Environment provides resources which support life on the earth and which also help in the growth Of a relationship Of interchange between living organisms and the environment in which they live. It is important to realist that humans enjoy a unique position in nature due to their exceptional ability to influence and mould the environment. In the recent past the term nature has been used as parallel to word environment. It has been generally believed that nature is what man has not made. In our discussion environment and nature have been used as synonym, which incorporate most of the visible manifestation of geography.
Raymond Williams defines nature as ‘the material world itself, taken as including or not including human beings. ‘ Tracing the history of the term he suggests that ‘nature’ has meant the ‘countryside’, the unspoiled places’, plants and creatures other than man. ‘ (Keywords, London, 1988. P. 219-223). Similarly, there are several vantage points from where environment has been studied and most of us follow a complex combination of these methods. There are ecologists who are primarily biological scientists and focus on relationships between environment and the living being in general.
Another et of scientists, generally termed as environmental scientists, try to examine the functioning of the earth and the nature of human interactions with it. Declining bio-diversity has [email protected] Com. Com Mahayana Kumar given rise to conservationist biologists who stress application of scientific knowledge for conservation Of bio-diversity, which they rightly consider as centre of existence of life on earth. Accepting the role of human agency in the ‘deterioration of environment’, the environmentalists are suggesting scientific interventions to mitigate the ill impacts of human activities.
Conservationists long with accepting the role of human activities in the deterioration of environment also recognize the needs of present and future generations of humans. They stress the prudent use of resources to ensure the present and future needs of human society. More recently, the role of disparity both economic and social within the society and among societies and nations has defined the agenda for the study of the environment by social scientists, particularly at the level of policy formulations.
The traditional understanding of nature has been that it is a system created by God for the sustenance of humans. The general belief was that the Earth was the hub of the universe and man had a central place in it. It was also believed that the environment was a static entity with little or no possibilities of change. This had been the dominant view until the advent of enlightenment in the early modern era. However, with the growth of scientific thinking and reason it came to be gradually accepted that neither the Earth was at the axis of Universe, nor the Humans were the core of the Earth.
Science also established that there has been continuous change in the nature of environment all along the history of the Earth, though the speed of change offered for different components of nature and even this speed had not been a uniform speed. This holds true for the evolution of both living and non-living components. The industrial revolution heralded a completely new era in which the term ‘environment’ attained new dimensions. The present day concerns of environmental pollution, decay of bio-diversity and the green-house effect have necessitated a redefining of the concept of the man-nature relationship.
Another 2 corollary has been the problems related with the modern concept of development and resultant compulsions of conservation. In their attempt to onshore the dwindling bio-diversity, humans started demarcating fragile ecological zones ranging from forests, wet lands, bio-sphere reserves, mangroves, etc. , as reserves to preserve not only the flora-fauna but also the physical attributes of ecological niche itself. It often led to conflicts with the communities sustaining on such resources, e. G. Forest-dwellers. Similar kind of conflicts can be located on the sites for big-dams and ancillary activities which necessitated displacement.
Therefore, it is mandatory on our part to also examine the historical evolution of social relations in their interaction tit the ecological conditions on the one hand and the multiple issues of contemporary environmental discourse on the other. The first section of this essay deals with the historical evolution of the concept; it is then followed by a discussion on the contemporary conflict between notions of development and environment; the last section traces the significance of biodiversity and firms up the case of inevitability of bio-diversity conservation for survival of life on Earth.
Human- Environment Interaction Human beings are endowed by nature to be reflective and active. Their illogical evolution gives them capacity to forge tools and establish an adaptive relationship with nature. In the beginning, human life was more biological than cultural and was somewhat similar to other animals where environmental considerations dictated the place of human residence. In the process of adaptive relationship man gradually evolved tools with the help of which the resources of the environment could be put to use.
The tool making ability developed over a very long period of time as it began with the use Of materials locally obtainable. The tools shaped human life such that we witness the emergence and growth of ‘cultures’. The different stages of human culture have been identified on the basis of the tools used by them. The earliest was the Paleolithic age representing the beginning of 3 the tool industry. In this age humans lived by gathering plant foods and hunting animals. It was inherent in the nature of the economy of the period that humans could not lead sedentary life and were forced to migrate to new places in search of plant foods and game.
This kind of life-style restricted the size of the peregrinating human groups. It can be safely argued that during this phase of human history the environment dictated terms and humans had just started making an effort to modify their dependence on nature. Nonetheless, it is necessary to point out that mobility had led to greater interaction between numerous groups of humans spread over different parts of the world. It will be not out of place here to delineate the adaptive strategy of the early humans so as to explain his interaction with the environment. For this purpose we focus on southwest France.
During the upper Paleolithic phase (35000-12000 years ago), the climate of this region was strongly oceanic, with cool summers and mild winters (by Ice age standards) affecting the environment. Summer temperature may have been in the 53. 60 to 590 F range, with winter readings around 320 F. The vegetation-growing season was longer on the open plains to the north and east, and snow cover had retreated considerably. Thus food resources for large herbivores were now more readily available, perhaps resulting in a much higher density of game animals as well as more plentiful edible foods.
This region was marked as a region of diverse food resources. The people were mainly subsisted off Reindeer, but they took wild ox, red deer, bison, ibex, chamois, woolly rhinoceros and mammoth too. Many of these resources were relatively predictable. The large-scale salmon fishing during seasonal runs was a major factor in the evolution of complex hunter-gatherer societies in the region. Effective exploitation of salmon runs requires not only efficient fishing technology but the services of considerable numbers of people to dry and store the thousands of fresh fish before they spoil.
These people extensively used fishhooks and harpoons. The people tended to choose many of their settlement sites with reference to plentiful 4 water supply and good views of the surrounding landscape, so they could observe game. When the people occupied a rock shelter or cave, it invariably faced south, so they could benefit from the sun’s rays on cool days. Some of the largest cave and rock shelter sites lay close to river fords, places, perhaps, where migrating reindeer would cross each year. (Fagan B. M. , People of the Earth: An introduction to World Prehistory, Illinois ; Boston, 1989).
The relationship between nature and man was redefined with the advent of agriculture. Till the beginning of agriculture, the sources of food had mostly been naturally available products and man had no control over their availability. An important contribution of agriculture has been the cultivation of cereals. The fact is that the shelf-life of cereals is unlimited whereas fruits and meat had very limited shelf-life. It has been a very significant factor as this property of cereals encouraged accumulation, which perhaps was one of the causes for the introduction and intensification of social stratification.
In the beginning agriculture was a highly unreliable source of food, and transition from hunter-gatherer to peasant was not very smooth and was a long drawn process. The development of technology/tools to increase agricultural production was a continuing process in which development of irrigation technology too played an important role. Slowly but surely agriculture became the major source of subsistence and increased productivity contributed towards increase in population.
Initially agriculture was confined to highly favorable locations with natural irrigation. With the growth in population, however, man was forced to migrate to less-favorable locations, necessitating irrigation. The development of irrigation facilities required larger social participation and better management resulting in a transition towards complex society. Furthermore better management of agriculture insured food security and provided humans with surplus time since agriculture was a seasonal activity.
Likewise demand for improved tools and technology for better irrigation to ensure larger 5 production led to depletion of locally available raw materials for tools (for example stone, as man moved away from foothills to open plains). This compelled man to look for other kinds of materials and other locations to augment the supply of raw material for tool making. Meanwhile, the introduction of the wheel had revolutionized movement and encouraged the emergence of wheel-based pottery, a highly specialized occupation. The gradual development in technology attained another stage as metallurgy developed.
The discovery of metallic ores once again redefined the man-environment interaction. The major advantage of metal tools over stone was its reusable character: stone tools once broken could not be used again whereas metal tools could be remodeled. However, the relative scarcity of mineral ores together with the limited capabilities of processing, beginning from procurement to transportation and finally extraction made metal recruitment a labor intensive and expensive proposition. The most important feature of metallurgy was the highly specialized knowledge required and expertise, which made it a full-time occupation.
The emergence of such professionals could be sustained only with the availability of agricultural surplus. This led to the emergence of a section of the population not directly involved with the food production. The parasitic character of this section of population gradually liberated from direct dependence on nature and heralded a new era where certain sections of the inhabitants survived eely on their professional knowledge. The character of agriculture based societies has been defined in terms of complex social stratification with specialization of craft.
The growing ability of humans to make use of a variety of environmental resources opened up the possibilities of the exploitation of natural resources for self-benefit. The larger equity based and open community now witnessed a transition towards a rudimentary system of sociopolitical-economic hierarchy. Still, we cannot say that humans were controlling the 6 environment rather the nature of dependence on environment had changed rustically. The most defined form of control over nature became visible only in the Industrial Age.
Unprecedented growth of technology during the Industrial Age (second half of the 18th century to the beginning of 20th century) liberated man from physical labor and an alienation with the natural world gradually set in. The Industrial Age introduced the exploitation of biotic source of energy (which are not biologically procurable) and gradually replaced human and animal energy as the dominating forms. Since the ancient past thermal energy had been used in direct application, but during the Industrial Age it as used to mechanize tools.
The Industrial Age witnessed the conversion of thermal energy to mechanical energy and thus enhanced the possibilities of greater exploitation of natural resources. The conversion of thermal energy to other forms of energy tremendously increased the overall demand for energy and resulted in a gradual depletion of the sources of energy. Consequently search for newer sources of thermal energy began: hydrocarbons, I. E. , coal, petroleum products, etc. , were explored and the magnitude of their exploitation widened. Unlike the earlier renewable source f energy like human and animal labor and wood, newer sources of energy I. . Hydrocarbons are non-renewable in character or have economically enviable extraction cycles of renewal.
The introduction of non-renewable source of energy redefined the relationship between the environment and humans. In the modern age ever-growing demand for energy coupled with the steady depletion of sources of energy forced man to reconsider priorities and we see the beginning of the movement for ‘conservation. ‘ Better technology ensured greater agricultural production which contributed to a rise in life-expectancy and decline in the mortality rate.
The resultant increase in the population in real terms was unprecedented. It is not that human civilization had never witnessed the growth of population in the past, but the magnitude has 7 been very high in the modern age- the nineteenth century. Ferdinand Branded has attempted to define it in terms of the ecological watershed, I. E. , the end of the ‘Biological ancient regime’. He writes: ‘What was shattered with the eighteenth century was a “Biological ancient regime”, a set of restrictions, obstacles, structures, proportions and numerical relationships that had hitherto been the norm. The chief constituents are: 1.
Number of death roughly equivalent to the number of births; 2. Very high infant mortality; 3. Famine; 4. Chronic undernourishment; 5. Formidable epidemics. It is rather broader definition to explain the ecological watershed as it traces the causes in a very long-term perspective beginning with the middle ages and at-least the geographical explorations. (Branded, Ferdinand, Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th century, Vii- 1. , The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible, try. Asian Reynolds, Indo, 1985. ) At this juncture it is necessary to point out that since the ancient past in
Europe we could witness the prevalence of anthropocentric social attitudes. The clearest manifestation was seen in the concept of cosmology in ancient discourses. The earth, the abode of humans, was considered at the centre of the universe and was enveloped by seven strata. All the seven strata were supposed to have emanated from the earth. The growth of capitalism and the breakdown of the ‘biological regime’ led to an exponential growth in population. Another corollary of excessive exploitation of environmental resources during the Industrial Age has been the growth of democratic values ND institutions.
In the same era, scientific knowledge along with technological development provided a world vision where technology was portrayed as a solution to all human problems, especially the problem of hunger and poverty. Moreover, the growth of scientific and technological knowledge furthered the traditional anthropocentric view and the exploitation Of the environment gained a fresh momentum that continues unabated till today. 8 The greater use of energy led to major problem of environmental pollution. The greater consumption and generation of energy induced a ‘green house effect’.
However, what has been a more bothersome fall-out of this process is the development of materials not naturally available in the world, I. E. , polymers. The chemical revolution of the 1 ass’s ; sass’s developed an artificial material which was not biodegradable and was thus difficult to destroy and decompose. At the same time, the wider applications of the material in industrial and domestic use and low cost of production encouraged its wider circulation. However, the problem of decomposition of the material made it a major cause of concern for the scientific community.
Similarly, the question of the viability of nuclear fuel as a source of energy has been a major issue of concern. The production of non-natural radioactive substance for energy production has been a major scientific and technological development, but again the decay or the proper and cost effective decomposition of the residue has been a major technological failure. Development Concerns While according due importance to the role of new technologies in environment interaction, we must not neglect socio-political considerations.
Until the end of the eighteenth century, the rights and rewards of exploitation of the natural world lay largely in the hands of an elite aristocracy. The democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth century, including the American Revolution of 1775-76 and the French Revolution of 1789-1799, triggered a restructuring of the framework of society throughout most Western societies. With this change came increasing access of individuals to productive resources, and increased ability to use them for improving economic and social status.
The legitimate rights, of exploitation of resources of the environment were now extended to individuals at large in society. Finally, in the nineteenth century came the culmination of a period of the worldwide spread of Western culture through colonialism and establishment of world trade. The western system of environmental exploitation 9 was thus spread widely, so that it became the operational system even in areas where the basic philosophical view of human and nature was quite different.
(Rampant Gush, History: At the limit of World History, New Delhi, 2003. It is now a well known fact that environmental preservation took a back seat with the unfolding of developmental initiatives. Development has today come such a central idea that anything contrary is considered the most undesirable hindrance. Precisely for this reason it was not appreciated for long that environmental preservation and development were not concerns that were mutually exclusive. In fact environmental problems in developing countries like India are in many ways the product of development.
Development here entails disproportionate access/ control over tangible and intangible assets/resources. This disproportionate access and control not only culminates in normalization and subsequent deprivation of due to class and asset location but also endorses the use of resources in such a manner as to result in an environ-development crisis. Thus, inequality and deprivation force social groups to exploit the obtainable environmental resources in their proximity and use them in a way that the process of erosion of these resources sets in.
Environmental degradation and uneven development become the two sides of the same coin. The history of development in the colonial and postcolonial world stretched itself in a manner that it accepted the supremacy of enlightenment in thought and practice in both the socio-economic and intellectual domains. The industrialized economy accompanied by the democratic state (universal adult franchise) and modernized society (equality between citizens) equipped humans to serve the goal Of continuous macro-economic growth that is identical with development.
Universal standard of progress based on a set of values in the social and political arena were unquestioningly assumed to be the bedrock of development. Translated into practice this meant the embracing of scientific knowledge to bring in industrial intensification by displacing traditional agricultural activity. Even when developmental policies ere demonstrated to be in contradiction to the 10 needs and wishes of marginal’s social groups, the proponents and beneficiaries Of development continued to chart out a course Of progress for the former from their standpoint.
Ignoring the agency of the subordinate segment of the society in the path of development and making them mere instruments in realizing the end objectives defined on their behalf by the dominant social group became dominant trends. This also disallowed the common people from being in charge of evaluating and controlling the path of development and envisaged a pattern of economic growth (hence placement) that would never take into account the limits to the use of environmental resources.
Moreover, the political economy discourses within Liberal Democracy and Marxism, the two most important paradigms, also believed that there was no contradiction between them so far as the understanding of the means to achieve economic growth/development was concerned. This form of development has relentlessly been criticized both from within as well as outside the environment and development strategy establishment. The response to these criticisms came from institutions as well as independent writers, policy analysts and activists.