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Vol. 20 No. 4 - October 2014

Economic development and saving environment

By: Rajni Kant*


The developing and poor countries are characterized by population explosion, disorderly growth marked by deforestation, over harvesting of croplands and wood lands, lack of pastures/ grazing ground for animals, over exploitation of ground water (thereby lowering of ground water levels), soil degradation, excessive urbanization resulting in cities having highly inadequate infrastructure. The disparity and high degree of inequality and massive poverty caused by disorderly growth forces the poor people to struggle hard for obtaining even minimum requirement for survival like clean water, food, fuel, shelter, etc. The countries are confronted with a choice between perpetual poverty entailing violence, internal strifes, exploitation, instability, etc. on one hand, and expeditious economic development on the other hand with many of its adverse effects.

The economic development is a process which uses the resources to meet the needs and aspirations of human beings both individually and collectively. Production of electricity or other forms of energy, industrialization to produce good quality cheap products for use, mining of minerals/ coal / petroleum, creating infrastructure like roads, means of transportation, irrigation facilities, etc are important. In the process the people would get employment.

The quality of life in material sense and human welfare depend on many different goods and services. The most pertinent physical indicators of levels of living of ‘developing societies’ are:

(1) Food and Nutrition, (2) Clean Drinking Water Supply, (3) Clothing, (4) Housing, (5) Sanitation, (6) Roads and transport facilities, (7) Education facilities, (8) Energy supply facilities (for cooking, light & fan, domestic power, etc.), (9) Easy and cheap availability of all required goods and services, (10) Employment, Enterprises, Productivity, etc. and equality of opportunity, (11) Equitable Distribution of Income [for fulfilling at least minimum needs of every citizen for a reasonable standard of living, health, education, etc.]

Economical development alone is not enough to constitute to give quality of life to human beings although it is necessary to eliminate the abject poverty. The development should be able to enhance status of the above parameters and also provide healthy, safe and pollution-free environment for living as well as working.

Adverse Effects of Development

The adverse effects of developments may include the following:

  • Deforestation, and denudation of mountains and other terrains

  • Continued reduction of availability of land for agriculture because of continued demand of land for construction of roads, mining activities, power stations, factories/ industries, offices, business establishments, housing, etc.

  • Over withdrawal of water from hydrological cycle

  • Interference with ground water recharge system, accelerated use of ground water with consequent fall of ground water levels.

  • Destruction of top fertile soil by construction and mining activities rendering the land unsuitable for agriculture

  • Land and soil pollution by discharge of pollutants from various industries or other human activities.

  • Pollution of natural pond, lakes, rivers, and even ground water due to industrial effluents or other activities like use of pesticides, spilling of oils or chemicals, improper / untreated disposal of sewage, etc.

  • Improper drainage of land, water logging, and soil alkalization

  • Soil erosion and land slides (because of construction activities and cutting down of trees and denuding the slopes), and consequent siltation of reservoirs, lakes, ponds, canals and riverbeds.

  • Rise of ‘Greenhouse gases (like Carbon dioxide, Nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons , Methane, Sulphur hexafluoride, etc.) in atmosphere’ and ‘Global warming’

  • Air pollution due to ‘Emissions’ (from industries, vehicles and fuel burning power stations) of polluting gases like oxides of sulphur (SOx), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), unburnt hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compound (VOCs), chlorine and its gaseous compounds, etc. and air pollution due to emission of smoke/ particulate matter. [The particulate matter besides unburnt carbon may contain toxic/ heavy metals.]

  • Acidification of sea water due to higher amount of absorption of carbon dioxide and other acidic gases because of rise in emissions

  • Acid rains due to rise of emission of acidic gases in atmosphere.

  • Increase in radioactivity and radiation due to industrial activities or atomic accidents,

  • Pollution of environment by chemicals due to their unsafe production, transport, and use and Chemical disasters.

  • Many serious diseases due to pollution of air, water and land. [Besides humans, animals and plants are also adversely affected.]

  • Depletion of ‘Stratospheric Ozone layer’ resulting in rise of UV radiation on earth, [Higher Ozone content in troposphere due to various air pollutants in atmosphere adversely affect the agriculture as well as human and animal health]

  • Destruction of flora and fauna, extinction of certain species of plants and animals, [Deforestation for various purposes, causes loss of habitat including fragmentation of habitat. There may be overexploitation of biotic communities including plants and animals, or there may be introduction of alien/ exotic species of plants and animals in existing ecosystem, which suppress and destroy the already existing flora and fauna. The organisms, plants and animals may not be able to adjust/ survive in the new chemical regime in water, soil, and air due to pollution and climate change.*]

*Note: Besides anthropogenic causes, the extinction of species may be due to natural causes also. The ‘Natural causes’ may be: Climatic changes, Jungle fires, Continental drifts, Earthquakes, Volcanic Eruptions, Lava flow, Avalanche, Land slides, Droughts and Famines, Cyclones, Storms, Floods, Tsunami, Sea level rise, Striking / falling of meteors on earth, 0r other ‘Disasters’.

Ecological Changes because of Global Warming resulting from Development

Global warming ie an increase in average temperatures leads to climate change all most all over earth involving the following types of problems which lead to changes in regional ecology and ecosystems:

  • Global rise surface temperatures over land and oceans

  • Increase in temperature as we go towards poles, spread of temperate region and subtropical regions towards pole.

  • Decrease in snow cover of mountains and retreat of glaciers

  • Melting of ice in Northern and Southern regions of earth like arctic sea, tundra, Antarctica, etc.

  • Increase in sea level and submergence of land

  • Shift of plants and animal ranges towards higher latitude and higher altitude.

  • Oxygen depletion of sea water due to lower solubility of oxygen with rise of temperature of water.

  • Increase in frequencies and severities of temperature extremes, cloud bursts / very severe rain, droughts, cyclones, storms, floods and flash floods.

  • Change in distribution of rainfall and consequent droughts in some areas and increase in rainfall in some areas.

  • Spread of pests and pathogens in large areas.

  • Adverse effects on aquatic plants, fish and aquatic animals and other organisms in waters

  • Adverse effects on agriculture and food output in most regions.

Need for Minimizing Adverse Effects of Development on Ecology

With the global population growth, accelerated consumption of finite natural resources, and high carbon life style (producing more carbon dioxide and green house gases than the nature can absorb or process), the humanity is standing on the upper slope of the curve leading to ecological disaster.

There is no doubt that vigorous developmental activities are needed for providing quality of life to every citizen as mentioned above, but it must be understood that there are consequential adverse effects of developments and therefore there is a need for caution and modify the development process so that these bad consequences are minimized.

The changes in ecology affect the biodiversity*. The complex ecological processes are also affected by biodiversity and in turn also affect the quality of human life. Prevention of extinction of any species of flora or fauna is very important for ecological balance necessary. [*Biodiversity is the variety of life forms and their processes. This describes the diversity of life forms from genes to ecosystems spanning every level of biological organization. It includes species diversity, genetic diversity, ecosystem diversity, and also temporal variation of biotic communities over a time span ie successional developments.]

The value and importance of biodiversity are normally seen in terms of benefits which the human race gets directly or indirectly from different microorganisms, plants, and animals. The direct benefits include those products from biotic communities like plants and animals such as food, seeds, timber, fuel, medicines, vitamins, fibres for clothes, skins, raw materials for various industries and processes, etc.

The indirect benefits include: eco-tourism of natural bio-paradise, various ecosystem services, genetic storehouse for future researches for improving the food crops, fruits, seeds, raw materials, etc. for increasing productivity, quality improvement. The importance of biodiversity has increased due to progress in biotechnological field.

The ecosystem services include:

  • Air purification, carbon dioxide absorption,

  • Moderation and regulation of climate and weather,

  • Improvement of ground water level, water conservation, regulation of hydrological cycle,

  • Regulation of biochemical cycle,

  • Improving soil fertility, protection and conservation of soils, conservation of soil moisture content,

  • Aesthetic value, healthy environment, etc.

  • Some religious faiths and significance are also associated with biodiversity.

Sustainable Development

Human society needs economic growth and development for fulfilling needs of increasing population, and also for improving the quality of life. But one of the important conditions for preservation and stability of human institutions is the stability of ecological balance which in turn depends on human desire, efforts and ability to maintain ecological balance via proper environmental planning and management. It is very desirable to prolong the supply of finite natural resources, to efficiently use renewable resources, to discover new resources and non polluting efficient technologies, to progressively use clean technologies with an aim to detoxify the environment, and to get a sustained supply of ecological resources for development.

Sustainable development has to strike a balance between human material growth, and preservation of environmental quality and ecology. The physical and biotic components should remain in healthy conditions in long term for future generations, inspite of, exploitation and utilization of natural and ecological resources for development.

Among other things, the sustained development would need:

  1. Meticulous environmental planning, environmental management, and monitoring of quality of air, water, and soil/land;

  2. Strict implementation of environmental controls on emissions and effluents;

  3. Agro-forestry on large scale;

  4. Land restoration after mining for plantation or agriculture;

  5. Waste land restoration and proper use;

  6. Restoration of soil productivity by soil by increased use of bio-manures / bio-fertilizers / compost (instead of chemical fertilizers) /planting of suitable species of vegetation, plants or crops.

  7. Development of new plantations, and green belts even on degraded land;

  8. Restoration of degraded forest;

  9. Development and use of renewable sources of energy like hydroelectric, solar energy (both solar heating and solar power) and wind energy, ocean energy systems, etc.

    Also development and use of other ‘non carbon dioxide emitting power sources’ like atomic power station but with top class safety measures.

  10. Promotion of economical use of biomass for making compost, production of useful products like paper/ boards / liquid fuels / gaseous fuels / chemicals. [Use of biomass as energy source may be done if it can be spared from use for other economical uses. However the use of biomass for making compost must be preferred.]

  11. Using the already known suitable cleaning technologies for domestic sewage and industrial effluents before discharge in environment.

  12. Using already known suitable gas cleaning technologies for control of emission from thermal power stations, industries, vehicles, etc.

  13. Replacement of environmentally harmful technologies by latest available efficient, nonpolluting and environmentally friendly technologies in the fields of agriculture, industries, transport, and power generation,

  14. Continuous research and development to find most efficient, nonpolluting and eco-friendly technologies for use in all fields and their continuous adoption in relevant field;

  15. Social awareness for environmental and ecological values, and environmental education for all (even at the lowest level of society).

Green Engineering as a Tool for Sustainable Development

Sustainability is possible through sustainable development which is in turn possible through ‘Green engineering’, which is defined (by US EPA) as follows:

Green engineering would require that ‘the design, commercialization, and use of processes and products are feasible and economical, while minimizing (i) generation of pollution at the source and (ii) risk to human health and environment. The discipline embraces the concept that decisions to protect human health and environment can have the greatest impact and cost effectiveness when applied early to the design and development phase of a process or product.

Green engineering attempts to achieve following goals

i) Reduction of waste of materials, energy, and resources,

ii) Material management,

iii) Pollution prevention,

iv) Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,

v) Product enhancement.

The principles of green engineering would cover the following:

  • Waste Prevention — To prevent waste, there are following options/ methods:

(a) Selection of processes which leave the least waste material and are very efficient

(b) In already operating industries, first carry out waste audit and then take actions like:

i) operational changes, ii) change of raw materials and other consumable and other materials; change over to better superior materials, iii) change of fuel, iv) Change for better technology and process modification and system modification; plant modifications, v) recovery of material from the wastes for recycling, vi) converting waste into saleable products.

  • Safe design—Design of process which is safe for men, material, and plant. Use of products which have safe design (for use and also after use).

  • Low hazard chemical use/ manufacture. [Highly hazardous chemicals should not be used or manufactured. Select processes which work with low toxicity chemical reagents. Substitute hazardous chemicals by low toxicity chemicals.]

  • Use of Renewable materials and fuels as far as feasible.

  • Minimizing waste of energy or material

  • Improved energy efficiencies [i) Adopt more efficient processes/ technologies/ systems, ii) Adopt efficient machines and efficient processes, iii) Change to more efficient fuel, iv) Better operation and maintenance, v) Renovation and modifications in plant.]

  • The product should be degradable after use as far as possible.

  • Accident prevention to be included in process technology (such as simulator based technique can be used to simulate various situations). Also primary, secondary, and tertiary protections should be provided against accidents

  • Control of greenhouse gases and control of pollution of environment. [This includes prevention, control, and monitoring of emission of greenhouse gases and prevention, control and monitoring of pollutants ejected or emitted from various processes, systems, industries, communities, offices, etc. The design and engineering should incorporate the above in the design itself.]

  • Products and processes to be continuously improved in performance, safety, and efficiency and to be made pollution- free through research and development.[The cost should also be reasonable.]

  • Carrying out frequent efficiency tests, energy audits, use diagnostic techniques and also detailed inspections to continuously monitor condition of various machines and equipment. [This would be useful for keeping the plant performing well at desired efficiency without breakdowns.]

  • More and more power generation from renewable energy such as solar, wind, biomass, biofuels, etc. Also more and more use of renewable sources for heat and power in domestic, transport and industrial sectors.

*Ex-Chief Engineer, UPSEB, Lucknow, India, [email protected]

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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