Unless effective action is taken to stop population growth, to reduce the threat of war and to prevent further destruction of the planetary biosphere and its living organisms, the early degradation of the human species is a certainty.
Greater efforts are necessary to protect the natural environment threatened by over-population and misguided technology.
Pollution is not a new problem—it is, as old as the Industrial Revolution. But in the 20th century pollution has turned out to be the dark side of new engineering feats.
The standard of living of the people in any country depends upon their industry and industry is largely responsible for environmental pollution.
Industry is the main cause of water pollution, it is responsible for 30 per cent of air pollution, it is almost completely responsible for radiation waste, it is the greatest spoiler of the land and also produces most of the undesirable noise.
World War-II stimulated a great deal of industrial growth. There was a search to develop new weapons of warfare, and then there was a shortage of natural raw materials such as metal, wood, wool and cotton which created the need for new synthetic substances. Thus the plastics industry was bom.
With the end of war, many devastated regions needed rebuilding and their inhabitants had to be rescued from starvation. More grain, milk, meat and fruit were required to support a hungry world. Scientists came up with new chemicals to wipe out agricultural pests, to destroy weeds, to fertilise farmland and to fatten cattle and poultry.
Hazardous materials pose a threat from the moment they are manufactured to the time when they are no longer needed and must be destroyed. They are dangerous to store and dangerous to transport.
Hazardous materials in a gaseous state can quickly disperse in the surroundings or they can explode. Liquid materials can explode and cause huge fire. The atomic power industry has its own special problems.
Apart from the constant need to monitor radio-active emissions from power plants, there is the question of uranium transportation and the problem of its waste disposal.
Poorly planned dumping of wastes at random at disposal sites has polluted soils, rivers, lakes and oceans. Toxic substances enter our food and drink.
Scientists discover hazards springing from materials that are neither explosive, nor poisonous nor corrosive, nor radioactive.
Asbestos is such a material. It is useful as a fire retardant in building materials but its dust is easily inhaled, stays lodged in the body and slowly causes irreparable damages.
Recently new gases called fluorocarbons were discovered. Freed from compression, fluorocarbons rise to the earth’s upper atmosphere.
There they lodge and slowly destroy the ozone layer that protects our globe from ultraviolet radiation.
The result is likely to be a higher incidence of skin cancer in humans. The loss of ozone may also cause changes in plant growth and in the earth’s climate.
The first people to be hurt by hazardous materials are the workers who come in close contact with them daily. Workers in chemical factories are exposed to great danger.
Exposure to vinyl chloride, for example, leads to a high incidence of bladder cancer. Exposure too many types of pesticides cause cancer of the liver. Exposure to benzene has been proved to cause leukemia.
Inhaling asbestos fibres induces fatal lung disease. In many cases, young chemical workers have found themselves sterile or have been grieved to see their children stillborn or malformed.
The use of chemicals in practically every aspect of life has grown rapidly since the Second World War at present, it is estimated that there are some 50,000 chemicals in daily use and it is no longer a secret that potentially long-term health hazards are faced by workers who are exposed to chemical substances on the job.
It is a fact that some chemicals are environmental carcinogenic agents and have extraordinary potency to induce cancer in man and animals even after exposure to very small doses.
No one can escape the pollution that has become part of everyday life in any country. If pollution is defined as the production of unwanted byproducts or side-effects of human activity then pollution has occurred whenever people have done something—even when they have merely existed.
Pollution of our environment is increasingly posing problems for man’s survival on mother earth. This has not happened in a day or even over a year.
Ignoring the “laws of nature”, man has harnessed natural resources increasingly to; meet diverse and complex needs of modern life.
Exploitation of soil, water, vegetation and mineral resources of this planet for our better living without caring for healing the wounds of our mother-earth has made man’s life vulnerable.
Heedless felling of trees, chocking of rivers with harmful industrial effluents, poisonous auto emissions, hazardous industrial gases, smokes and sounds have made man a victim of environmental degradation.
It is high time that we should be aware of the potential disaster awaiting us. If the process continues, forests are likely to perish, then droughts and floods will follow, many species of flora and fauna will face extinction and the atmosphere of the world will become unfit for human habitation. All this because of ignorance, greed and increasing demand for fuel and raw materials.
What we need is development without destruction of our environment. There are two basic reasons for progressive pollution. The first reason is the increase in population.
Secondly, the increase in material well-being of the people. In fact, a major determinant of the levels of pollution has been how much income people have had to spend for manufactured products. The manufacture of these products caused the by-products that are pollutants.
Thus continuing degradation of water, air, and land is due to rapid population growth and unsound development practices which do not provide for environmental protection.
Pollution of air and water has become a great menace to life than even armaments and nuclear weapons. For many decades industrialisation became the direct cause of the pollution of the air and water in human environment.
Air pollution is a very old problem. If we live in an industrial city, we know what air pollution is. For many countries, smoke from burning coal was the most harmful source of air pollution. Automobiles are the major contributors to air pollution, accounting for 60 per cent of total fuel emissions.
Industry takes the next largest share of the responsibility with a contribution of 18 per cent. Electric power generating plants contribute 13 per cent. Space heating and garbage disposal contribute 6 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.
Among the numerous substances that find their way into air, some 40 compounds are suspected of causing cancer such as asbestos, benzene, mercury etc. In addition to all those pollutants—more than million metric tons of lead are mixed into air every year.
Some of this is directly due to industry but most of it is emitted by automobiles. Lead from industries has entered our air, water, soil, and food. Lead in high concentrations is poisonous for the human body, damaging the kidneys and the brain.
The World Health Organisation has defined air pollutions as substances put into air by the activity of mankind in concentration sufficient to cause harmful effect to his health, vegetables, property or interfere with the enjoyment of his property. Air pollution may be (i) smoke and fog, together called smog, and (ii) the second group consists of dust, fumes, gases etc.
Fouling the Water:
Water can clear itself of a certain amount of pollution. But if pollution becomes too great, it cannot purify itself. Water pollution comes from three main sources: (i) sewage (ii) industrial waste and (iii) agricultural waste.
The spread of diseases due to water pollution is a well- known hazard. Sewage wastes in streams, rivers, lakes and coastal waters create several major kinds of problems. These wastes may contain pathogenic bacteria and viruses which are a threat to human health.
Environmental noise is one of the new killers of our society. If we live near a busy airport, we get to know what noise pollution is. As civilisation grows noise pollution grows. It is said that Julius Caesar banned chariots from the cobblestone streets during evening hours because of the noise they made.
One wonders what Julius Caesar would do if he lived in this 24-hour noisy world. If the present noise level continues, most metropolitan city dwellers may become deaf by 2,000 A.D.
Until recently people dumped their trash and refuse on the outskirts of town. It was taken for granted that everything would eventually decompose into earth, out of which new grass and trees would grow. But forms of plastics, chemicals, poisons and radioactive substances have appeared that do not decompose into harmless earth but remain harmful for thousands of years. Some of the wastes do not die, they just accumulate.
The causes of environmental degradation are many. The prevailing conditions of poverty and underdevelopment themselves create a situation where people are forced to live in squalor and further degrade their environment.
On the other hand, the process of development itself, may damage the environment, if not properly managed.
In the final analysis, removal of poverty, generation of employment, raising the levels of education and increasing awareness of the people are crucial for protection of environment.