Ahimsa - The Science Of Peace: ENVIRONMENT

Published: 12.01.2009


Like terrorism, environmental degradation is a burning problem of our times. Experts from diverse fields have done a lot of work in this area and continue to do so. However, we too must continue to enhance our awareness of the gravity and scale of the problem.

How much time is left in the oft-predicted scenario of devastation by the increasing pollution in the atmosphere? Scientists opine that it will take fifty years for the ambient temperature of the earth to rise by two to three degrees. The forecast about acid rain and the global warming is also that their widespread effects will be visible in about 50 to 100 years. The same is being said about ozone layer depletion.

All these estimated forecasts are based on available information about present day conditions. However, as the fragile balance of environmental conditions depends on innumerable variables, it is impossible to arrive at exact or even nearly exact predictions. This gives rise to an important question:  Has some component of this complex system already deteriorated so much that it is on the brink of collapse and has lost the capacity to absorb even a slight nudge? If that has happened, the forecast of fifty to one hundred years could be reduced to five to ten years. What would happen then? Would the pundits of development and consumerism be left with the time and choice to readjust their responses?

The scenario is horrifying. To some it may appear to be a baseless apprehension. Even if we conform to this hopeful attitude, the impending disaster cannot be ignored by branding it impossible. Even in a remote possibility of disaster, it is wise to take precautionary measures. Such measures are all the more essential in face of the high degree of unpredictability of a dynamic system, with innumerable variables, in precarious balance.

How fragile is the balance and how far reaching are the effects of changes brought about by uncontrolled human desires and ambitions is evident from numerous phenomena widely reported during the past fifty years.

One of these phenomena is ozone layer depletion. For more than forty years scientists have been warning that the quantity of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere is continuously increasing and adversely affecting the protective ozone layer. This layer of ozone-fifteen to twenty kilometers beyond and around the earth-protects life on earth from the devastating effects of ultra-violet rays. The predications based on available information are that, if corrective measures are not taken, this protective layer of ozone could be so much depleted by the third decade of the new millennium that large holes will appear in it. According to these warnings, we still have twenty years to take corrective measures.

In 1985, a group of British scientists on a survey mission to Antarctica were taken aback when they found that a hole had already appeared in the ozone layer above Antarctica and was increasing in size. Why did this happen, defying all the careful calculations and predictions of ozone holes being forty to fifty years away at that time? In all probability, the ozone layer in that part of the atmosphere was already so depleted that a slight nudge created a hole there. It is difficult to pinpoint from exactly where that nudge came.

Another incident that elaborates the far-reaching effects of innocuous-looking local stresses on this fragile ecosystem occurred in South America about twenty years back. Near the western coast, a cold water-current was then flowing. It was called the Humboldt Current. This current brought to the surface nutritious elements from the deep sea. This was the reason for the abundance of fishes off the shores of Peru, and it gave rise to a sizeable growth of fish-based industry. Besides this, large flocks of sea birds had been thriving for thousands of years on the abundance of fish near the coast. This turned the uninhabited offshore islands into rich sources of guano.

Due to environmental degradation caused by human activity far north of there (in some other country), a warm stream suddenly and unexpectedly appeared. This flow pushed the Humboldt Current far south. The new warmer current lacked the nutrients required by the fish population. Before any measures could be taken, the large population of fish became almost extinct. This resulted in death of thousands of birds due to depletion of their natural source of food, the fish. The onshore fisheries closed down and the stockpile of guano dwindled. All this had an extremely disturbing effect on the human population.

The chain of events did not stop there. The harvesting of fish on the shores of Peru was not used only as food for humans. The larger part of the hundreds of thousands of tons of fish was being exported to Brazil for its cattle-feed industry. When all of a sudden this large source of raw material vanished, an alternative was found in the Soya bean. Overnight Soya bean farming became a lucrative business in Brazil, and a systematic and organized deforestation started. Thus commenced the tree-by-tree destruction of an extensive and ecologically balanced natural system. Surprising is the complexity of the balance in nature and how precariously it depends on the interdependence of its multiple components.

The present state is that in spite of all our efforts of the last fifty years, we have failed to put noticeable brakes on the continuing environmental degradation. It is high time for some radical thinking and action. Limiting needs at the individual and social levels can prove to be an effective measure in this direction. Once again the required ingredients are inbuilt in the ahimsa way of life.


Prakrit Bharati Academy
D.R. MEHTA, Founder & Chief Patron

First edition: 1987
Second enlarged Edition May: 2004
Third Edition July: 2008

© All rights reserved with the author

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Raj Printers & Associates, Jaipur, India

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  1. Ahimsa
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