By: N. Munal Meitei
The 50th anniversary of World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June 2023 with the theme, “Solutions to plastic pollution” to be hosted by Ivory Coast. The world is being inundated by plastic. Plastics take 250 to 2500 years to disintegrate. Thus all the plastics manufactured so far since 1907 are still exists on earth in one form or other. More than 430 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year, half of which are for single use which harm human health, biodiversity and pollutes every ecosystem from mountain tops to ocean floor.
Around the world, one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, while up to five trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. This year the world will consume 5 trillion plastic bags – that’s 20 lakhs a minute. It’s again 75 kg per person annually. If these plastics are put one after another they would go around the earth 7 times every hour and can cover half of India. Of that, less than 10% is recycled. Today, plastic clogs our environment and is combusted into toxic smoke, making it one of the gravest threats to the planet. Productions of plastic also consume 8% of the earth’s petroleum products. Only to produce a single 1 litre plastic water bottle, 162 gm of oil and 7 litre of water are required.
Plastics including microplastics are now ubiquitous in our natural environment. Microplastics find their way into the food we eat, the water we drink and even the air we breathe. Thus scourge of plastic pollution is just like a pandemic. They are becoming part of the Earth’s fossil record and a marker of the Anthropocene, our current geological era. They have even given their name to a new marine microbial habitat called the ”plastisphere”.
This planet is our only home and humanity must safeguard its finite resources. Healthier environment with richer biodiversity give more fertile soils, bigger yields and fish, and larger stores of greenhouse gases. Planting trees is the easiest way to battle the environmental problems to soak up excess CO2 from the air. The world lost forests to the size of 20 football grounds per minute. Trees so cut are around 7 billion per year but annual afforestation and natural germination together accounts 1% only. A tree can store 1 ton CO2 in its life and can produce O2 for 10 persons a year. Hence its really miserable. The loss of Biodiversity are to the tunes of 3 species per hour and thus most of species may wipe out by 2100.
The oceans absorb almost 25% of all human CO2 emissions. Over the last 250 years, surface acidity of the ocean has increased by 30%. With such over acidification, all the sea creatures more importantly, the plankton which produces 65% of all the earth’s oxygen is in the brink of extinction. Every half an hour a seagrass meadow to the size of a football pitch is destroyed and the destruction is estimated to release around 299 million tons of carbon every year. Surprisingly, the total debris of plastic litter in ocean today is more than the total number of visible creatures in the ocean water.
Our blue planet and its finite resources is the only place in the universe inhabitable by the living beings. Healthier the environment, richer is the biodiversity and greater will be the yield benefits. Yet, our so called home is visibly losing its vitality and pristineness due to the reckless policies and ruinous acts of the wise human beings. Its resources are being exhausted and the safe livelihood of mankind is gravely endangered. Alarming environmental challenges, disasters, unprecedented and unheard of before, occur at a greater rate. Climate change with ensuing water scarcity, desertification, melting of ice, sea level rise, soil and vegetation degradation lead not only to depletion of natural resources, but threaten the social and economic development of the entire world.
This year, India is likely to be the hottest year since IMD began keeping records 122 years ago. It is really a horrible for the infants and elderly to live in. But if we do not care of our environment today, it is inevitable to face more extreme consequences in future. On the other hand, due to lack of annual rainfall, the whole country is facing from acute water scarcity but facing from frequent thunderstorms like Yaas, Helen, Phalin, Hudhud, Fani and Asani etc.
Population explosion makes the environmental meltdown and mankind will required 2 Earths by 2030. India with 2.8% of the global area is the most populous country with 1.51 billion presenting 21% of world population i.e. 1 every five people on the planet are an Indian.
While the country’s requirement becomes almost double, due to the haphazardus annual precipitations, the dry places may get more rainfall and the rest with almost nil to negligible thereby leading to severe drought and famine. The rainfalls will be for a shorter period accompanied by cloudburst and downpour thereby making floods, landslides everywhere leading to huge loss of lives and properties.
The pollution level both in air, water and soil may shoot up to three times and temperature may rise around 55°C in almost all the parts of the country. Hence people will be forced to concentrate their settlement in the colder regions thereby making a huge social and political problem. Heat waves mixed with drought conditions can trigger intense wildfires that cause high levels of air pollution accompanied by sever heat waves, heavy cyclones and storms. Due to these multifarious environmental issues, the country will be in turmoil both in politics, Law & Order and governance.
At that time 80% of the Himalayan glaciers might be melting away resulting in abrupt changes in climatic condition of the sub-continent and also submerging of many parts of the low laying coastal areas. At that time, most of our snow fed rivers might be dried up.
The country has also lost 30% of our wetlands, the cradles for our biodiversity due to urbanization, land use change and pollution. In Manipur there are 155 lakes and 2 ox-bow lakes. But more than 64% of our wetlands have disappeared. The state with 77.12% forests has lost 449 sq.km and 249 sq.km of forests during 2017-2019 and 2019-2021 respectively due to large scale poppy plantation, jhoom cultivation and the indiscriminate felling along with 4000 sq. km lost of bamboo brakes.
The present status of wildlife in Manipur is also very pitiful. In hill districts, today also there is the hunting costumery and District authorities are still issuing gun licenses which are mainly meant for hunting. Thus, the wild animals that were once found abundantly have now become almost extinct and the few remaining also have started to enter the human habitations. Nature is sending mankind a wake up message to reformulate man’s relationship with nature. It is time to restore equilibrium between man and mother nature.
Therefore with the celebration of World Environment Day, 2023, let’s act together for a green and beautiful Manipur because tomorrow may be too late. Personal participation and planting trees will the best option for taking part in this World Environment Day for the sack of the mother earth and our future generation.
(Environmentalist, email: [email protected])
World Environment Day 2023 – Solutions to plastic pollution
By: N. Munal Meitei