Demerits of Economic Development!
Industrial development has caused the release of harmful substances into the air, which can cause numerous problems for all living organisms. Excessive air pollution has led to several new problems. These include smog, acid rain, the greenhouse effect and the creation of “holes” in the ozone layer. Each of these problems has serious implications for our health and well being as well as for the whole environment.
Smog is a type of large-scale pollution. It is caused by chemical reactions between pollutants derived from different sources, primarily automobile exhaust and industrial emissions. Cities are often centres of these types of activities and many suffer from the effects of smog, especially during the warm months of the year.
ii. Acid Rain:
Another type of air pollution is acid rain. When a pollutant, such as sulphuric acid combines with droplets of water in the air, the water can become acidified. The effects of acid rain on the environment can be very serious. It damages plants by destroying their leaves, it poisons the soil and it changes the chemistry of lakes and streams. Damage due to acid rain kills trees and harms animals, fish, and other wildlife.
iii. Greenhouse Effect:
The Greenhouse Effect, also referred to as global warming, is generally believed to come from the build up of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is produced when fossil fuels are burned. Plants convert carbon dioxide back to oxygen, but the release of carbon dioxide from human activities is higher than the world’s plants can process.
The situation is made worse since many of the earth’s forests are being removed and plant life is being damaged by acid rain. Thus, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air is continuing to increase. This build-up acts like a blanket and traps heat close to the surface of our earth.
The impacts associated with this are evident in all corners of the globe. Changes of even a few degrees will affect us all through changes in the climate and even the possibility that the polar ice caps may melt.
One of the consequences of polar ice cap melting would be a rise in global sea level, resulting in widespread coastal flooding. Climatic change may lead to heavy rainfall in some areas, and drought in others, melting of glaciers, early arrival of spring and warming of the oceans.
iv. Depletion of the Ozone Layer:
Ozone depletion is another result of pollution. Chemicals released by our activities, affect the stratosphere, one of the atmospheric layers surrounding earth. The ozone layer in the stratosphere protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
Release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) from aerosol cans, cooling systems and refrigerator equipment removes some of the ozone, causing “holes”; to open up in this layer and allowing the radiation to reach the earth. Ultraviolet radiation is known to cause skin cancer and has damaging effects on plants and wildlife.
Effects of Atmospheric Pollution:
Air pollution can affect our health in many ways with both short-term and long-term effects. Different groups of individuals are affected by air pollution in different ways.
Some individuals are much more sensitive to pollutants than are others. Young children and elderly people often suffer more from the effects of air pollution. People with health problems such as asthma, heart and lung disease may also suffer more when the air is polluted.
Examples of short-term effects include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat and upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Other symptoms can include headaches, nausea, and allergic reactions.
Short-term air pollution can aggravate the medical conditions of individuals with asthma and emphysema. In the great “Smog Disaster” in London in 1952, four thousand people died in a few days due to the high concentrations of pollution.
Long-term health effects can include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys. Continual exposure to air pollution affects the lungs of growing children and may aggravate or complicate medical conditions in the elderly.
Research into the health effects of air pollution is on-going. Medical conditions arising from air pollution can be very expensive. Healthcare costs, lost productivity in the workplace and human welfare impacts cost.
Oceans are the largest ecosystems on Earth. Seventy-five per cent of all sea pollution is from land-based human activity. People abuse the coastal marine environment by destroying habitats, by overfishing and pollution. Some major types of pollutants that have been the focus of recent research are oil, sewage, garbage, chemicals and radioactive waste.
i. Oil Spills:
One of the major causes of marine pollution is oil spills. In coastal areas some marine mammals and reptiles, such as turtles, may be particularly vulnerable to adverse effects from oil contamination because of their need to surface to breathe and to leave the water to breed. Adult fish living in near shore waters and juveniles in shallow water nursery grounds may be at greater risk to exposure from dispersed or dissolved oil.
The impact of oil on shorelines may be particularly great where large areas of rocks, sand and mud are uncovered at low tide. The amenity value of beaches and rocky shores may require the use of rapid and effective clean -up techniques, which may not be compatible with the survival of plants and animals.
Birds which congregate in large numbers on the sea or shorelines to breed, feed or moult are particularly vulnerable to oil pollution.
This type of pollution is discharged into the oceans all over the world. Sewage adds to the amount of small particles suspended in the water column and contributes large amounts of nutrients. The effect of sewage is difficult to detect on the open coast, but in semi-enclosed areas the effects are devastating.
Near sewage outflow areas in temperate waters of California, the benthic invertebrate communities have degraded, kelp beds have disappeared and diseased fish have become more prevalent. In tropical waters, outflows near coral reefs have caused a bloom of algal species that grows over the coral and eventually smothers them to death.
This type of pollution has a huge effect on ocean life. A leading cause of marine debris is thoughtlessness-people making the poor decision to litter. Litter on land finds its way to the oceans, being carried by wind or in rivers.
The result is literally tons of plastic bags, cigarette butts, tampon applicators, syringes, and bottles in the water and on the beaches. Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and ingest them-blocking their digestive system and potentially killing them.
iv. Radioactive Wastes:
The world’s oceans have been a dumping ground for radioactive waste from the production of nuclear weapons and electric power since 1944. Radioactive waste enters the ocean from nuclear weapon testing, the releasing or dumping of wastes from nuclear fuel cycle systems and nuclear accidents.
Dumping of high-level radioactive waste is no longer permitted in the ocean, but dumping of low-level wastes is still permitted. It has been suggested that contained nuclear waste should be disposed in the deep sea. So little is known about the deep-sea environment or the consequences of containment leakage and failure, that the effects could be devastating.
v. Thermal Pollution:
Electrical generating plants along the ocean coastlines use the marine waters for cooling purposes which leads to heated water expelled into the marine environment. Few studies have been done on the effects of thermal pollution on the marine environment.
Thermal pollution seems to only effect the communities immediately adjacent to the discharge. Thermal discharge is most noted in the tropical areas, where organisms are near their thermal maximum. For example, mangrove trees in a thermal heated bay no longer reproduce and no new seedlings can be found in the lagoon.
It is the release of excess nutrients into coastal waters. Fertilisers used on land are washed into the ocean via rivers and streams. High nutrient concentrations cause phytoplankton blooms such as, red tides, various yellow and green foams, slimes, and slicks.
Although algal blooms are natural, a higher frequency of their occurrence in the past twenty years indicates an unhealthy ecosystem. The toxicity of recent blooms is increasing, which can have a direct effect on the organisms that feed on them.
Civilization of the human race led to changes being made in the world, largely due to the use and eventual abuse of resources to meet people’s various needs. As Bragaw writes, “human beings have always cut down trees….wood has historically been the most dominant form of heating fuel, as well as one of the most often used building materials for houses and ships”.
The need for shelter, fire, agricultural land, timber and countless other products led to the cutting of trees, which slowly grew to unimaginable proportions and heralded the death of millions of acres of forestland around the world.
In simple terms, deforestation involves the permanent destruction of indigenous forests and woodlands. Despite man’s need for wood and other forest products, it is important to realize the need to preserve forests and forestland. Forests are important for several reasons. They provide habitat for many important species.
They also perform important ecological functions. As aggregates of plant matter, forests do a great deal of oxygen production and help prevent excessive global warming. Additionally, forests tend to help replenish, nutrients in land and thus prevent desertification.
Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, forests are needed as they are a source of timber. If people exhaust their supply of forests, they will no longer be able to continue using them as the source of building materials, heating fuel, and paper.
Desertification is the washing away of the earth’s topsoil due to various factors. This is what is now happening in many areas. Nowhere is the problem more acute than in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, which cover more than one third of the Earth’s surface.
In these areas, human activity may stress the ecosystem beyond its tolerance limit, resulting in degradation of the land. By pounding the soil with their hooves, livestock compact the substrate, increase the proportion of fine material, and reduce the percolation rate of the soil, thus encouraging erosion by wind and water. Grazing and the collection of firewood reduces or eliminates plants that help to bind the soil.
This degradation of formerly productive land—desertification— is a complex process. It involves multiple causes and it proceeds at varying rates in different climates. Desertification may intensify a general climatic trend toward greater aridity, or it may initiate a change in local climate. Through desertification, susceptible areas lose their productive capacity.
As indicated in the Desertification Convention of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), “land degradation” means reduction or loss, in arid, semi-arid and dry sub- humid areas, of the biological or economic productivity and complexity of rainfed cropland, irrigated cropland, or range, pasture, forest and woodlands resulting from land uses or from a process or combination or processes.
These processes include soil erosion caused by wind or water, deterioration of the physical, chemical and biological or economic properties of soil, and long-term loss of natural vegetation.
Soil degradation, in particular, is defined as human-induced phenomena, which lower the current or future capacity of the soil to support human life. In dry lands, soils are especially vulnerable to degradation due to the slowness of their recovery from a disturbance.
Desertification became well known in the 1930’s, when parts of the Great Plains in the United States turned into the “Dust Bowl” as a result of drought and poor practices in farming, although the term itself was not used until almost 1950.
During the dust bowl period, millions of people were forced to abandon their farms and livelihoods. Greatly improved methods of agriculture and land and water management in the Great Plains have prevented that disaster from recurring, but desertification presently affects millions of people in almost every continent.
Increased population and livestock pressure on lands has accelerated desertification. In some areas, nomads moving to less arid areas disrupt the local ecosystem and increase the rate of erosion of the land. Nomads are trying to escape the desert, but because of their land-use practices, they are bringing the desert with them.
It is a misconception that droughts cause desertification. Droughts are common in arid and semiarid lands. Well-managed lands can recover from drought when the rains return. Continued land abuse during droughts, however, increases land degradation. Contrary to many popular reports, desertification is actually a subtle and complex process of deterioration that may often be reversible.
The HPC Report on Management of Hazardous Wastes (2001), clearly states that the generation of hazardous wastes is “one of the major consequences of development”. As defined by the HPC Report, hazardous wastes refer to any substance, whether in solid, liquid or gaseous form, which has no foreseeable use and which by reasons of any physical, chemical, reactive, toxic, flammable, explosive, corrosive, radioactive or infectious characteristics causes danger or is likely to cause danger to health or environment, whether alone or when in contact with other wastes or environment, and should be considered as such when generated, handled, stored, transported, treated and disposed of.
Hazardous wastes are usually a by-product of industrial operations which involve the use of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and processes which utilize different categories of oil and petrochemicals.
The impact of heavy metals on human health is well documented in the scientific literature. Children under six years, for example, are most susceptible to lead and adverse effects include reduction in I.Q., shortened attention span, hyperactivity, aggressive behaviour and other learning and behavioural problems.
Exposure to high concentrations can lead to mental retardation, coma, convulsions and death. Hazardous wastes comprise several chemicals and it is important to understand the impact of these chemicals on human health.
Lead is a poison by ingestion that affects human central nervous system. It is a by-product of bad fuel in the auto industry and is an air contaminant. From the point of view of industrial poisoning, inhalation of lead is much more important than is ingestion.
Lead is a cumulative poison. Increasing amounts build up in the body and Ecology and Economic Development – The Debate eventually a point is reached where symptoms and disability occur. Lead can cause irreversible behavioural disturbances, neurological damage and other developmental problems in young children and babies.
Cadmium is toxic to humans by inhalation and other routes. It can enter through ingestion, intra-peritoneal, subcutaneous, intramuscular and intravenous routes. This toxin can lead to lung cancer and is highly toxic to freshwater and marine organisms.
This metal exists in two forms and, in high dosages, has been implicated as the cause of digestive tract cancers, cutaneous and nasal mucous membrane ulcers and dermatitis.
Arsenic is toxic by subcutaneous, intramuscular and intra-peritoneal routes and reported to produce systemic, skin and gastrointestinal effects. It is also a human carcinogen and experimental teratogen.
The silvery-white liquid metal used in common thermometers, is a potent neurotoxin, capable of causing severe brain damage in developing foetuses and mild tremors and emotional disturbances in exposed adults.
Hazardous wastes also refer to the chemicals and harmful products being dumped into rivers by industrial plants. These include waste automotive oil transformer or capacitor oil, lead ash and battery scrap, zinc waste, waste oil, and heavy metals.
New industrial processes are generating a variety of toxic substances which cannot be dealt with by currently available technology in the country and whose ill-effects have begun to far outweigh initial estimates of benefit to human beings.
Added to this is a class of dangerous substances known as Presistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which include a class of toxins called endocrine disrupters, generated sometimes from fairly common processes like the burning of PVC and chlorinated waste at inadequate temperatures, and which have an adverse impact even at extremely minute doses in the human system.
The difficulty is that recycling of hazardous wastes itself generates hazardous wastes that are often more toxic in concentration than the material recycled. Such wastes, left unattended or carelessly disposed of, have a seriously detrimental impact on public health and the natural environment, including wildlife.
“If temperatures rise by almost 6° C over the next 100 years – the maximum predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body made up of the world’s leading climate scientists – then rising sea levels, shifting weather patterns and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events could cause massive traumas both for human populations and for nature”.
A blanket of water vapour and other greenhouse gases – notably carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – helps to trap some of the sun’s radiation as it bounces off the surface of the earth. This natural greenhouse effect has enabled life to develop in all its complexity – without it the planet would be 30°C colder- but since the industrial revolution the amount of greenhouse gas has risen. As a result more heat has been trapped, causing a warming of the atmosphere.
The primary culprit is carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Over the past two centuries CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have risen by a third and if fossil fuel consumption continues at present rates then by 2030 CO2 concentrations will be doubled what they were in pre-industrial times.
Some scientists have speculated that global warming could lead to the wiping out of the Amazon rainforest. Vast areas of low-lying land could be inundated as glaciers and ice caps melt and sea levels rise and tropical diseases like malaria could spread to temperate climates.
Another highly significant greenhouse gas is methane which traps heat 30 times more efficiently than carbon dioxide. Over the past two centuries methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled. A fifth of methane emissions today come from the cultivation of rice. Pipeline leaks, the flatulence of cattle and termites and forest fires also contribute to rising methane levels.
Decline of Biodiversity:
Biodiversity is most often thought of as the variety of organisms on earth. Yet it also includes two other factors: ecological diversity – the variety of ecosystems and ecological communities. And genetic diversity – the range of genetic differences found within and between species.
All three aspects are crucial for the success and development of life on earth. Since environmental conditions at every level are constantly changing, only diversity can ensure that some individuals and species will be able to adapt to the changes.
All these have profound value for human beings. The value of biodiversity lies not just in our direct use of nature’s vast range of products, from foods and medicines to fibres and materials. Biodiversity also guarantees a permanent source of new genetic materials for future breeding programmes.
Through ecosystems it delivers a vast range of environmental services from regulation of local climate to prevention of flooding and erosion. Not least biodiversity is one of the main sources of nature’s perenmial aesthetic appeal.
Life on earth is currently undergoing a sixth mass extinction event. Its extent is only vaguely known – species are only recorded as extinct after there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual has died. The known figures of extinction rates are alarming.
In the past 500 years 816 species have become extinct or extinct in the world. Some 103 of these are known to have occurred since 1800 – an extinction rate 50 times greater than the natural background rate. Estimates of losses expected over the next 25 years vary from 2 to 25 per cent – but even the low end of this range is a thousand times the background rate of extinction.
The extinction of a species is of course the ultimate loss – but the process of local extinction has very serious consequences on local ecosystems, and effectively reduces people’s chances of enjoying a glimpse of species – as the continued decline of songbirds in Britain illustrates.
The principal threat to most land species is loss or degradation of habitat to human activities such as agriculture, pasture, mining, logging, roads, industry and settlements. Loss of habitat affects nine out of ten threatened birds and plants and 83 per cent of the threatened mammals. There is a well established link between shrinkage in the area of a habitat and decline in the number of species found there.
Climate change will be an increasing factor in loss of habitat. As sea levels rise, many marshlands will be folded and will take many centuries to replace. Rising temperatures will push species that prefer cooler temperatures uphill or pole ward – yet human barriers now make these migrations much harder than before. Those species that prefer the coolest habitats may find themselves with literally nowhere on earth to go.
The second main source of threat is direct exploitation – in tropical areas many endangered mammals are a source of meat, while species such as tigers, rhino and turtle fall victim to exotic tastes in food or traditional medicine.
Finally, there is the introduction of alien species, such as the introduction of rats and cats to small islands. Alien invasions have been at least partly responsible for the plight of 30 per-cent of all threatened birds and 15 per-cent of threatened plants.