How to have an Impact on our Planet – One life at a time
As recent as a week ago, we were all working towards making our year ending spectacular. There were parties’ arranged, long drives, gaming nights, dinners, bonfires and barbecue. We were all set to leave our past behind and embrace our new year with new hopes and aspirations; all set to meet with motivation the ‘future’. But what if I say that it is not the future that impacts our well-being and development, but the opposite – Humans impact the future.
Driving at a speed of 120 kmph in an old hatch back mustang, sipping a drink and having your favorite burger; zipping past all our miseries – Classic, but Dangerous! We all love to make our life better. But what we look at is the near future, not the long term well-being of everyone.
Do I mean to say that partying and having fun is wrong? Do I say that we must not socialize? No, certainly not. And moreover, this article does not, in any way, mean to focus on our socializing as a skill. Instead it speaks of the impact of this fast moving, posh, urban life we are running towards, and what we are doing in the process. You must be thinking how is the planet’s condition, related to me going out and having a gala time? Well, ‘It does!’.
The question we pose today is ‘When did humans start impacting the planet?’, ‘How and where does the impact happen?’, and ‘What we can do about reducing the impact?’ Some would say “…ever since we came upon the face of earth”. I would like to believe so, for the restriction of time to debate the issue. But that isn’t true.
I say restriction of time primarily because there is very less time for us to act and do something about the mess we have created. The situation we are in is something like what Valentine from Kingsman very well describes: “The last time we checked, the planet was still f****d.”
The Choking Planet
Sitting in an air-conditioned room, traveling in air-conditioned vehicles from building to building, breathing clean refined air, drinking clean, purified water! Bliss! But why is it bliss? Because the air outside is choking many to death. Because the water in the rivers is home not just to marine life, but also to toxic plastic and industrial effluents. Because the land outside is a dumping yard with little space left to live.
According to TOI India produces 1,00,000 metric tonnes of garbage each day. Delhi and Mumbai alone produce 8,300 and 9,000 metric tonnes of garbage every day, respectively. According to CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) India throws 15,342 tonnes of plastic each day of which only 60% is recycled (a decent amount). But the 40% is still left on roads, in industries, at homes, in water and in open landfills. 40% of 15,342 tonnes, each day! Which means more than 6,000 tonnes of plastic comes out in the open, each day!
Plastic waste gathered on the Honeymoon Island in Maldives – source- The Nation
This plastic is choking the land, the sea, and if burnt, the air. Marine plastic pollution has affected 267 species of marine life (86% of which are sea turtles). Certainly not a number the world can afford to lose. Water pollution kills marine life, bit by bit, but rather fast. And the affect grows each day.
A sea turtle grows into 6 pack plastic rings – source – Collective Evolution
The condition of the air is no good either. World over, cities are choking on the air they are breathing. We know how our own capital is drowning in smog and pollution. People who have never smoked have lungs of a chronic smoker, courtesy the air. The planet is losing out on more and more of its ozone, courtesy the air. Who made the quality of air so bad? We did! Industries let untreated gas out, into the open. There are man-made fires which have choked nations together. Yes man-made fires. A study done by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academies of Science) found that 84% of all wildfires were actually ignited by humans (through arson, careless campfires, downed power lines etc.).
The roads of Vietnam choking on pollution – source – Saigoneer website
We need not point out any more towards the ‘kinds of pollution’. We know them. Industrial effluents, non-biodegradable waste on land and in sea, human excreta washed away into fresh water reserves – they are all causes of the impact we have on the planet. This waste on land is causing people to die of the stench it produces and causing fauna to disappear. The air is choking not just people but the earth and the entire ecosystem. The water is not more for anyone; neither to drink nor to live.
The Famished Planet
As a kid we all heard the story of the man whose goose laid golden eggs. This man’s greed cost him and in the end he got neither the goose nor the golden eggs. This story explains to us the impact our greed can have on the planet and thereby on our existence as a species.
Here it is – Humans do not stop at just ‘polluting’ the planet. We go a little further by taking away all that this planet has for us. We cut down trees; we use and over use non-renewable natural resources; we turn marshlands into apartments. The list of our follies could go on forever.
Trees are being cut down at a faster pace than ever before. Research states that 3.5 billion to 7 billion trees are cut each year to meet the needs of humans. According to Global Forests Research Assessment 2015, only 4 billion hectares of forest remain world wide. This massive deforestation causes landslides, reduction in ground water levels, lesser rainfall, climate change and diminished air quality. Together with this we are also putting at stake the lives of multiple species of insects and animals which depend on natural flora for their survival. The amazon rain forest too is being sacrificed to meet the needs of the greedy human race.
To add to the list, a few years ago researchers predicted that coal is being used at a 40% higher rate than it actually should. Petroleum products are soon diminishing and theories state that there will be no petrol by 2050. In fact all fossil fuels (oil, gas and petrol) are just on the verge of extinction with their rapid usage. The worry is that once petrol and gas run out, humans will turn to coal to meet the energy needs. No one can imagine what will happen with all that smoke in the air once that coal is used.
The Amazon of Brazil destroyed to create the world’s third largest hydro-electric dam – source- Amazon watch
The earth is losing out on its precious, resourceful environment with no hopes of building it back again. We are leaving the earth famished of ‘nature’. And what is earth without nature? The impact that these diminishing resources will have on the ecosystem is unimaginable and something humans have never seen.
Healing the Earth
To answer the question we posed in the beginning – When did humans start to impact the planet? – Humans started to impact the planet when they did not give back to it what they took.
Fortunately for us there are some organisations working towards preservation and conservation of the environment for sustainable development. There are Eco-friendly houses being built, which do not harm the planet. There are people who are working towards bringing back to life coral reefs and the ocean as a whole. There are people trying to make human interaction with the environment, Eco-friendly. But that isn’t enough. These are just a few individuals working and their reach would be limited. They can only change a certain places during their lifetime. Whereas the earth is changing every moment at multiple places and needs much more force to save this rapid transitioning of its environment. The responsibility needs to be divided between us all. The problem is that the everyday population is running on a virtual treadmill of life which is getting us nowhere (no happiness, no contentment, no peace and no assurance of a better tomorrow).
Moreover, what we have done in the process of creating an urban space is – created an imbalance in the ecosystem. We might live a secure life with enough electricity and food but we have reduced ways in which our future generation will be able to sustain itself. The goals of reaching a sustainable form of development, goes down the drain right here.
What we must realize is that the number of fossil fuel reserves on this planet are only few, compared to the ever increasing population. Meaning to say, they will only last a finite number of days. We must also realize that if we do not effectively put back what we took it will lead to imbalance.
An imbalance is created when we do not make efforts. Efforts to sow back seeds of trees we have cut; efforts to reduce the intake of resources; efforts to reduce, reuse, recycle; efforts to clean the mess we have left behind. This solution sounds pretty simple but could also be equally problematic. problematic because we are not used to making these efforts consciously. We must consciously make a change. For example: we have to consciously plant trees and care for the environment; we have to consciously refill open landfills; we have to consciously care for the marine life; we have to consciously care for our surrounding.
If each man takes care of just his environment and ensures sustainable development there, the impact of human presence on earth would diminish and the earth would be able to sustain us, itself and also the future.