keep the atmosphere and the water supplies clean and healthy. Organic wastes should be properly treated and processed. Soil nutrients can be produced from much of the human and industrial wastes.
In the ultimate analysis, environmental pollution reduces itself to the question of recording the relationship between the economic needs of man and the biology of the planet. The basic need is to keep the environment clean and conducive to good health. We must stop abusing nature and develop an aesthetic sense to appreciate and preserve the environment which is a prerequisite for living a happier and fuller life.