Man's Impact: Nature, Life, and Loves


Man’s impact on natural environment has been astonishing. The magnitude of the colossal damage remains incalculable. Mother earth has been pillaged by man for his insatiable greed.

Look at the green cover of the world. The forests are being destroyed to fulfill man’s needs. The explosive population growth leads to a never-ending demand for more resources.  Man yearns for a place to live for his family. When there is no more space available in the city, they head for the forests, cut down trees, clear the flora and fauna to build a new city. One-sixth of the global forest land has been lost in the last century alone. Yet, human population increases at an explosive rate.

The pattern of the rainy season across the world has altered drastically. Flash floods are common around the world. There is less vegetation to stem the flow of water to low-lying areas. Unseasonal rains cause havoc to agricultural crops. Billions are lost due to the excess water accumulating and getting logged in cities.

Man’s incessant poaching of land in South America has wreaked havoc on the Amazon forest. Yet, they are unwilling to take a step back and stop the pillaging of resources. The African heartland has lost so much of its wildlife on account of the never-ending demand for rare metals and minerals.

We talk of the “natural environment” What is it? Primarily, it refers to Earth. It refers to all the living and non-living organisms that exist or existed in this planet. It was created by God. Or at least that is what most people believe. I am one of those people. When God decided to send humans to earth, I do not believe he ever visualized a world where humankind will believe themselves to be God. God gave us the ability to think. This was gift restricted to very few organisms that are part of the world today. This power and ability to think has desecrated the planet; all in the name of a better life. Man believed that the ability to create physical goods through un-godly technological advances in the last century made him equivalent to God.

Human kind’s behavior toward Mother Earth changed dramatically in the last 250 years. Prior to that time, man used the unlimited resources to great effect. They laid the foundation for today’s modern world. However, there was one big difference. Earlier on, human kind was wise enough to understand that Mother Earth needs to be given time for replenishment. Only then can she keep providing forever. As and when the human population increased, the demand did not provide any scope for replenishment. Just look at the history of the native people who flourished in the earlier centuries. They used the resources of the land; they also respected and worshipped Mother earth and its “children”. The Red Indians of North America, the Aborigines of Australia, the ancient Indian civilization to name a few had a fine balance with nature. People lived to fulfill their basic needs. The human-nature equilibrium remained stable. It was when humans developed an urge to “own” the world that led to an unmitigated disaster.

The biggest challenge for man has not been to develop and invent new things. It is how to sustain using those “things” that causes problems.

I love going to the jungles and the mountains. Few days spent close to the natural environment of flora and fauna rejuvenates me. The silence is peaceful. They soothe my jangled nerves unsettled by living in the city jungle. My body heals. The fresh air in my lungs is refreshing. Suddenly, the peace is shattered by the sound of a drilling machine. A hill is getting cleared to make way for a road. This means all the plants and animals on that hill die or get scattered. There are rows and rows of truck bringing in men and material to make the road. The emissions from the vehicles burn my throat. It seems I have been teleported to my city in a jiffy. The tranquility of the forests which was already disturbed by human encroachment gets further diluted due to new demands for infrastructure. I love travelling to the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. They have some of the best hill stations in the world. But do not travel there when it rains. Landslides are common, road travel is risky. Living on a hillside hotel may have perks of a beautiful view, but be warned, they are death traps due to bad planning. Mother Earth may decide to take a walk and take you along with it.

We require metals and minerals in almost every product we use. They cannot be made. They are gifts of the natural environment. Metals have deposits. These deposits have to be mined. Mining as an industry remains a backbone for economic development of a country. A nation bestowed by the such gifts from God can flourish by using them for self-consumption and by meeting the demand from the rest of the world. However, mining has a serious downside to it. They leave a scar on the land. No matter how advanced the process of mining has become in the present day; the brutality of the process destroys its natural environment. The forest becomes a wasteland. Flora never blooms, no crops can be sown, the area is uninhabitable for humans. The ecology is ravaged for many a mile around it. The world cannot survive today without these metals and minerals; even if it means a horrible death to Mother Earth. We are ravaging the planet for more. At some point of time, she will just stop giving us.

We need to rebuild. Period. Rebuild the forests and the jungles. Nations talk about the initiatives undertaken by them to turn their country green again. It is simply not enough. Human population growth and the continuous demand for natural resources outpaces the corrections undertaken. This has to be a truly global effort. We need to give back what we have taken. The sheer magnitude of the task is mind boggling. Imagine having lost forest area in just a century the size of the United States. It required all countries to work together. It just cannot be an effort of a few. Countries separated by ideologies, religion and currency. Any effort towards reforestation that is deemed to be against the economic interests of the people is put down. People simply fail to realize that reforestation is the solution to long term economic sustainability. Human kind has a serious inability of not being able to assess the consequences of their actions in the future.

Governments always highlight how much of forest area has been rejuvenated. They never mention the forest area lost due to new construction. It is a serious mismatch in the taken vs given balance of forest trade. They claim an increase in green cover. How come then, the temperatures rise, seasons disappear, millions of animals and plant species become extinct? Simply put, reforestation has to be a global movement of the people. Each one takes responsibility to rebuild the green cover. We are eight billion in this world. The magnitude of the problem disappears if each and every one of us start to care. That itself will be more than enough. And that itself, is the biggest challenge. Human kind, simply does not care. We are too busy in the rat race of life. Our priority is to look after ourselves and our family, to provide them with the best of comforts. We are seriously limited in understanding the consequences of our actions. Most people take the short cut for their immediate benefits. Their only interest in leaving a legacy for their future generations is the wealth accumulated by them. As parents, we are afraid to allow the child to cross the road unattended. But the road for an unhealthy planet has already been created by our forefathers. Yet, we do not try and make corrections.

I believe human kind has the intelligence and technology to create a sustained economic model that does not destroy the green cover further. We have the ability to recreate new forests on what are now wastelands. Of course, they require a few tough decisions to be taken. They require some compromises. Let us compromise, let us take the tough decisions.

New towns can be planned better. Forests and green cover need not be destroyed. We can learn to co-exist. The world needs to needs to commit a plan for reforestation. Lip work will not do. Make it a part of the school curriculum. Make it a part of higher education. Make it mandatory for each business organization to commit to creating a green cover. It is like a compulsory military training that few countries enforce on their citizens. Let us be realistic enough to admit that the challenge of reforestation requires tough calls for action. Decisions need to be enforced, no good will come by waiting for the people to wake up from their slumber of indifference. Impose. Dictate. Create and enforce strict laws for it. Indifference of many generations cannot be wished away by hope.

In India, there are pollution laws that do not allow a vehicle to ply on the roads if it does not meet emission norms. If the vehicle is used, there are penalties imposed. The governments need to impose serious penalties for failing to meet reforestation norms. They can reward people for achieving them. Carrot and stick. But the stick has to be stronger. We have seen history where dictators imposed their will on the people. Most people concurred with the actions of these dictators, albeit under coercion. If the political establishment shows the same will for correcting the mistakes of deforestation, there is hope for the future. Dictators are decisive. Democracy seems to be laissez-faire. Giving free electricity and water is laissez-faire, imposing penalties is dictatorship. At times, one has to wonder if dictatorships do serve a good cause. Look at China: Beijing and Shanghai were choking in air pollution. The authorities laid down strict rules that seemed extreme in the short run. In a matter of few years, the air quality improved. These rules would have been impossible in a democratic process. Carrying a stick and wielding it are two different things. Carry it, wield it only when required. Humans are great conformists. They believe in following the crowd. When the stick is wielded and a few examples made, people follow rules.

Reforestation needs a preparation on a war footing. During war, all resources are directed to the war effort. It is time we direct all resources to reforesting. Decisions made today will see fruit in the next two to three that time, a lot of the damage done will not be reversible. We need to act now to ensure that the damage is minimized.

We know our natural environment as a body of living and non-living organisms on Earth. It is an all-caring mother that always strives to fulfill the demands of its incorrigible children who have no shame in exploiting her. But beware; she gets angry at times. When the hill come crashing down, when the water barges into your land and home sweeping away everything in its path, when a dormant volcano erupts and spews hell, fire and brimstone, when she trembles in anger and brings down everything in an earthquake.  Like children, we scamper for safety. We plead mother nature to ease up, calm down and try to soothe her anger by calling to the Gods. She reminds us how badly we are behaving with her. Our fear of destruction makes us fall at her feet and beg for mercy. Like a true caring mother, her anger recedes upon seeing the tears of her children. She calms down. Sadly, mother does not realize that her children never learn from their mistakes. They are back to their old tricks again. Again, the children cause insufferable harm to their mother. The cycle goes on.

Suresh Nair