Environment is not a single subject. It is an integration of several subjects that include both Science and Social Studies. To understand all the different aspects of our environment we need to understand biology, chemistry, physics, geography, resource management, economics and population issues. Thus the scope of environmental studies is extremely wide and covers some aspects of nearly every major discipline. We live in a world in which natural resources are limited. Water, air, soil, minerals, oil, the products we get from forests, grasslands, oceans and from agriculture and livestock, are all a part of our life support systems. Without them, life itself would be impossible.
As we keep increasing in numbers and the quantity of resource each of us uses also increases, the earth’s resource base must inevitably shrink. The earth cannot be expected to sustain this expanding level of utilization of resources. Added to this is misuse of resources. We waste or pollute large amounts of nature’s clean water; we create more and more material like plastic that we discard after a single use; and we waste colossal amounts of food, which is discarded as garbage. Manufacturing processes create solid waste byproducts that are discarded, as well as chemicals that flow out as liquid waste and pollute water, and gases that pollute the air.
Increasing amounts of waste cannot be managed by natural processes. These accumulate in our environment, leading to a variety of diseases and other adverse environmental impacts now seriously affecting all our lives. Air pollution leads to respiratory diseases, water pollution to gastro-intestinal diseases, and many pollutants are known to cause cancer.
Improving this situation will only happen if each of us begins to take actions in our daily lives that will help preserve our environmental resources. We cannot expect Governments alone to manage the safeguarding of the environment, nor can we expect other people to prevent environmental damage. We need to do it ourselves. It is a responsibility that each of us must take on as ones own.
Productive value of nature: As scientists make new advances in fields such as biotechnology we begin to understand that the world’s species contain an incredible and uncountable number of complex chemicals. These are the raw materials that are used for developing new medicines and industrial products and are a storehouse from which to develop thousands of new products in the future.
The flowering plants and insects that form the most species-rich groups of living organisms are thus vital for the future development of man. If we degrade their habitat these species will become extinct. If one sees being sold or used, a product that comes from an illegally killed wild species, if we do not inform the authorities, we become party to its extinction. Once they are lost, man cannot bring them back.
When we permit the destruction of a forest, wetland or other natural area and do not protest about it, future generations are being denied the use of these valuable resources and will blame us for these rash and negligent actions towards the environment. Thus the urgent need to protect all living species is a concept that we need to understand and act upon.
While individually, we perhaps cannot directly prevent the extinction of a species, creating a strong public opinion to protect the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries in which wild species live is an importance aspect of sustainable living. There is a close link between agriculture and the forest, which illustrates its productive value. For crops to be successful, the flowers of fruit trees and vegetables must be pollinated by insects, bats and birds. Their life cycles however frequently require intact forests.
Aesthetic/Recreational value of nature: The aesthetic and recreational values that nature possesses enlivens our existence on earth. This is created by developing National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries in relatively undisturbed areas. A true wilderness experience has not only recreational value but is an incredible learning experience. It brings about an understanding of the oneness of nature and the fact that we are entirely dependent upon the intricate functioning of ecosystems.
The beauty of nature encompasses every aspect of the living and non-living part of our earth. One can appreciate the magnificence of a mountain, the power of the sea, the beauty of a forest, and the vast expanse of the desert. It is these natural vistas and their incredible diversity of plant and animal life that has led to the development of several philosophies of life. It has also inspired artists to develop visual arts and writers and poets to create their works that vitalize our lives.
A wilderness experience has exceptional recreational value. This has been described as nature tourism, or wildlife tourism, and is also one aspect of adventure tourism. These recreational facilities not only provide a pleasurable experience but are intended to create a deep respect and love for nature. They are also key tools in educating people about the fragility of the environment and the need for sustainable lifestyles. In an urban setting, green spaces and gardens are vital to the psychological and physical health of city dwellers. It provides not only an aesthetic and visual appeal but the ability to ensure that each individual is able to access a certain amount of peace and tranquility.
Thus urban environmental planners must ensure that these facilities are created in growing urban complexes. Another important conservation education facility in urban settings includes the need to set up well designed and properly managed zoological parks and aquariums. These have got great value in sensitizing school students to wildlife. Many young people who frequented zoos as young children grow up to love wildlife and become conservationists.
In the absence of access to a Protected Area, a botanical garden or a zoo, one concept that can be developed is to create small nature awareness areas with interpretation facilities at district and taluka levels. These areas can be developed to mimic natural ecosystems even though they could be relatively small in size. Such nature trails are invaluable assets for creating conservation education and awareness. They can
be developed in a small woodlot, a patch of grassland, a pond ecosystem, or be situated along an undisturbed river or coastal area. This would bring home to the visitor the importance of protecting our dwindling wilderness areas.
The option values of nature: While we utilize several goods and services of nature and enjoy its benefits, we must recognize that every activity that we do in our daily lives has an adverse impact on nature’s integrity. Thus if we use up all our resources, kill off and let species of plants and animals become extinct on earth, pollute our air and water, degrade land, and create enormous quantities of waste, we as a generation will leave nothing for future generations.
Our present generation has developed its economies and lifestyles on unsustainable patterns of life. however, nature provides us with various options on how we utilize its goods and services. This is its option value. We can use up goods and services greedily and destroy its integrity and long term values, or we can use its resources sustainably and reduce our impacts on the environment. The option value allows us to use its resources sustainably and preserve its goods and services for the future.