Our environment is anything and everything that surrounds and influences us as living beings. Some of these things are biological (plants/animals) and some are social. I will want us to look into the biological and physical influences of our environment, observing how it affects us, just as we influence it as well.
The physical environment also referred to by some as the non-living environment includes water, air, soil and rocks, besides other conditions such as temperature, humidity and sunlight. The biological environment defines and represents influences man has on other living things, such as plants and animals. Also of importance are impacts other living organisms we share the planet with, have on man.
First we have to take a look at earth our home and planet as the first environment necessary for life. The earth, our home is divided into three major components whose interaction and communication makes life possible. These components are the earth’s water platforms and the gaseous envelopes that surround the earth, atmosphere and rock surfaces (the uppermost part of which is soil).
Our environment is characterised by the continuous interactions and interface between air and rocks, water and air and vice versa. These interactions are not merely essential to enable and ensure life but create the indispensible conditions that design and sustain what we know as our environment. Plants and animals make up all life forms on earth and further enable the interaction of these three components within the ecosphere, which impacts the environment and its functions.
Directly or indirectly, virtually all energy we use is derived from solar energy. ‘Fossil fuel- is derived from biomass that has been trapped and transformed (changed) by geological processes over millions of years. About 80% of the world’s energy consumption is based on fossil fuels’. Biofuel- is derived from solar energy that has been captured and stored – bioenergy (energy from plants animal products).
‘Wind- Wind is created when solar energy creates differences in temperature on areas of the earth’s surface. This wind energy can also be exploited in the form of wind turbines. Wind is important for its life supporting characteristics creating pressure, ocean currents, cloud formation, erosion, pollination which are all very important to man and the environment.
Earth’s interior has heat that remains from the time earth formed. There is heat being continually generated by the decay of radioactive elements. This heat produces volcanoes, earthquakes, mountain, changing rocks by heating, also in the formation of most natural recourses like precious and non precious minerals, metallic and metallic minerals, and some rock forms, used in construction. When this escapes and is near enough to the earth’s surface, they become a useful spring of energy called geothermal energy; another source of renewable energy.
Driven by energy from the sun, green plants capture carbon and this solar energy to produce a simple sugar (glucose) through a process called photosynthesis. Most if not all-living things including man are either producers of their own food (most plants) or they feed on producers. The sun also produces wind because wind is formed by the differences in temperatures on different areas of the earth surface. Places over where the sunrays are stronger, pressure is low and places over where the sunray is not very strong pressure is high. Wind is thus air moving from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure.
Green plants during photosynthesis, produce oxygen, which is used by almost all living things during respiration. They also capture carbon dioxide, a raw material they need for photosynthesis to occur; it is one of the green house gases implicated for causing global warming. The drivers of these interactions (energy providers of earths system) between air, water, rock and plants and animals, is the sun and to a lesser extent earths interior heat.
The sun almost always dictates weather and climate, because climate is mostly characterised by rainfall and temperature. Air pollution like smug and haze are mostly possible when wind movement is low. Cloud formation has a lot to do with wind movement. The movement of water in large water bodies is possible by movement (ocean currents). This is all trying to give an explanation as to how earth itself works as a system. The parts of earth are so interconnected that changes in one part can instigate changes in any or all other parts. For example when man clears the forest for agriculture or for industry, he reduces the biological diversity (number of different plants and animals) of the area. He uses insecticides and fungicides, which can kill useful insects (bees) soils organisms and further pollute water bodies (polluting the hydrosphere). This can cause death to aquatic animals. This can in turn affect man by reducing his catch, which affects his health, finances and protein intakes.
Therefore any changes that man proposes in the environment for development, example industrial expansions, large-scale agronomy, irrigation and water supply systems from rivers and streams etc. should be carefully studied and there possible environmental impacts noted, there benefits recognised and solutions developed to reduce the potential negative environmental impacts (mitigation). This is what is referred to as environmental impact assessment.
Everything man extracts from the environment is called a resource. Water and soils, metallic and non-metallic minerals and energy together form the foundation of modern civilisations. Some of these resources we can extract are renewable. This means they replenish over a relatively short time span. These renewable resources include plants and animals for food, natural fibres for clothing, and forest products for lumber and paper.
Energy from flowing water, wind and the sun are also considered renewable resources that constantly reorganise and replenish themselves. Other resources are however considered non-renewable because they take a considerably long time to form significant deposits. Examples of such natural resources include fossil fuels (Petroleum), natural gases and coal.
So knowing all this and considering the benefits our environment provides including supporting life and making living possible don’t you think it makes absolute sense to protect and preserve our eco-system. Is protecting the environment, not protecting the very essence and existence of life?
Junior Babu is a year student at the University of the Gambia where he majors in environmental studies.