Updated on 8 Nov 2021, 5:31 am
Environmental studies deals with every issue that affects a living organism. It is essentially a multidisciplinary approach that brings about an appreciation of our natural world and human impact on its integrity. It is an applied science, as it seeks practical answers to the increasingly important question of how to make human civilization sustainable on the finite resources that are available. Its components include biology, geology, chemistry, physics engineering, sociology, health, anthropology, economics, statistics, computers and philosophy.
Environment is not a single subject; it is an integration of several subjects that include both science and social studies. To understand all the different aspects of our environment, we need to understand biology, chemistry, physics, geography, resource management, economics and population issues. Thus the scope of environmental studies is extremely wide and covers some aspects of nearly every major discipline. If we study the natural history of the areas in which we live, we would see that our surroundings were originally a natural landscape, such as a forest, a river, a mountain, a desert or a combination of these elements. Most of us live in landscapes that have been profoundly modified by human beings-in villages, towns or cities. But even those of us who live in cities must get our food supply from the surrounding villages and these in turn are dependent on natural landscape such as forest, Grasslands, Rivers, seashores for resources such as water for agriculture, fuel wood, fodder and fish. Thus our daily lives are inextricably linked to our surroundings and inevitably affect them. We use water to drink and for other day-to-day activities. We breathe air, we use resources from which food is made and we depend on community of living plants and animals which form a web of life, of which we are also a part. Everything around us forms our environment and our lives depend on keeping its vital systems as intact as possible.
Our dependence on nature is so great that we cannot continue to live without protecting the earth’s environmental resources. Thus, most traditions refer to our environment as Mother Nature and most traditional societies have learned that respecting nature is vital for protecting their own livelihoods. This has led to many cultural practices that have helped traditional societies protect and preserve their natural resources. Respect for nature and all living creatures are not new to India; all our traditions are based on these values. Emperor Asoka’s edict proclaimed that all forms of life are important for our well-being back in the 4th century BCE. Over the past 200 years, however, modern societies began to deliver those easy answers to the question of producing more resources could be provided by the indiscriminate application of technological innovations. Some examples are growing more food by using fertilizers and pesticides, developing better strains of domestic animals and crops, irrigating farmland through mega-dams and developing industry. All these have led to rapid economic growth and this type of ill-considered development has inevitably led to environmental degradation, besides several harmful effects as well.
Industrial development and intensive agriculture that provides the goods for our increasingly consumer-oriented society also uses up large amounts of natural resources like water, minerals, petroleum products, wood and so on. Non-renewable resources such as minerals and oilwill be exhausted in the near future if we continue to extract these without a thought for subsequent generations. Renewable resources, such as timber and water, can be used but be regenerated by natural process such as regrowth and rainfall. However, these too will be depleted if we continue to use them faster than nature can replace them. For example, if the removal of timber and firewood from a forest is faster than the regrowth and regeneration of trees, the supply of wood cannot be replenished. And the loss of forest cover not only depletes the forest of its resources, such as timber and other non-wood products, but also affects our water resources because an intact natural forest acts like a sponge which holds water in the rainy season and release it slowly over the drier periods. In addition, deforestation leads to floods in the monsoon season and dry rivers once the rains are over. Such multiple effects on the environment resulting from routine human activities must be understood by each of one of us, if it is to provide us with the resources we need in the long run. Our natural resources can be compared with money in a bank. If we use it rapidly, the capital will be reduced to zero. On the other hand, if we use only the interest, it can sustain us over the longer term. This is called sustainable development. Thus each professional in their field should strive to achieve sustainable development through their actions.
We live in a world where natural resources are limited. Water, air, soil, minerals, oil, the products we get from forests, grasslands, oceans and from agricultural livestock, are all a part of our life support systems. Without them, life itself would be impossible. As we keep increasing in number and the quantity of resources each of us uses also increases, the earth’s resource base must inevitably shrink. The earth cannot be expected to indefinitely sustain this expanding level of utilization of resources. Added to this is the risk of misuse of resources. Increased amounts of waste and pollution contaminating our existing supply are a threat to the quality of life for all. This situation will only improve if each of us begins to take actions in our daily lives that will help preserve our environmental resources. Therefore, inclusion of Environmental study in all level of academic process is a must and it is a subject for every-one of us for collective understanding of environment, problems and way to address for resurrection.
(The views expressed are personal)
Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
Faculty, JCRE Global College, Imphal, Manipur. The writer can be reached at email@example.com