The economic development that we have achieved so far has come at a very heavy price at the cost of environmental quality.
As we step into an era of globalization that promises higher economic growth, we have to bear in mind the adverse consequences of the past development path on our environment and consciously choose a path of sustainable development.
To understand the unsustainable path of development that we have taken and the challenges of sustainable development, we have to first understand the significance and contribution of environment to economic development.
Environment Definition and Functions
Environment is defined as the total planetary inheritance and the totality of all resources. It includes all the biotic and abiotic factors that influence each other.
A study of the environment then calls for a study of the inter-relationship between these biotic and abiotic components of the environment.
Functions of the Environment:
The environment performs four vital functions
It supplies resources:
Resources here include both renewable and non-renewable resources.
Renewable resources are those which can be used without the possibility of the resource becoming depleted or exhausted. That is, a continuous supply of the resource remains available.
Non-renewable resources, on the other hand, are those which get exhausted with extraction and use.
It assimilates waste
It sustains life by providing genetic and bio diversity
It also provides aesthetic services like scenery etc.
Air Pollution/ Water Pollution/ Noise Pollution/ Asthma/ Cholera
This is the situation today all over the world. The rising population of the developing countries and the affluent consumption and production standards of the developed world have placed a huge stress on the environment.
Many resources have become extinct and the wastes generated are beyond the absorptive capacity of the environment.
Absorptive capacity means the ability of the environment to absorb degradation. The result we are today at the threshold of environmental crisis.
The past development has polluted and dried up rivers and other aquifers making water an economic good.
Besides, the intensive and extensive extraction of both renewable and non-renewable resources has exhausted some of these vital resources and we are compelled to spend huge amounts on technology and research to explore new resources.
Added to these are the health costs of degraded environmental quality decline in air and water quality have resulted in increased incidence of respiratory and water-borne diseases.
Global warming is a gradual increase in the average temperature of the earths lower atmosphere as a result of the increase in greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution.
Much of the recent observed and projected global warming is human-induced. It is caused by man-made increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases through the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
Adding carbon dioxide, methane and such other gases to the atmosphere with no other changes will make our planets surface warmer.
The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and CH4 have increased by 31 per cent and 149 per cent respectively above pre-industrial levels since 1750.
During the past century, the atmospheric temperature has risen by 1.1 Faranhiet (0.6 Celcius) and sea level has risen several inches.
Some of the longer-term results of global warming are melting of polar ice with a resulting rise in sea level and coastal flooding; disruption of drinking water supplies dependent on snow melts; extinction of species as ecological niches disappear; more frequent tropical storms; and an increased incidence of tropical diseases.
Hence environmental problems did not arise. But with population explosion and with the advent of industrial revolution to meet the growing needs of the expanding population, things changed.
The result was that the demand for resources for both production and consumption went beyond the rate of regeneration of the resources; the pressure on the absorptive capacity of the environment increased tremendously this trend continues even today.
Thus what has happened is a reversal of supply-demand relationship for environmental quality we are now faced with increased demand for environmental resources and services but their supply is limited due to overuse and misuse.
Hence the environmental issues of waste generation and pollution have become critical today.
Ozone depletion refers to the phenomenon of reductions in the amount of ozone in the stratosphere.
The problem of ozone depletion is caused by high levels of chlorine and bromine compounds in the stratosphere. The origins of these compounds are chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), used as cooling substances in air-conditioners and refrigerators, or as aerosol propellants, and bromofluorocarbons (halons), used in fire extinguishers.
As a result of depletion of the ozone layer, more ultraviolet (UV) radiation comes to Earth and causes damage to living organisms.
UV radiation seems responsible for skin cancer in humans; it also lowers production of phytoplankton and thus affects other aquatic organisms.
It can also influence the growth of terrestrial plants. A reduction of approximately 5 per cent in the ozone layer was detected from 1979 to 1990.
Since the ozone layer prevents most harmful wavelengths of ultraviolet light from passing through the Earths atmosphere, observed and projected decreases in ozone have generated worldwide concern.
This led to the adoption of the Montreal Protocol banning the use of chlorofluorocarbon
(CFC) compounds, as well as other ozone depleting chemicals such as carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethane (also known as methyl chloroform), and bromine compounds known as halons.
State of India’s Environment
India has abundant natural resources in terms of rich quality of soil, hundreds of rivers and tributaries, lush green forests, plenty of mineral deposits beneath the land surface, vast stretch of the Indian Ocean, ranges of mountains, etc.
The black soil of the Deccan Plateau is particularly suitable for cultivation of cotton, leading to concentration of textile industries in this region.
The Indo-Gangetic plains spread from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal are one of the most fertile, intensively cultivated and densely populated regions in the world. Indias forests, though unevenly distributed, provide green cover for a majority of its population and natural cover for its wildlife.
Large deposits of iron-ore, coal and natural gas are found in the country.
India alone accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the worlds total iron-ore reserves. Bauxite, copper, chromate, diamonds, gold, lead, lignite, manganese, zinc, uranium, etc. are also available in different parts of the country.
However, the developmental activities in India have resulted in pressure on its finite natural resources, besides creating impacts on human health and well-being.
The threat to Indias environment poses a dichotomythreat of poverty-induced environmental degradation and, at the same time, threat of pollution from affluence and a rapidly growing industrial sector.
Air pollution, water contamination, soil erosion, deforestation and wildlife extinction are some of the most pressing environmental concerns of India.
The priority issues identified are:
Management of fresh water and (v) Solid waste management.
Land in India suffers from varying degrees and types of degradation stemming mainly from unstable use and inappropriate management practices.
Some of the factors responsible for land degradation are
loss of vegetation occurring due to deforestation
Unsustainable fuel wood and fodder extraction
Encroachment into forest lands
Forest fires and over grazing
Non-adoption of adequate soil conservation measures
Improper crop rotation
Indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides
Improper planning and management of irrigation systems
Extraction of ground water in excess of the recharge capacity
Open access resource and
Poverty of the agriculture-dependent people.
India supports approximately 17 per cent of the worlds human and 20 per cent of livestock population on a mere 2.5 per cent of the worlds geographical area.
The high density of population and livestock and the competing uses of land for forestry, agriculture, pastures, human settlements and industries exert an enormous pressure on the countrys finite land resources.
The per capita forest land in the country is only 0.08 hectare against the requirement of 0.47 hectare to meet basic needs, resulting in an excess felling of about 15 million cubic meter forests over the permissible limit.
Pollution Control Boards
In order to address two major environmental concerns in India, viz. water and air pollution, the government set up the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 1974.
This was followed by states establishing their own state level boards to address all the environmental concerns. They investigate, collect and disseminate information relating to water, air and land pollution, lay down standards for sewage/trade effluent and emissions.
These boards provide technical assistance to governments in promoting cleanliness of streams and wells by prevention, control and abatement of water pollution, and improve the quality of air and to prevent, control or abate air pollution in the country.
These boards also carry out and sponsor investigation and research relating to problems of water and air pollution and for their prevention, control or abatement.
They also organize, through mass media, a comprehensive mass awareness programme for the same. The PCBs prepare manuals, codes and guidelines relating to treatment and disposal of sewage and trade effluents.
They assess the air quality through regulation of industries. In fact, state boards, through their district level officials, periodically inspect every industry under their jurisdiction to assess the adequacy of treatment measures provided to treat the effluent and gaseous emissions.
Environment and economy are interdependent and need each other. Hence, development that ignores its repercussions on the environment will destroy the environment that sustains life forms.
What is needed is sustainable development: development that will allow all future generations to have a potential average quality of life that is at least as high as that which is being enjoyed by the current generation.
The concept of sustainable development was emphasized by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which defined it as:
Development that meets the need of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their own needs.
The present generation can promote development that enhances the natural and built environment in ways that are compatible with
Conservation of natural assets
Preservation of the regenerative capacity of the worlds natural ecological system (iii) Avoiding the imposition of added costs or risks on future generations.
According to Herman Daly, a leading environmental economist, to achieve sustainable development, the following needs to be done
limit the human population to a level within the carrying capacity of the environment.
Technological progress should be input efficient and not input consuming
Renewable resources should be extracted on a sustainable basis
For non-renewable resources rate of depletion should not exceed the rate of creation of renewable substitutes
Inefficiencies arising from pollution should be corrected.
Strategies for Sustainable Development
Use of Non-conventional Sources of Energy:
India is hugely dependent on thermal and hydro power plants to meet its power needs. Both of these have adverse environmental impacts. Thermal power plants emit large quantities of carbon dioxide which is a green house gas. It also produces fly ash which, if not used properly, can cause pollution of water bodies, land and other components of the environment.
Hydroelectric projects inundate forests and interfere with the natural flow of water in catchment areas and the river basins.
Wind power and solar rays are good examples of conventional but cleaner and greener energy sources but are not yet been explored on a large scale due to lack of technological devices.
LPG, Gobar Gas in Rural Areas:
Households in rural areas generally use wood, dung cake or other biomass as fuel. This practice has several adverse implications like deforestation, reduction in green cover, wastage of cattle dung and air pollution.
To rectify the situation, subsidized LPG is being provided. In addition, gobar gas plants are being provided through easy loans and subsidy.
As far as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is concerned, it is a clean fuel it reduces household pollution to a large extent.
Also, energy wastage is minimized. For the gobar gas plant to function, cattle dung is fed to the plant and gas is produced which is used as fuel while the slurry which is left over is a very good organic fertilizer and soil conditioner.
CNG in Urban Areas:
In Delhi, the use of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) as fuel in public transport system has significantly lowered air pollution and the air has become cleaner in the last few years.
In areas where speed of wind is usually high, wind mills can provide electricity without any adverse impact on the environment.
Wind turbines move with the wind and electricity is generated. No doubt, the initial cost is high. But the benefits are such that the high cost gets easily absorbed.
Solar Power through Photovoltaic Cells:
India is naturally endowed with a large quantity of solar energy in the form of sunlight. We use it in different ways. With the help of photovoltaic cells, solar energy can be converted into electricity.
These cells use special kind of materials to capture solar energy and then convert the energy into electricity.
This technology is extremely useful for remote areas and for places where supply of power through grid or power lines is either not possible or proves very costly. This technique is also totally free from pollution.
In mountainous regions, streams can be found almost everywhere. A large percentage of such streams are perennial.
Mini-hydel plants use the energy of such streams to move small turbines. The turbines generate electricity which can be used locally.
Such power plants are more or less environment-friendly as they do not change the land use pattern in areas where they are located; they generate enough power to meet local demands.
This means that they can also do away with the need for large scale transmission towers and cables and avoid transmission loss.
Traditional Knowledge and Practices:
Traditionally, Indian people have been close to their environment. They have been more a component of the environment and not its controller.
If we look back at our agriculture system, healthcare system, housing, transport etc., we find that all practices have been environment friendly.
Only recently have we drifted away from the traditional systems and caused large scale damage to the environment and also our rural heritage. Now, it is time to go back.
One apt example is in healthcare. India is very much privileged to have about 15,000 species of plants which have medicinal properties. About 8,000 of these are in regular use in various systems of treatment including the folk tradition.
With the sudden onslaught of the western system of treatment, we were ignoring our traditional systems such as Ayurveda, Unani, Tibetan and folk systems.
These healthcare systems are in great demand again for treating chronic health problems. Now a days every cosmetic produce hair oil, toothpaste, body lotion, face cream and what not is herbal in composition.
Not only are these products environment friendly, they are relatively free from side effects and do not involve large-scale industrial and chemical processing.
In our quest to increase agricultural production during the last five decades or so, we almost totally neglected the use of compost and completely switched over to chemical fertilizers.
The result is that large tracts of productive land have been adversely affected, water bodies including ground water system have suffered due to chemical contamination and demand for irrigation has been going up year after year.
Farmers, in large numbers all over the country, have again started using compost made from organic wastes of different types. In certain parts of the country, cattle are maintained only because they produce dung which is an important fertilizer and soil conditioner.
Earthworms can convert organic matter into compost faster than the normal composting process. This process is now being widely used. Indirectly, the civic authorities are benefited too as they have to dispose reduced quantity of waste.
With the advent of green revolution, the entire country entered into a frenzy to use more and more chemical pesticides for higher yield.
Soon, the adverse impacts began to show; food products were contaminated, soil, water bodies and even ground water were polluted with pesticides. Even milk, meat and fishes were found to be contaminated.
To meet this challenge, efforts are on to bring in better methods of pest control. One such step is the use of pesticides based on plant products.
Neem trees are proving to be quite useful. Several types of pest controlling chemicals have been isolated from neem and these are being used. Mixed cropping and growing different crops in consecutive years on the same land have also helped farmers.
Economic development, which aimed at increasing the production of goods and services to meet the needs of a rising population, puts greater pressure on the environment.
In the initial stages of development, the demand for environmental resources was less than that of supply.
Now the world is faced with increased demand for environmental resources but their supply is limited due to overuse and misuse.
Sustainable development aims at promoting the kind of development that minimizes environmental problems and meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their own needs.