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Agenda for Environment

People living in Indian cities need no introduction to the pollution and degrading environment . Pollution of water and air, alarming noise levels, mushrooming of slums, accumulation of solid waste and increased deposits of smog in the human body are unfortunate reminders of the modernization and development gone haywire.

The villages also suffer acutely from ecological degradation. The pollution problem does not know the nationality barrier. The whole globe is threatened with perils of climatic changes deforestation, holes in ozone layer and air pollution. In last 100 years, we have changed the globe beyond recognition, by destroying unabashedly original forests, wetlands, reef systems and fresh water sources. We are doing it all in the name of development but is it the right course that will deprive our children the course that will deprive our children the nature’s gifts that has been preserved by our forefathers for generations and cherished and exploited by us. The conquest over disease causing micro-organism and taming of natural deviation have caused booming of human population. In last one century, there has been six fold increase in human population, stretching the earth and its resources to newer limits. To meet the needs and greeds of human being, other species have had to make way. The unquenching thirst of human beings for luxurious and consumer items has pushed the earth to limits, jeo-paradising its original structure and even endangering the life – sustaining elements. Water, air and food are three basic ingredient of human existence but all of them are being wasted, mismanaged and polluted on a grand scale. Water consumption in the world has tripled in the last five decades, but this has led to falling of water tables, depletion of underground aquifers and shrinking of lakes and wetland. Though two third of the earth has water, yet battles have been fought for it and more fierce wars are expected in future. Most of the water on earth is in unusable form – either it is undrinkable salted seawater or locked up at high altitudes and latitudes in the form of ice. Whatever water is available population. Moreover, there has been reduction in availability of potable water due to increased contamination by industries and human waste.

The reduction in water supply is causing food shortages because about three-fourth of the water is being used for irrigation purposes and irrigated land produces 40% of the world crops. The green revolution bases in hybrid seeds, increased uses of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation has so far easily sustained the increased demand of food grains by larger population but there is a limit to which productivity can be increased or more land can be brought under cultivation. Insects are increasingly becoming resistant to pesticides, reliance on fertilizers is causing soil erosion and increased irrigation is leading to build up of salts in the soil and ultimately leading to soil infertility. Diversion of farms, particularly near the urban centre, for residential, recreation and industrial purposes is a cause for concern. Moreover, unexpected changes in climate due to greenhouse effect and other factors have raised question marks over the farmers ability to feed others.

The industries are too busy emitting poisonous gases and not to bother about its adverse impact on the climate, vegetation, people and other species. Acid rains caused by mixing of oxide of Sulphur and Nitrogen with water vapours, occurs too frequently. Emission of large quantity of Carbon-dioxide by vehicles has caused greenhouse effect leading to a warming of 0.5 degree centigrade of climate over the last century. This seemingly minor figure is causing widespread damage, submerging the low-lying areas and islands and disturbing the weather pattern. The most fearsome news is the heating process is gaining momentum and if continued unabated, it may lead to havoc, wiping out several places from the world’s map altogether. Another feather in the cap of polluting gases has been eating up of a large chunk of protective Ozone layer over the earth. A healthy Ozone layer blocks a large part of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, which in big enough doses can cause skin cancer and harm plants life crucial to the food chain. Chloroflouro carbons, aerosol sprays, refrigerators and air conditioners, have been identified as the main culprits. A hole of the size of Antarctica was discovered by scientists, leading to a large hue and cry and finally leading to Montreal Protocol, signed by over 150 countries. It was a landmark, beginning the phase of Ozone destroying chemicals and hastening the development of alternatives. In otherwise dark environmental scenario, it also gave new hope that earth could be protected if collective action was taken.

The conspicuous consumption has not even spared the seas and oceans which have rolled in and on for ages, having absorbed, whatever was tossed in and out. But 6 billion of us are burdening life support functions of oceans with oil spill overs and dumping of tonnes of solid, metallic and non-biodegradable materials. Dredging and trawling is causing enormous damage to the ecological balance under the water. Oceans play very important role in our lives by controlling climate and weather, regulating temperature and shaping planetary chemistry. Forests, providing fresh oxygen to the environment and absorbing polluting gases, have been at the receiving end of the modern age entrepreneurs. The increased appetite for wood and land has caused disappearance of upto 40% original forests. Almost one third of the countries on earth have altogether cut off their original forests. With trees, we have also lost exotic plants, rare species of birds and animals and ancient wisdom of aboriginals who used to get all their daily requirements from the forests. The extinction of forests has also caused widespread ecological damage with recurring famines and floods. Other impacts of the environmental degradation are increased urbanization, proliferation of slums and migration of people, either forced or otherwise.

The wounds suffered by the planet have forced people, corporative and countries to reorient their strategies and priorities. Actions initiated by individuals have become movements and spread all over. Economists, industrialists, politicians and even religious leaders have endorsed the rescue plan. The emphasis is on recycling and optimization of the available resources and reducing the consumption and production of hazardous materials. Water conservation has been taken up on a large scale by adopting newer techniques. Industries are being encouraged to recycle their consumed water. At the municipal levels, wastages are being checked. For irrigation, drip techniques are being adopted, giving water directly to the roots of plants. Evaporation from dams and other storages is being checked by using new chemicals. For increasing the productivity of farms, time tested approaches like rotating different crops, planting legumes to replenish the soil’s nitrogen supply and using organic manures and compost, are being restored to. The speed of the fast moving hands of population clock is being slowed down by stressing the women’s education and empowerment. To protect the ocean, about 1200 protected zones have been established in coastal regions worldwide planting of trees to absorb carbon dioxide, development of fuel efficient vehicles and installation of pollution – controlling devices have been undertaken to check emission of greenhouse – causing gases. The recent incidence of spread of smog in South-East Asia due to forest fires in Indonesia brought worldwide condemnation. It also brought in focus large scale destruction of educational forests treasure of species of plants and animals.

The large requirement of energy has been the main cause of environmental destruction. Forests have been cut for wood, wells have been dug in sea and land for petroleum products, mines have been built for bringing out coal, nuclear reactors and large dams have been built for producing energy. Alternative and non-conventional sources are now being developed to harness renewable and environment friendly energy. Solar cells, wind turbines, bio-gas plants, bio-mass conversion system, micro hydel systems and fuel cells have installed new hope. These beautiful sources of energy will never be over and if the scientists succeed in harnessing energy from water through nuclear fusion, a major source of pollution will disappear from earth.

Individual efforts to save the planet are really praiseworthy but it is at the governmental level that they can be more effective. The political leadership have to show a commitment that goes beyond their narrow and short-term gains. The United Nations took a lead in 1992 when leaders of 178 nations gathered in Rio-de-Jenerio to discuss action plan for an ambitious environmental agenda. The jamboree ended on a positive note, raising hopes and expectations but these were belied soon so pollution continued unabated. The loss of species is accelerating as humans encroach on habitats and carve up ecosystem into fragments. Deforestation, emission of greenhouse gases and increase in population continues while the pledged aid to developing nations by developed world to move over eco-friendly technologies remains a mirage.

The third conference of the parties to the framework convention on climate change was held in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. The conference was however marked by sharp divisions with the EU vs the US, the developing nations vs the US and the NGO’s vs the US. After 10 days of deliberations, 159 members countries of Third Conference of Parties (COPS) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) signed a “historic accord” on 11th December, 1997. The legally binding protocol also has a compliance-cum-punitive mechanism. It proposes overall cut of 5.2 percent, with the United States agreeing to cut greenhouse gases emission by seven percent, Japan by six percent, and the European Union by eight percent before 1990 levels, between the years 2008 and 2012. On behalf of the G-77, India and China contented that inequities of development & industrialisation are reflected in the amounts of greenhouse emission and that “the polluter pays principle” must be observed.There have been many more recent conferences and deliberations around the world with developed countries taking much greater interest like humanitarian project WATER FOR LIFE in Africa .

UN and WORLD BANK and IMF and EU , US GOVT. and FED supporting such projects far more liberally. Now the whole world is concerned about the global warming. The former vice president of us Mr. Al Gore has announced that he is training 1000 messengers to spread out and make a presentation of slide show about global warming that shows the essence of his hollywood documentary featured in film "An Incovenenient Truth" and book. He also said that he would carry on with his mission to give slide shows as his trained messengers present their versions of it .