The earth has been experiencing unwanted changes in the weather, rise in atmospheric and ocean temperatures, acute water crisis etc. in recent decades, indicating the early appearance of a very disturbed global life.
The atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluro carbons (CFCs) etc, has been increasing at a fast rate. This is mostly due to various human activities like burning of fossil fuels, rapid deforestation, fast urbanisation and industrialisation, increase in fossil fuels transportation systems etc.
As a result, global warming is being accelerated. It may be mentioned here that the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases except CFCs, is also a natural phenomena. But, global warming due to natural processes has been an extremely slow one. As a matter of fact, during a period of some million years, the earth’s mean surface temperature has gone up from -180 C to about + 180 C. As a result, all types of life have been possible on this earth. But, the situation is entirely different at present due to reckless human activities.
Various greenhouse gases have very different heat trapping capacities. For example, one molecule of methane produces more than 20 times of warming than a molecule of carbon dioxide, whereas those of nitrous oxide and CFCs are about 300 and 1000 times respectively. To assess the effect of all these gases together, the total effect of all the greenhouse gases is expressed in terms of the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Since 1990, the emission of greenhouse gases has gone up by about 6 billion metric tons of ‘carbon dioxide equivalent’ worldwide, which is more than 20% increase over the previous value.
This increase is mainly due to the rapid growth in population, which means more food, transportation, agriculture and more burning of fossil fuels, cutting of increasing number of trees and also breathing out of carbon dioxide. As vast areas of forest have been cut on the earth for human settlements, industrial development and other socio-economic activities, the scope for trees and forests to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen has diminished significantly.
Global warming is causing great change in weather. Due to this, there is increase in drought as well as flood affected areas. Increase in tropical cyclonic activity and rise in sea level is causing inundation of low-lying coastal regions. Also, decrease in glacier and snow cover and increase in volcanic eruption etc., are taking place. In addition to all this, global warming is also significantly affecting the health of human beings, water resources, agricultural production etc. Due to air pollution and growth of insects and rodents, more people are suffering from various diseases like diarrohea, cardio, respiratory, cancer and allergy etc. Agricultural productivity is coming down due to increase in incidents of unpredictable drought and floods. Due to rise in the sea level and transition of salty water into fresh water bodies, there is likely to be more water scarcity for drinking, agriculture and other purposes.
Global warming is also having an adverse effect on livestock and biological activities in rivers and lakes.
To mitigate the hazards of global warming, it is necessary to take the following major steps: (i) reduce the use of fossil fuels and releasing of the minimum amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, (ii) developing renewable energy sources like hydro power, solar, wind and biogas and utilising these in various areas in larger amounts and (iii) greening the earth through large-scale plantation of trees and under taking afforestation programmes in barren areas.
Forests are being wiped out at a very fast rate to provide shelter, fuel, energy and food to the growing population of the planet. Further, the increasing urbanisation, land transport system and industries are also responsible in expediting the rate of deforestation. It is estimated that nearly four million acres of tropical forest disappear in the world annually. In India, forests are also being cut at a very fast rate for mining, developing various infrastructure, roads, buildings and industries etc. The deforestation in the foot hills of Himalayas, Western and Eastern Ghats has already brought significant climate change including heavy soil erosion and massive floods, causing a lot of damage to lives and properties.
The amount of carbon released by the conversion of forest areas into farmland is estimated to range between 0.7 to 1.7 Gt. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the earth’s atmospheric carbon concentration has increased from 275 ppm to 355 ppm. About 50pct. of this is due to carbon dioxide emission by deforestation.
Forests, like oceans, are the most important ecosystem for our survival. These play an extremely important role in the atmospheric cycles of substances like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. Forests help in regulating the climate and are involved in the water balance and in hydrological cycle. Moreover, these protect soil from erosion, promote soil formation, provide different types of food, as well as a variety of economic and social benefits.
Originally, forests covered about one-fourth of the land on this earth. These provided shelter to most of the animal and plant species and contributed considerably towards the development of new species than any other ecosystem. A single young tree can absorb about 12 kg of carbon dioxide per year. A mature tree can store 22 kg of carbon dioxide per year and release 120 kg of oxygen per year.
All over the world, particularly in developed countries, efforts are being made to create forest in mined and barren areas. Social forestry programmes are being taken up in rural and urban areas. Similarly, in India, more efforts should be made to create forests in the mined and other barren areas as well as developing social forestry in catchment areas and both sides of the rivers and other water bodies. Reforestation projects can be successfully implemented by involving the local people in planning and implementation stages and giving them due benefits. Some selected non-government organisations can also be involved in such programmes in a big way by providing sufficient financial incentives and monitoring their implementation properly.
It is very heartening to find that the Government of India has recently earmarked a fund of more than 66,000 crores of rupees to increase India’s green coverage. This amount has been provided to various states and union territories for afforestation and their conservation programmes as well as to be spent by the state for plantation, forest fire prevention, pests and diseases controlled in forest, soil and moisture conservation works and improvement of wildlife habitat etc. All the state governments of India should be serious in implementing the afforestation programmes speedily and effectively by involving the local people and social organisations.
It is essential to take different measures like reducing the use of fossil fuels, increasing the production of renewable energy from sun, wind, hydro power and biomass and massive afforestation at various possible sites. Greening India along with greening the earth through afforestation should be undertaken seriously and in a massive way. This can be done through the involvement of all the stakeholders and with the application of better technology and developing genetically improved tree species. By greening our country and the earth in general, we can maintain soil fertility, improve the water holding capacity of the rivers and groundwater resources and above all, mitigate the hazards of global warming to a great extent.
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