The environment is not isolated from man. The two have co-existed through ages and it is only a mutual understanding of each other that facilitates longevity of both man and his environment. Human beings have for long tried to unravel the mysteries of nature. While it may not be possible to understand nature completely, here are a few environmental concepts that will offer a partial insight.
D’code…. The natural environment or the ecosystem includes all living and non-living things that occur naturally.
Top up…. The environment is not just natural. There is also a built environment around us. This includes urban settings and conversion of agricultural land. The plants, animals and micro-organisms are together referred to as biotic while all the non-living factors which function along with them are called abiotic.
XL Info…. It is interesting to note that in some cultures such as in some native cultures of the United States, the term environment is meaningless because people do not see themselves as distinct from what they view as the natural world.
D’code…. The introduction of harmful or poisonous substances into the air is called air pollution.
Top up…. The leading pollutant that is presently warming the earth is carbon dioxide. This is a greenhouse gas* which when associated with cars, power plants, planes, gasoline and natural gas turns out to be a major pollutant. Another greenhouse gas is methane which comes from swamps and gas emitted by livestock. CFCs or Chlorofluorocarbons used in refrigerants is a greenhouse gas that effects the Earth’s ozone layer. Volcanoes have for long been the source of atmospheric sulphur dioxide! This pollutant is associated with climate change and when released causes cooling that lasts for years.
XL Info…. Industrialised countries have tried to reduce levels of sulphur dioxide, smog and smoke for better human health. However, it is a double edged sword because reduced sulphur dioxide levels can cause global warming.
At the same time other measures such as driving less, recycling and conservation can reduce carbon footprint*. On a larger scale pacts have been signed to combat climate change. This includes The Paris Agreement * among 118 nations in 2016. Taxes on carbon emission and higher taxes on gasoline can help to conserve energy and pollute less.
D’code…. Over the past fifty years, the average global temperature has increased at a fastest rate in recorded history.
Top up…. Technically speaking carbon dioxide, air pollutants and other greenhouse gases collect in the atmosphere and absorb sunlight and solar radiation that bounces off the earth’s surface, and should actually escape into space. But these pollutants trap the heat causing the earth to get hotter. This is called the greenhouse effect.
Though there are various factors responsible for global warming, rise in temperatures may largely be attributed to the burning of fossil fuels to make electricity, as it produces about two billion tonnes of CO2 every year and the transportation sector.
XL Info…. Effects of global warming range from melting glaciers and severe droughts, rising sea levels, heavy downpours and increased flooding to infectious disease outbreaks.
Can you and I do something about global warming at our own teeny weeny level?
Yes, Reduce your own carbon footprint….
- While shopping for refrigerators, washers, dryers go for government’s Energy Star label.
- When you buy a car go for one with the highest gas mileage and lowest emissions.
- Use public transport or carpooling.
- Speak up - Voice your concern.
- Buy better bulbs - LED
D’code…. The ozone layer or shield is a region of the Earth’s stratosphere* that absorbs most of the Sun’s UV (ultraviolet) radiations.
It was discovered by French Physicists Charles Fabry and Henri Buisson.
Top up…. The ozone layer absorbs 97 to 99 per cent of the Sun’s ultraviolet light which has the potential of damaging exposed life forms near the surface of the earth. The ozone layer by absorbing this biologically harmful UV radiation prevents us from several diseases such as cataract, skin cancer, genetic damage and sunburn.
The ozone layer has been depleting over the years due to compounds such as chlorofluorocarbons and bromofluorocarbons*. The breakdown of ozone results in reduced absorption of ultraviolet radiation which is able to reach the Earth’s surface at a higher intensity.
XL Info…. Do you know that the United Nations General Assembly has designated September 16 as the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer.
It is interesting that planet Venus also has a thin ozone layer at an altitude of 100 kilometres from the planet’s surface!
D’code…. Biodegradable waste or products or materials can be easily broken down by biological agents such as bacteria and fungi into raw materials.
Some examples of biodegradable substances include food scraps, cotton, wool, human and animal waste, manufactured products based on natural materials like paper, plant products, wood etc.
Top up…. Talking about biodegradable products obviously leads us to its counterpart, the Non-Biodegradable Waste. These materials do not decompose or break into simpler substances over a short period of time. These include plastics and glass that remain intact in the environment for years. In fact, glass bottles may never biodegrade. Since they do not break down but remain exposed to air, light and water for a long time period, synthetic materials such as plastic can emit toxic pollutants.
XL Info…. Therefore, biodegradable products must be supplemented in our everyday life so that our natural resources can be recycled and the earth kept clean.
- On a daily basis you must use more biodegradable products like paper towels and multipurpose cleansers, pet waste bags, trash bags and eating utensils.
- Almost all waste that comes from your garden like fall leaves, weeds etc are biodegradable and can be turned to compost.
- We must buy organic and natural fertilisers.
D’code…. The variety of life seen in the number of species and within species in an ecosystem or on the entire Earth is referred to as biodiversity.
Top up…. In spite of many tools and data sources, it is difficult to quantify biodiversity precisely. Yet there are many measures of biodiversity such as species richness* and relative abundance *. On an average there are more than 10,000 species of birds; 200,000 species of flowering plants and almost one million species of insects in the world.
Biodiversity is largely divided into three types - Species diversity, Genetic diversity and Ecological diversity*.
XL Info…. So why do you think biodiversity is important? It is important not only for the variety of beautiful and interesting species it offers us but also for the stability of an ecosystem and our entire planet. Areas with high levels of diversity have a more complex ecosystem with a variety of food webs and biotic interactions. Such areas have more ways to respond to a disturbance and fix problems!
D’code…. The collection, transportation and disposal of garbage, sewage and other waste products.
Top up…. There are many available methods to dispose off waste. Throwing garbage in landfills or burying it in land is the most popular. However, it leads to rise in air and water pollution. Combustion or incineration burns wastes at high temperatures. Also known as thermal treatment, it converts solid waste into heat, gas, steam and ash. Recycling converts waste products into new products and prevents energy usage and consumption of fresh raw materials. Plasma gasification uses a vessel with plasma torches* that operate at very high temperatures and create a gasification zone that converts solid or liquid wastes into syngas. Composting is one of the best methods of waste disposal which takes organic wastes and turns it into nutrient rich food for plants. Waste to energy process converts the non-recyclable waste items into heat, electricity or fuel using a variety of processes.
You and I can simply reduce waste by recycling old materials like jars, bags, repairing old items rather than buying new ones, avoiding the use of disposable plastic bags, reusing second-hand items etc.
XL Info…. Hazardous waste has been a major concern in countries all over the world. The trans-boundary movement of waste is often bound by international treaties. The Basel Convention deprecates movement of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries. However, nuclear waste does not fall under this jurisdiction.
D’code…. Renewable energy made available from materials derived from biological sources is called bioenergy.
Top up…. Now, what kind of energy is there in plants? It is the energy from the Sun absorbed through photosynthesis. This energy is capable of being replenished and is therefore considered an inexhaustible source. So, most bioenergy comes from forests, agricultural farms and waste. Raw sources are turned into energy through three processes - chemical (use of chemical agents), thermal (use of heat through combustion or gasification) and biochemical (use of bacteria or other organisms to convert the source through composting or fermentation).
From individuals to energy corporations, all can use bioenergy. Individuals can create a compost heap out of kitchen scraps to produce fertilizers.
XL Info…. Use of bioenergy can decrease our carbon footprint and improve the environment. Fast growing trees and grass work as bioenergy feed stocks and can help in the process. It helps in production of oil. Hence, it will reduce dependency on fossil fuels that increase environmental hazards. Bioenergy can reduce greenhouse emissions. Although the process is costly and uses too many resources like land and water but with time it is likely to become a standard energy form and will help improve the environment.
D’code…. Having spoken of bioenergy, it is a must to decode biomass which is simply a term for getting energy by burning wood and other organic matter*.
Top up…. Burning is the only way to release the energy in biomass. It can be converted into other useable forms of energy such as methane gas or biodiesel and ethanol. Crops such as corn and sugarcane are fermented to produce fuel ethanol* for use in vehicles. Biodiesel* is produced from vegetable oils and animal fats. Other examples of biomass and their uses of energy include wood and wood processing wastes used to generate electricity.
XL Info…. Biomass is the most important fuel worldwide after coal, oil and natural gas. It is effective in domestic heating and community heating applications. Half a kilo if dry plant tissue is capable of producing as much as 1890 Kcal of heat which is equal to the heat available from a quarter of kilogram of coal. It is used in over 90% of the rural households in India. Indian sugar mills are also increasingly using leftover of cane to generate electricity. This is being done to clean up the environment and cut down power costs.
D’code…. Organic is the mantra of the decade. With the world turning organically upside down, what do we exactly understand by the term?
Top up…. So, what do organically grown crops use? Natural fertilisers like manure. Animals raised organically are also not given antibiotics or hormones. This kind of farming tends to improve soil quality and also helps to conserve water. It reduces pollution as well. Organic foods are said to have more nutrients, more antioxidants and vitamins such as vitamin C, zinc and iron. They have lower levels of nitrates. Organic milk may contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and higher amounts of iron, vitamin E.
XL Info…. There is not enough evidence to prove that eating organic food provides health benefits over eating regular foods. And that is the catch. Nonetheless it is said to boost the immune system and lowers the risk of allergies. To check if the product you are buying is organic you must check the label and appropriate seal. Organic food is certainly costlier and may spoil faster. However, it reduces exposure to artificial chemicals, hormones and antibiotic resistant bacteria.
D’code…. The removal of a forest or stand of trees and the conversion of the land into a non-forest area is called deforestation.
Top up…. NASA predicts that if current deforestation levels proceed, the world's rainforests may be completely cleared in as less as hundred years. Indonesia is the country with maximum deforestation. Housing and urbanisation, use of timber for commercial purposes and creating room for cattle ranching are some reasons for deforestation. It is done by burning trees and clear cutting*. Deforestation is a major contributing factor to global climate change. It increases carbon dioxide in the air because when trees die they release the stored carbon.
XL Info…. To counter deforestation simple solution is to plant more trees. It will help to restore the ecosystem services provided by forests such as carbon storage, water cycle and wildlife habitat and reduce the build up of carbon dioxide. It can also be counteracted through awareness. The Global Forest Watch uses satellite technology to detect and alert people about deforestation.
D’code…. Sound is a normal feature of our life, a means of communication and entertainment. It is an effective alarm system.
Top up…. Noise pollution is not fatal to human life. But its importance cannot be overlooked because repeated exposure to it can reduce productivity or efficiency of human beings. Its ill effects on human health and environment are becoming evident day by day. Sources of noise pollution maybe
- Transport vehicles
- Domestic gadgets
- Public address systems
- Defence Equipment
Its effects maybe physical or physiological. While physical effects include hearing disability physiological effects include headache, narrowing of arteries, digestive spasms, lowering of concentration, insomnia, fatigue and emotional disturbance.
XL Info…. If noise pollution level is up to 23 decibels it causes no disturbance; 30-60 db may lead to stress; 60-90 can lead to serious health hazards and 60-120 may cause ontological (ear) diseases.
Greenhouse gas — A gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation. Examples are carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons.Read more
Carbon footprint -- The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organisation or community.
Paris Agreement -- Also known as Paris Climate Accord and Paris Climate Agreement, it is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in which all the countries who are a part of it determine, plan and regularly report their contribution to mitigate global warming.
Stratosphere -- A layer of the Earth's atmosphere. It is the second layer as you go upward.
Bromofluorocarbons -- Molecules based on carbon, bromine and fluorine. The most common use has been in fire suppression systems. They attack the ozone layer aggressively.
Organic matter -- A term that encompasses a wide variety of living or dead plant and animal material, ranging from kitchen wastes and leaves to well rotted manure and compost.
Composting -- Nature’s process of recycling decomposed organic material into rich soil known as compost. Anything that was once living can decompose.
Aerobic digestion -- Treatment and reduction of organic waste such as food, cardboard and horticultural waste. It is a bacterial process that occurs in the presence of oxygen. Bacteria consume organic matter and convert it into carbon dioxide, water and other organic compounds.
Anaerobic digestion -- A series of biological processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. One of the end products is biogas which is used to generate electricity.
Species richness -- The number of different species represented in an ecological community, landscape or region. It is simply a count of species.
Relative abundance -- A component of biodiversity that refers to how common or rare a species is relative to other species in a defined location or community.
Species diversity -- The diversity of living organisms, meaning the abundance of different animal, plant and microbial species.
Genetic diversity -- The total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of a species. It helps populations to adapt to changing environments.
Ecological diversity -- The variation in the ecosystems found in a region or over the whole planet. It includes variation in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
Plasma torches -- Also known as plasma arc, plasma gun or plasma cutter, it is a device for generating a directed flow of plasma which can be used for plasma cutting, plasma spraying and plasma gasification for waste disposal.
Fuel ethanol -- Ethyl alcohol which is most often used as motor fuel. It is renewable fuel made from various plant materials.
Biodiesel -- A vegetable oil or animal fat based diesel fuel which is a renewable substitute for diesel.
Clear cutting -- A forestry practice in which most or all trees in an area are uniformly cut down.
GHG -- Refers to greenhouse gases.
Biotic processes -- ones that involve biotic or living things that shape an ecosystem.
Aquifers -- An underground layer of water bearing permeable rock from which groundwater can be extracted using a water well.
Bedrock -- Lithified rock that lies under a loose softer material at the surface of the earth.
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