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Wildlife Conservation: For a Few Species More

Ravaging Humans

Wildlife Conservation is a holistic approach for protection of wildlife through preservation of their habitats. Growing populations and increasing consumption put tons of pressure on natural forests and pastures that serve as the abode of many animal and plant species. The conversion of these havens to farmlands and residential areas is a matter of grave concern.

 

Sources of Destruction

Threats to wildlife and their habitat originate from:

  • Public Apathy and Lack of Awareness about nature
  • Pollution affects habitats because wild animals and their habitats ingest contaminants with deleterious effects. This happens through:

+      Toxic agricultural chemicals being washed down to these habitats

+      Increasing atmospheric temperatures destroy ecosystems especially those in the polar regions and confuse migratory species during their nature-balancing movements

+      Septic air breathed in by plants and animals

+      Dumping of garbage in and near such habitats

  • Over Exploitation of Resources such as fish, edible wild animals, pastures, and forests. Mining, quarrying, and drilling in eco-sensitive zones for mineral resources produces the same effect

Encroachment of human settlements on these bio-spots, excessive hunting, and illegal poaching is also a part of such over exploitation

  • Natural Disasters such as forest fires, floods, cloudbursts, lightning, cyclones, volcanoes, and earthquakes

 

Paramountcy of Wildlife Conservation

An ecosystem consists of all living and non-living elements in a particular area that are bound in a complex web of relationship with each other and with their surroundings. Environment is the sum total of all planetary resources, biotic and abiotic. Comparing these two definitions, environment can be defined as the sum total of all ecosystems on this planet.

Inside an ecosystem, creatures are in a state of delicate equilibrium with themselves and their surroundings – discharges from one creature or one process in the system are gainfully used by other creatures and processes in the ecosystem. There is also loose association and balance between different ecosystems that provides the total environmental equilibrium.

Disturbance of even one species or process in the system can destroy the delicate balance with calamitous consequences. It is believed disorders such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Bird Flu are a result of ecosystem collapse. The causative organisms were balanced in the ecosystem, the destruction of which released them outside.

Similarly, the extinction of tigers will mean an explosion in the number of herbivores. These will then eat up forest after forest. Diminishing green cover will cause contamination of all the pollutable entities viz. land, air, and water.

 

Successful Wildlife Conservation Model

Among the successful models for wildlife conservation is the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation. The movement for this model started in the 1860s when indiscriminate hunting brought many species on the verge of extinction and forced a rethink by hunter groups.

This model rests on two fundamental principles:

  • Collective, Non-Commercial Ownership of wildlife and fish by all North Americans
  • Sustainable Management of fish and wildlife

Seven doctrines that supplement the basics are:

  • Scientific Approach
  • Public Trust Doctrine implies wildlife to be a right and a responsibility of all
  • Public Participation in Hunting-Fishing Laws
  • Equal Opportunity in Hunting-Fishing
  • Equal Liability by funding wildlife management from the proceeds of sale of hunting and fishing licenses and excise tax on hunting-fishing equipment
  • Regulation of Commerce in Wildlife
  • Wildlife as an International Resource

 

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Water Crisis: Aqua non Pura

Prologue

Water covers over two-thirds of Planet Earth and without it, life will not be possible. Pollution of water results when contaminants accumulate inside it at a rate faster than the rate at water can cleanse itself naturally. The ability of water to dissolve most solids and liquids is a major reason for its quick adulteration. Groundwater pollution is a more serious concern because unlike surface water it cannot be purified unless extracted.

 

Indicators of Water Pollution

Chemical and biological indicators are used for such measurement of the level of water pollution. Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) determines if the concentration of chemicals, which cannot be biologically oxidised, in water is above the danger mark.

Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) indicates the amount of dissolved oxygen (in milligrams) per litre of water. Greater the BOD, more is the pollution because greater concentrations of microbes have depleted dissolved oxygen.

 

The Accused

Liquid, gaseous, and solid wastes from industries, automobiles, households, and farms are all responsible for infecting water.

Industrial discharges include:

  • Untreated Waste Water i.e. water with dissolved harmful chemicals discharged directly into water bodies. It can also percolate and infect groundwater
  • Oil Spills from Oil Rigs
  • Thermal Pollution is the increase in temperature of water bodies when high temperature effluents are discharged

Transport can trigger water pollution as:

  • Oil Spills and Leakages from Marine Tankers
  • Vehicular Leakage of fuel, oils and other fluids percolating and being washed into water bodies

Chemicals such as phenols, oil, petrol, plastics, radioactive waste, garbage, lead, and mercury are the worst infectors.

Industrial Agriculture uses large doses of chemical fertilisers and pesticides that run off into surface water bodies and percolate in groundwater.

Domestic sewage and garbage accumulated on landfills can pollute surface as well as groundwater.

Species outside their natural habitat such as algae varieties in the Mediterranean have destroyed local aquatic life and created an imbalance

Flow of synthetic sediments such as construction debris, powders, soil, and rock destroy aquatic life while disruption of flow of natural sediments and chemicals into sea by dams reduces the flow of natural silts and chemicals causing coastal erosion and depletion of marine life in coastal regions.

 

Ramifications

  • Water Borne Diseases such as typhoid, diarrhoea, and cholera spread as safe drinking water becomes an endangered commodity
  • Harmful Algal Boom that thrive on sewage and chemicals in water bodies. These suck up oxygen from water making it difficult for native aquatic species to breathe. A dead zone where no aquatic species can survive can result as aquatic balance is disturbed. All chemical discharges, oil spills, and acid rains aid this process
  • Entry of Toxins in the Food Chain through use of polluted water for farming and consumption of contaminated seafood can lead to reproductive failure in humans and wildlife, cancer, heart and kidney disease, and nervous disorders in children and foetus
  • Land Pollution as land is infected with chemicals dissolved in water
  • Acid Rains results from gaseous industrial and vehicular discharges getting dissolved in atmospheric moisture and condensing
  • Floods from accumulation of solid wastes in river channels
  • Thermal Pollution increases the BOD and species shift to cooler regions and disturb the natural balance in the destination area

 

The Path Ahead . . .

River valleys have always been cradles of civilisations while oceans have brought prosperity through resources and trade. Humans have, however, taken nature for granted and invited civilisational destruction. We will be condemned to repeat history unless we implement:

  • Scientific Treatment of Discharges such as waste water, sewage, and garbage through sewage treatment plants, biomass processors etc.
  • Use of Biodegradable Materials
  • Recycle
  • Reduce Consumption will decrease the amount of chemicals used for their production
  • Soil Conservation to prevent unnatural disintegration of land and its flow into water bodies
  • Prevent Obstruction of Natural Channels of Water

 

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Soil Erosion: At War with Nature’s Home Turf

Corroding our Foundations

Soil Erosion is the destruction and removal of the fertile top layer of soil at a rate faster than the rate of its natural formation. Soil is weathered rock. Topsoil is the upper, fertile layer that supports growth of plants – forests, pastures, farms, plantations etc. Subsoil is the lower layer that does not sustain plant growth.

Although a part of land degradation, soil erosion merits a more detailed treatment because soil is among the most valuable natural resources that fosters plant growth and, thereby, makes life possible. Plants provide food and fodder, absorb harmful gases, maintain natural balance, supply industrial raw materials, and deliver fuel.

 

Types

Water, wind, and tillage are the three main agents of soil erosion. High-speed winds such as cyclones and dust-storms carry away loosened soil particles. Tillage redistributes soil causing it to move down the slope and prepares ground for erosion by water.

Flowing Water destroys topsoil in three ways:

  • Sheet Erosion is the removal of loosened topsoil on relatively flat terrain as wafer-thin sheets
  • Gully Erosion results on terrains with gradient and some vegetative cover that slows water flow. Water then cuts minute and shallow channels called rills that expand and merge into broader gullies. Left unchecked, this can aggravate into ravines or badlands
  • Bank Erosion or the eating up of channel banks

 

The Depreciators 

Natural forces and human interference are both responsible for loosening and transportation of topsoil. Human activities wear away soil by themselves and intensify the effect of nature. Forces of nature that destroy and transport topsoil include:

  • Torrential Rains, Flash Floods, and Cyclones
  • Grazing and Burrowing Animals
  • Wildfires
  • Earthquakes

Anthropogenic activities that promote soil erosion include:

  • Deforestation means roots of trees and grasses are not able to hold soil particles together. Leaves and branches of trees can no longer slow down falling raindrops that are left free to corrode topsoil
  • Incorrect Agricultural Practices such as tilling in the direction of wind and water flow, excessive use of water, allowing fast flow of water through fields, and use of large doses of chemicals and fertilizers that harden topsoil
  • Overgrazing
  • Unsustainable Mining creates voids beneath soil causing collapse of the land above
  • Flawed Constructions on hill slopes, cleared forests and pastures, and farmlands

 

 

Fallouts

  • Loss of Soil Fertility has grave implications for the production and availability of food, fodder, fuel, and industrial raw materials
  • Barren-isation and Desertification of Land as it progressively loses its capacity to support life. Communities dependent on such lands are disintegrated and forced to migrate
  • Floods result from soil particles accumulating in river channels and decreasing its water holding capacity. Floods further erode soil and the vicious cycle continues
  • Decline in the Storage Capacity of Reservoirs such as dams, percolation tanks, and natural lakes can spell doom for those dependent on these waterholes

Soil Conservation

Conservation relies on prevention of loosening of soil particles and slowing down the agents that carry these down-slope or downwind. Green Cover reduces impact velocity of raindrops on soil and holds soil particles together against flowing water and blowing wind. Specifically:

  • Slowdown of Flowing Water by:

+      Contour Farming or planting trees / crops along the same level across the slope

+      Terraced Farming is farming on steps / terraces cut out of slopes

  • Wind Breaks through:

+      Shelter Belts or rows of high trees

+      Strip Farming is the planting of strips of grass between crops on large fields

  • Maintain Soil Cohesion by:

+      Crop Rotation and Fallow allow replenishment of soil nutrients and maintain soil compactness

+      Shallow Tillage with Minimum Tillage Passes

+      Check Overgrazing and Over-burrowing


 

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Land Pollution: On Slippery Grounds

Unreal Estate

Land pollution is the degradation of the quality and productivity of the earth’s surface and soil due to human activities. This is a lesser visible facet of pollution than the contamination of air and water because its effects are not immediately and directly noticeable.

Increasing populations create greater demand for residential land and food. The result is haphazard urbanisation and unplanned conversion of forests and pastures to farmland. Resource intensive agriculture pollutes nature and cities are dotted with toxin spitting industries, automobiles, garbage dumps, and sewage discharges.

High consumption lifestyles create massive amounts of wastes that are disposed into landfills or garbage dumps that further erode the environment. Random urbanisation that gobbles up hills, pastures, forests, water bodies, river channels, and agricultural land is itself anti nature.

 

Genesis of Land Pollution

  • Deforestation means tree roots can no longer hold soil together causing soil erosion. Fertile top soil is lost forever and the productivity of land is irreversibly eroded
  • Resource-Intensive Agriculture uses large doses of chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, and water. Natural fertility of soil in lowered as it hardens and its salinity rises   
  • Unscientific Grazing removes grasses that hold soil together
  • Mining and Quarrying create voids below the surface causing collapse of land above. Sand quarried from river beds destroys the water holding capacity of river channels
  • Industrialisation releases venomous gases and effluents
  • Disposal of Wastes such as garbage, sewage, and nuclear wastes

 

Calamitous Repercussions

Degradation of land adversely affects the air and water that comes in touch with it. Creatures living under the ground and playing a vital role in the maintenance of ecosystems are also threatened. With ecosystems destroyed, species extinction and environmental imbalance is never far away. Ill-effects of land pollution include:

  • Soil Destruction through loss of fertility and increased salinity
  • Collateral Pollution of air, surface water, and groundwater as land is connected with these. Water percolating below landfills dissolves septic elements from garbage and poisons subsurface water

Water running from landfills infects surface water bodies. Wet garbage under sunlight stinks as gases are released while dry garbage fills the air with infectious particles

  • Toxin Mobility as they move up the food chain when food grown on contaminated land is consumed by humans and other animals
  • Flash Floods result from eroded soil filling up river channels and indiscriminate quarrying
  • Climate Changes as the moderating effect of plants on climate is lost
  • Acid Rains result from trees no longer absorbing harmful gases that mix with atmospheric moisture and come down as acid rains
  • Promotion of Disorders through adulteration and animals like rodents that thrive at landfills

 

Proactive and Reactive Defence

Tall and fine superstructures require robust foundations. Land is the very base of the environment. If we lose it, we will be refugees on our own planet. All measures for conservation of environment seek to reduce consumption and waste generation. Preventing land pollution will require us to:

  • Control Population and Consumption
  • Recycle and pressurise elected representatives to mainstream recycling
  • Install Biogas Plants and Sewage Treatment Machinery
  • Use Biodegradable Products
  • Support Sustainable Farming through purchase of organic food even if it means shelling out extra money
  • Not litter around especially regarding plastics and food packages

 

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Fossil Fuels: A Double Edged Sword

Development Essential

Fossil fuels are natural fuels formed over millions of years from the decomposition of plant and animal remains buried deep inside the earth. At these depths, enormous temperature and pressure cause the remains to decompose in the absence of air. The word ‘fossil’ is used to describe them because they are derived from the fossils or remains of plants and animals.

 

Mineral oil, coal, and natural gas are the chief fossil fuels. Energy as electricity and fuel is required for all economic and survival activities – industries, transport, agriculture, household activities and the like. Together, fossil fuels supply around 85% of the total global energy requirements. About 36% comes from oil, 27% from coal, and 22% from natural gas.

 

Endangered and Endangering Resource

Growing population, increasing high-consumption lifestyles, expanding industries and spread of energy-intensive agriculture cause energy needs to expand by just over 2% every year exerting enormous pressure on these non-renewable resources. At present rates of extraction we will lose available sources of coal by 2112, crude oil by 2065, and natural gas by 2068.

Another, greater problem with burning of coal and oil is the emission of polluting gases. Carbon dioxide is the chief culprit in global warming, a problem that can flood half the world and suck dry the remaining half. Then again, air pollution is the primary cause of many grave disorders such as respiratory diseases, heart defects, and lung cancer.

Addicted as we are all to this fuel, there is a serious need to re-examine our habits. Sooner or later, the world will run out of this source of fuel. If we haven’t mended our ways by then, development and even daily survival will be virtually impossible.

Not letting old habits die will make us face the irreversibly catastrophic consequences of global warming namely coastal flooding, increased droughts and cyclones, aridity, forest fires, eroding agricultural productivity, proliferation of tropical diseases, species extinction, and ecosystem destruction that will threaten the very existence of life on this planet.

 

Alternative Trajectories

Transformation from the fossil-fuel-intensive development model will be a long and tardy process, not a sudden event. The focus has to be on cutting down on use of fossil fuels coupled with increasing efficiency of production and development of non-renewable energy technologies. Some of the alternatives are:

  • Population control
  • Low consumption lifestyles with:

+      judicious use of electricity and cooking gas

+      pooling cars, use of public transport, and switching off automobiles when waiting at signals cut down fuel use

+      consuming only the required amount of commodities lowers the energy and other resources needed for their production

  • Improvement of production technologies to minimise wastage
  • Greater use of renewable energy from wind, solar, small hydro, and biomass. Large hydro projects on mega dams are known to destroy the ecosystems in downstream areas
  • Policy support for research, development, and extension of renewable energy technologies is essential to improve their productivity to commercially viable levels

 

Finally

A stitch in time saves nine. If we act today, we can save ourselves and posterity from a cataclysm. Environment is common to all entities on this planet. Therefore, measures to conserve it require cooperation between people across the world. Otherwise, we will all face the wrath of nature on the soon-to-arrive doomsday.

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Sustainable Agriculture: Challenging Centralised, Industrial Farming?

Sustainable agriculture includes holistic agricultural practices that are environmentally, economically, and socially viable in the long term. It involves the economical production of food, fibre, and other animal-plant products using farming methods that protect and preserve the environment and social communities related to farming.

An integration of environmental health, economic profitability, and socio-economic equality, such farming emphasizes the need of the present generation to obtain food without compromising the ability of future generations to obtain theirs. This means development and maintenance of efficient ecosystems which requires lower levels of material inputs.

 

Unhealthy Centralisation

Agriculture used to be a holistic activity till half a century ago when crop and animal farming were integrated into a balanced ecosystem. Technological advances coupled with government policy support enabled economical operation of large farms that used machines, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, irrigation, and genetically-modified seeds in copious amounts.

Farms became larger, specialised, and more centralised. The market was now dominated by a few powerful corporations as small farmers faced extinction. For a while all appeared hunky dory. Slowly, the environmental, economical, and social costs of this model came to the fore.

Pollution of land, air, and water manifested through topsoil depletion, decline in soil fertility, and exhaustion plus contamination of groundwater. Raising livestock and poultry in unnaturally cramped facilities and feeding them steroids to boost productivity degrades their health, produces abundant wastes, and lowers the quality of produce obtained from them.

 

Farm workers and communities around farms are exposed to toxic chemicals and the local ecosystems are destroyed. Environment is degraded and so is the local economy. Small farmers find intensive agriculture progressively and prohibitively expensive and are forced towards distress migration that spells doom for the local socio-economic stability.

Comprehensively Viable Sustainable Agriculture

Sagacious use of natural and human resources is the cornerstone for sustainable agriculture. The precise approach depends on topography, climate, soil, pests, inputs in the locality, and the aspirations of the farmer / grower. However, certain general practices are identified as:

  • Selection of animal and plant species compatible with local climate and conditions. Results are best when crops and livestock are integrated into a mutually beneficial relationship such as using cow dung as manure, cow urine as a pesticide, and crop stems as fodder
  • Pasture-based livestock husbandry that allows animals to move, behave, and feed naturally
  • Crop and livestock diversification for environmental and economic sustainability vis-à-vis monoculture farming. Crop rotation and planting cover crops replenish soil fertility and suppress pests, pathogens, and weeds
  • Judicious application of inputs with preference to natural, renewable, and on-farm-available inputs for proper management of soil and water such as scientific irrigation and use of natural pesticides, fertilisers, and seeds

 

Towards Sustainability

Transition from unsustainable to sustainable farming is a process heavily influenced by the aspirations of the farmer / grower. The changing and sometimes competing relationships between all players in the food production chain viz. input suppliers, farmers, farm-workers, unions, food processors, traders, retailers and wholesalers, consumers, researchers, and policymakers, calls for assumption of collective responsibility.

Intervention in policies related to farming research, food and agriculture, land use, and labour is necessary for making sustainable agriculture commercially viable. Above all, we as customers can send strong signals to the production chain through the purchase of sustainable agriculture products even if it means shelling out a few more bucks for the time being.


 

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Natural Resource Depletion: Sucking Earth Dry

Destroy thy Creator

Man has been at war with nature ever since he stopped living in forests and looked at Planet Earth with prying eyes. The industrial age intensified this appetite and today we stand on the brink of environmental disaster. If we bite the very hand that nurtures us, how far can we be from a total catastrophe?

 

Environment Fundamentals

Environment is the sum total of all ecosystems on the planet, the total planetary inheritance. This includes all biotic and abiotic resources such as air, water, soil-land, minerals, and animal and plant life on earth. The chief functions of the environment are:

  • Supply Resources
  • Assimilate Wastes
  • Sustain Life by providing Genetic and Biological Diversity

 

Why Environment is the Mother Resource?

All living beings require resources for survival. Humans need these for the additional purpose of economic development. All sustenance and developmental activities produce wastes that are absorbed by nature. Through a balance of these two functions, environment sustains life. Therefore, nature provides and sustains life as well as development.

 

Ungrateful, Imbalanced Humans

When the rates of resource extraction and waste generation respectively exceed the rates of resource regeneration waste assimilation an imbalance results. Greater extraction also leads to greater consumption and generates more wastes. Then, environment is unable to sustain life.

Such imbalance has precisely been the result of human activity. With the industrial age, machines were used on an unprecedentedly large scale. The increased production capacity was complemented with blatant resource extraction. High-demand lifestyles were promoted to market this augmented production.

 

Devastation Pte Ltd

If we open our eyes, the exhaustion of all natural resources is there for all of us to see. This includes:

  • Land Degradation due to incorrect practices in agriculture, grazing, mining and groundwater extraction; deforestation, forest fires and solid waste mismanagement
  • Biodiversity Loss manifested in ecosystem destruction and extinction of plant and animal species
  • Air Pollution due to industrial and automobile discharges and incorrect agricultural practices. Global Warming can flood half the world and dry out the remaining half
    • Water Bodies Contamination by untreated sewage and industrial effluents
    • Ozone Depletion
    • Exhaustion of Minerals from excessive mining

To sum up, these effects destroy livelihoods, lower the quality of life, disrupt cultures, and trigger social instability.

 

Sustainable Development: Do we have the Collective Resolve?

Premised on the interdependence of environment and economy, sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present generation without hampering the ability of future generations to fulfil their needs.

This will require:

  • Population and Consumption Controls to reduce demand for resources
  • Sustainable Resource Extraction
  • Substitution of Non-renewable Natural Resources with Synthetics and Renewables
  • Recycling
  • Improvement of Production Efficiency
  • Greater use of Public Transport
  • Rain Water Harvesting and Responsible Use of Water
  • Organic Farming and Revival of Traditional Practices
  • Scientific Afforestation and Checking Deforestation
  • Scientific Treatment of Sewage and Industrial Effluents before discharge

 

Collective Responsibility

Planet Earth belongs to us all. We are all responsible for this mess. Passing the buck won’t help. We need to get our act together even if it means stepping out of our comfort zones. Remember, in nature there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences.