What is Environment?
The environment infers to all living and non-living beings in their physical and biological surrounding that affect an organism during its lifetime. The word environment is taken from the old French verb “environner” which means to encircle or surround. Hence all the things that surround us in the form of living or non-living are a component of our environment.
It includes the air we breathe, the water we use for our needs, the soil we cultivate, flora and fauna. In other words, the environment is collectively the total of water, air and land interrelationships among themselves and also with the human being and other living organisms.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Environment?
- 2 Environment Definition
- 3 Components of Environment
- 4 Importance of Environment
- 5 Need of Environmental Education
- 6 Environmental Degradation
The physical environment refers to non-living attributes such as air, water, soil, climate, heat, light, noise, housing, and radiations. On the other hand, the biological environment refers to all types of flora, fauna and micro-organisms.
The physical and the biological environments are interdependent on each other and the external conditions consist of both physical and biological conditions. It has been witnessed that deforestation leads to a decline in wildlife population from the biological environment and it also increases the atmospheric temperature within the physical environment.
According to E. J. Ross. “Environment is an external force which influences us.”
The study of the environment helps us to understand the issues related to the loss of global biodiversity, global warming, dwindling forests, depletion of the ozone layer, and energy resources. It is the approach that helps us to study the global environment by analysing the processes involved in water, air, land, soil, and organisms that lead to pollution or degradation of the environment.
In the words of Herbert L. Mason and Jean H. Langenheim, environment is “The sum of all substances and forces external to an organism which determines its existence and regulates its process”.
According to A.G. Tansley “An ecosystem is an ecological unit consisting of Biotic factors or Living things and Abiotic factors or Non-Living things in a specific area.”
Components of Environment
On a broader note, the environment is an integration of different interdependent components. Broadly classified, into four components:
The lithosphere is the upper part of the earth that consists of a mantle of rocks called the crust. There are dense rocks that form the crust of the earth. The rocks get converted to a smaller loose material called soil by the process of weathering due to the elements of weather, temperature, humidity, and rainfall. The components of the lithosphere are:
- Mineral matter
- Soil organic matter or humus
- Soil water
- Soil atmosphere
- Biological system
- Micronutrients and macronutrients
The hydrosphere is that part of the earth that contains water in either liquid or solid form. Water is covered through three fourth of the total area of the earth, which includes surface water as well as underground water.
Water is an important contributor in the sustenance of life and acts as the life-supporting module for the earth. Water helps to control the atmospheric temperature, functions as an air purifier, and also works as a waste assimilator.
The mixture of gases that envelop the earth is called the atmosphere. Due to the gravitational pull, it holds close to the earth and it covers the earth’s area comprising of water and landmass to a height of many kilometres. The mixture of gases consists of:
- Nitrogen 78.05%
- Oxygen 20.95%
- Argon 0.94%
- Carbon dioxide 0.03%
- Hydrogen, nitrous oxides, and ozone in small quantities
The atmosphere helps to sustain life on earth and the atmosphere can be divided into five zones which are as follows:
- Ionosphere or Thermosphere
The Biosphere is that part of Lithosphere, Hydrosphere and Atmosphere where life exists. It consists of the domain of living organisms where they interact with each other in the physical environment of the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere.
The physical environment and the biosphere are influenced by each other in the manner where the levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the atmosphere depend entirely on the plant kingdom, which involves the processes of respiration and photosynthesis.
Importance of Environment
The environment is important for the existence of life on planet earth and it plays a crucial role in the sustenance of life. People must protect the environment since it is a home for different living organisms and each one is dependent on the environment for food, air, water, and other needs.
According to P. Gisbert, “Environment is anything immediately surrounding an object and exerting a direct influence on it.”
Any form of life on earth will not be possible without the presence of the Environment. The importance of the environment can be explained through the following reasons:
Environment protects the ecosystem
Any changes in the ecosystem affect the organisms and put them in danger of extinction. Hence, it is necessary to protect our environment since the various aspects of the ecosystems are connected.
Provides healthy living
It is important to protect the environment for leading a healthy life with fresh air, clean water, and safe surroundings. If the environment gets polluted then water and air gets polluted the most and it leads to health problems for all living organisms on this planet hence it is necessary to protect the environment from different types of pollution.
Biodiversity is an important part of the environment
The environment consists of fauna and flora like grasslands, forests etc. which are necessary for maintaining the lifecycle of the ecosystem. The forests are necessary since they provide the habitat for various animals living in the forests. Forests also provide the people with various raw materials like food, medicines, rubber, timber, essential oils and more. The destruction of forests leads to destroying the ecosystem as a whole.
Environment is necessary for generating the Food Chain
The environment helps in generating the food chain and hence the complex establishment of food web occurs. Plants absorb sunlight and through the process of photosynthesis convert the light energy into chemical energy that is then released and used by the living organisms for their activities.
Plants are food for herbivorous animals which in turn gets eaten by other carnivorous animals, and these carnivorous animals are in turn again eaten by higher order carnivorous animals. Hence, destroying environment would lead to the destruction of the food chain.
Regulation of Climatic Conditions
Various trees and plants help to maintain the weather pattern resulting in various forms of micro-climates. The forests absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful impurities generated by various anthropogenic activities.
Carbon dioxide is one of the major gas responsible for global warming. The forest trees play an important role in blocking the winds and prevent soil erosion. They are also responsible for the rainfall patterns in the area and subsequently recharge groundwater.
Protecting the environment for future generations
The environment is prerequisite for continued existence of living organisms and non-living things, hence people must take care of the environment. It is a moral duty of the present generation to safeguard it so that it can also benefit future generations.
Hence, the environment plays an important role in the healthy living of human beings and it provides air, food, shelter, and also fulfils other basic needs. The sustenance of humanity depends on the well-being of all the factors of the environment.
The need for a clean and safe environment is necessary:
- To ensure existence of life on the earth
- To preserve source of natural beauty
- To provide safe habitat for the flora and fauna present here
- To promote various food webs and food chains
- To control the important ecological processes
- To help in recycling of nutrients between biotic and abiotic components
- To facilitate and maintain the flow of energy in an ecosystem with the help of carbon dioxide cycle, nitrogen cycle, oxygen cycle, water cycle and energy cycle.
Need of Environmental Education
Environmental education is required for environmental protection that takes into account the moral and ethical relationship of human beings with the environment. It is the process of conserving the environment and it became a necessity because of the fast-growing population and their impact on the environment.
Environmental education is needed for people to conserve and explore environmental issues, and work at problem solving and actions for improving the environment. Bringing awareness of environmental issues makes people develop a better understanding of the environment and work towards making responsible decisions.
Environmental education makes a human being aware of their moral and ethical obligations towards the environment. It involves the decisions that people need to make in regard to the environment and it takes into account the ethical relationship between people, the environmental conditions, and its ecological biodiversity.
Environmental education is an important tool for the conservation of the environment and its sustainable development. It teaches us to be friendly with the environment for developing a healthy lifestyle. It gives awareness regarding the responsibility of the people, environmental rights, knowledge on conservation and protection of the environment, and the traditional knowledge that has been passed to us from our ancestors.
It deals with the philosophical issues which deal with the conservation and development of the environment for the welfare of human beings. This is because the changes in the environment have led to several natural disasters that have been happening in different countries across the globe with severe consequences. The activities of human beings have resulted in adding to pollution, desertification, extinction of certain animals and birds, deforestation, and several reasons which add to the impact on the environment.
It is the responsibility of the people to protect their environment and providing environmental education gives them the opportunity to understand the environment and the factors that lead to degrading of the environment. Environmental education gives information on how simple changes in daily life can make a huge difference to the environment. Hence, environmental education is required by every individual through a continuous and lifelong process for saving the environment. It must be a continuous and lifelong process.
The various components of environmental education are:
- To understand and gain knowledge of the environment and environmental challenges.
- To raise concern for the environment and motivate people to improve or maintain environmental quality.
- To identify skills required to resolve environmental challenges.
- To engage in activities that lead to the resolution of environmental challenges.
Environmental education does not get confined to teaching or advocating a specific viewpoint or course of action, rather it teaches people how to understand the environment better through critical thinking and it helps in enhancing their own problem-solving and decision-making skills.
For promoting environmental awareness across the country, the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) was established in August 1984 with support from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. The main responsibility of the Centre for Environmental Education is to provide the people of the country with knowledge on environmental issues through effective educational programs.
The degradation of ecosystems and the changes in the global climate has resulted in the initiation of environmental ethics. Environmental ethics outlines the moral responsibilities of human beings and their respect towards the environment.
Human activities are the major cause of environmental pollution along with the increase in population that results in demand for food and shelter which lead to the more utilisation of resources. The needs and requirements of the people disturb the natural balance of the environment that results in the exploitation of the environment and depletion of the resources.
The deterioration of the physical aspects of the environment takes place due to human activities to the extent that it gets degraded and it cannot be put back or set right by any form of mechanism. The depletion of natural resources from the earth takes place in the form of pollution of air, water, and soil, extinction of species, and the activities involved with the economic and technological development processes of human beings.
It results in forms of pollution, depletion of forest cover, over-dependence on energy-consuming technologies, and exponential growth of population that damage the ecology. The degradation of ecology takes place when the environment has been destroyed or the important assets or components are depleted.
The different kinds of environmental degradation are in form of atmospheric degradation, soil degradation, water degradation, noise pollution, light pollution, overpopulation, deforestation, etc. The degradation of the environment leads to the loss of biodiversity, affects human health, depletes ozone layer, loss for the tourism industry, and financial implications.
Effective Methods of Conserving the Environment
Effective methods of conserving the environment and finding ways for maintaining the quality of environmental standard are:
- To conserve and protest biodiversity
- To ensure effective measures for population control.
- To ensure optimum use of natural resources.
- To create public awareness for conserving the environment.
- Prioritising the need for environmental protection.
- To develop eco-friendly technological processes.
- To promote sustainable agriculture through methods that are not harmful to the environment.
- To use bio-fertiliser or eco-friendly fertilisers.
- To use a minimum amount of pesticides and insecticides.
- To adopt afforestation programs and developing wasteland
- To ensure effective clean-up of hazardous wastes from the environment.
- To determine a suitable technique to treat the pollutants before their discharge into the environment.