If you are a world citizen in the 21st century, one of the most common concerns that you will come across refers to the environment. Everyone is talking about the environment and more importantly, everyone is talking about the need to preserve and conserve the environment.
If you flip across the news channels or nature based programs, you are bound to hear the many grave concerns that are being expressed by a host of persons ranging from politicians, to environmentalists and down to lay folk about the concerns that the environment is currently facing the world over.
What exactly is the environment? Why are we all so concerned about it? In a very generic sense the environment refers to the milieu or context of and the surroundings in which a particular item exists. For instance, we may say that the political environment in Iraq is not conducive for democracy and peace. However, when we refer to the environment as it impacts Planet Earth, we are referring to the state of the natural world or of the ecosystem.
The natural ecosystem means the sum total of the organisms that exist on the earth and the interconnectedness of these organisms (including humans) with the earth and its resources. Hence, the ecosystem refers to the connection between the living (biotic) and the non living (abiotic) constituents of the environment.
In general, we differentiate between the built and the natural environment. The natural environment essentially consists of aspects of nature which exist and have their being without human intervention like air, the soil, water, the atmosphere, animals, birds, plants and humans themselves. On the other hand, the built environment consists of human creations like towns, cities, industries, vehicles and a host of other man-made structures.
The problem in the environment today is on account of the excessive and repressive interventions of humans on the natural environment in the post industrial era. The industrial era commenced in the 19th century and we saw rapid advances over the last century and a half. It witnessed huge advances and strides made by humans in the sphere of harnessing natural resources and advancement in areas of science and technology. Naturally, this was also accompanied by exploitation of natural resources including land, water, minerals and even space.
The growth of human intervention in the natural environment has been necessitated also by the rapid growth of human population over the last two centuries. The global population exceeds more than 6 billion currently and this has far reaching ramifications for the impact on the environment. It is not quite possible to sustain such a huge population on the planet with limited natural resources. Hence, environmental pressures and ecosystem breakdowns have occurred where human beings have over exceeded the capacity of the earth to meet human requirements which have expanded unsustainably.
The environment consists of quite fragile ecosystems, many of which are now extinct or severely threatened. The earth has enough to meet human needs but certainly not to meet human greed! It is quite true that we have not inherited this earth from our parents, but merely borrowed it from our children. Till date, the earth is the only known planet in this vast galaxy that has an environment conducive to life. The environment is all that we have to sustain us and our progeny. It’s high time that we paid less attention to our greedy desires and listened more closely to what the environment needs to sustain itself for the long term.