Youth and the Environment

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7 Environmental Principles

The key to understanding the environmental problems that we encounter today is to learn about our ecosystem. This section highlights the basic environmental principles, varied types of ecosystem, current environmental issues, anthropogenic activities that threat the environment and the role of youth in protecting our environment.

Nature knows best.

This principle is the most basic and in fact encompasses all the others. Humans have to understand nature and have to abide by the rules nature dictates. In essence, one must not go against the natural processes if one would like to ensure a continuous and steady supply of resources.

One natural process that needs serious attention is nutrient cycling. In nature, nutrients pass from the environment to the organisms and back to the environment. Any disruption in the cycle can bring about imbalance.

For example, burning of farm wastes instead of allowing them to decompose naturally disrupts the cycle. In burning, most of the organic compounds are lost. The combustion products bring greater havoc as in the case of carbon dioxide build-up, which results in the warming-up of the earth, or the so-called "greenhouse" effect.

Nature has also its built-in mechanisms to maintain balance of homeostasis - the availability of nutrients, conduciveness of the environment for growth and reproduction, and the feeding relationships that exist between and among organisms which serve as population controls. For example, the rat population is controlled by the presence and number of its predators, e.g., snakes.

The use of chemical pesticides and fertilizer disrupts check and balance in the ecosystem. Pesticides can either kill vital organisms directly or induce genetic changes that result in resistant pests or organisms. Chemical fertilizers increase the acidity of the soil through time making a number of nutrients unavailable and thus, unfit for the survival of plants and other organisms.

History and our experiences are full of examples to prove the validity of this principle. In fact, this principle only surfaced when many of the detrimental effects of technology were recognized and coined thereon as "ecological backlash."

All forms of life are important

Each organism plays a fundamental role in nature. Since such occupational or functional position, otherwise known as niche, cannot be simultaneously occupied by more than one specie, it is apparent that all living things must be considered as invaluable in the maintenance of homeostasis in the ecosystem.

It is easy to appreciate the beautiful butterflies, especially knowing their important role in pollination. The giant beasts – the elephants, the whales, the alligators – are objects of awe and the products they yield – ivory, oil, leather, respectively – are highly prized. But when it comes to unlovely, wriggly, and troublesome creatures, this principle is unusually overlooked.

For instance, it has been customary for many to step on any wriggling creature (e.g. earthworms) without even considering why God made them in the first place. People also react adversely to the presence of snakes. At home, spiders are looked at with disdain. Awareness of the snakes' role in limiting the rat population and of the spiders' role in checking the population of mosquitoes and flies may, however, change this attitude.

Everything is connected to everything else

This principle is best exemplified by the concept of the ecosystem. In an ecosystem, all biotic and amniotic components interact with each other to ensure that the system is perpetuated. Any outside interference may result in an imbalance and the deterioration of the system.

In a lake ecosystem, the organisms are linked to one another through their feeding habit/level and are also dependent on other physico-chemical factors in the lake (e.g. amount of nutrients, amounts and types of gases, temperature, PH, etc.). At the same time, the physico-chemical factors in the lake are influenced by the terrestrial environment that surrounds it. The fertilizers that reach the lake cause a faster growth of phytoplankton, which may lead to algae bloom, red tide, or other such phenomena.

This principle may be discussed in local, regional, or global perspective. Deforestation in the mountains may affect the lowlands through floods, drought, and erosion. Whatever happens to one country may affect other countries. An example of this is the Chernobyl accident, which affected a lot of countries through the transfer of radioactive substances by natural agents such as wind and water, as well as human activities like the export of contaminated food.

Everything changes

It is said that the only permanent thing is change. As a general classification, change may be linear, cyclical or random. As example of linear change is evolution of species, which has brought about higher and more complex types of organisms. Cyclical change may be exemplified by seasons and the rhythms in floral and faunal life stages that go with the seasons. An example of random change is the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, which brought about great upheaval in many parts of Luzon and changes in the topography of the land.

The environment is constantly changing. Organisms also evolve through time. However, man’s technology has affected these natural changes often to a problematic extent. Although mutation is a natural change, pesticides have induced insect mutations, which are not matched by natural checks and balances.

Humans should rethink their relationship with the environment. Changes that they think may be beneficial to the environment often turn out to be disastrous. Environmental technologies should be given priority if man would want more positive changes in the environment.

Everything must go somewhere

When a piece of paper is thrown away, it disappears from sight but it does not cease to exist. It ends up elsewhere. Gases released in smokestacks may disperse but it will end up a component of the atmosphere or brought down by rains. What a particular type of waste does to the earth's repository should be of concern to us. It may be a pollutant or a resource depending on certain factors.

Since wastes are not lost to oblivion, and even goes back to one's own backyard in some other forms, it is important that one becomes aware of the different types of wastes – whether they are hazardous or not. Classification of wastes facilitates their proper disposal and minimizes, if not prevents, the entry of toxic wastes in vital ecosystems and ensures reconversion into useful forms.

Ours is a finite earth

The earth’s resources can be classified as either renewable or non-renewable. Renewable resources are those that can easily be replenished by natural cycles (e.g. water, air, plants, and animals) while non-renewable resources are those that cannot be replenished through natural cycles (e.g. ores of various metals, oil, coal).

Although renewable resources can be replenished, it is important to note that these are renewable only as long as they are not overused nor destroyed from such factors such as pollution. To ensure that these resources will be continually replenished, it is essential to know how much of a resource can be consumed at a given time to balance the rate of exploitation with the rate of replenishment.

Just how long would the earth be able to sustain demands on its resources? This is a question that needs serious reflection. Unless the factors of population growth, lifestyles, and polluting technologies are checked, the collapse of the earth might be inevitable.

Awareness of the earth's limited resources leads to a conscious effort to change one's consumerist attitude as well as to develop processes and technology that would bring about effective recycling of a great number of resources.

Nature is beautiful and we are stewards of God's creation

Among all creatures, humans are the only ones made in God's image and have been given the right to have dominion over all His creations. Being the most intelligent and gifted with reason, humans are capable of manipulating creation to their own advantage. Yet, creation exists not to be ravaged or abused but to be taken care of. Humans cannot exist without nature. They are co-natural with the environment they live in. If the environment they live in is destroyed, with it will go Homo Sapiens.

This principle is inherent in all religious and tribal beliefs. Teachings of Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam enjoin everyone to respect all life and the order of nature. Words of Chief Seattle, Macli-ing Dulag, and Chito Mendez point to our duty to discern the true worth of modern systems and techniques to reject those that degrade, and promote those that elevate the human condition.

Source: Science and Health: Matrix and Modules on Environmental Management

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