IOS Lecture on “Sustainable Living – The Way Forward” (for Earth Sake)
A lecture on “Sustainable Living – The Way Forward (for Earth Sake)” was organised by the Institute of Objective Studies on September 9, 2020. Introducing the topic, Shaikh Nizamuddin, senior member of the general assembly of the IOS, said that the Institute had the distinction of holding several symposia on issues relating to science and technology. These lectures had been inspiring, educating and creating awareness about the dangers inherent in the excessive use of technology. Describing Dr. Sultan Ahmed Ismail, Director of Eco-science Research Foundation, Chennai, who delivered the lecture, as a “proactive environmentalist”, he noted that Dr. Sultan Ahmed Ismail is an Indian soil biologist and ecologist known for the use of vermitech to recycle organic garbage into valuable fertiliser utilising local varieties of earthworms. It is also applied in soil bioremediation.
In his lecture, Dr. Sultan Ahmed voiced concern over the environment being degraded by solid waste, effluents, encroachment, climate change; etc. Every NGO claimed to restore natural habitat, but the fact of the matter was that their own legs needed rehabilitation, he remarked.
Dr. Sultan Ahmed observed that it is God and nature only that restored the ecological balance by way of air, soil and water. These were the basic needs of human creature that formed important components of the ecosystem. In nature, nutrients cycled and energy that flowed also posed the question if an elephant or a dog ate more. He said that we were predominantly vegetarian and when it came to ecology, it meant a house to live in. With the growth of technology and industrialisation, ecology came into conflict with economy.
Vegetarianism could be explained in terms of the diversity of vegetables. Referring to Beltsville sexing technology, he said this was called bio-diversity by which poultry could be grown in 48 days in place of 78 days, which was the normal time. This also applied to fish. Natural habitat of birds had been disturbed and the relationship of birds suffered. A situation had developed in which a sparrow says, “I am vanishing from cities”. Ecological imbalance thus had a cascading effect on our flora and fauna. Another aspect of the ecological imbalance was human-animal conflict as a result of depleting space for wild animals like elephants, lions, tigers, bears; etc. Referring to elephant corridors created to ensure their safe passage, he said that they required a larger area, so that they could move freely in groups in search of fodder and water.
Zoonotic diseases posed another danger which could spread viruses to humans through animals. Commenting on the ill-effects of mechanised farming, he said that a tractor might till land, but not produce dung to increase fertility of the soil. He suggested that the IOS could undertake a study on the economy of ecology. With deforestation and felling of trees, the oxygen produced by them too had diminished. The economic value of ecology could be determined by the fact that 61 percent of the rain water went to rivers, 10 percent was utilised by dams and 29 percent went waste. So was the case with micro-organisms that converted the dead body of an animal into soil after its decomposition in a pit. Excessive use of urea weakened the sustainability of the soil and the consumption of such crop by humans led to adverse effect on our digestive system, respiratory system and circulatory system. Soil had mind of its own as it decomposed everything put into it, he added.
Dr. Ahmed held that there was the question of soil fertility versus soil health, adding that no precaution was taken while using pesticides. Due to indiscriminate use of pesticides, only about a fifth of the nutrients reached the target plants and the rest evaporated into the air. He said that unchecked use of fertilisers and pesticides resulted in water contamination, particularly in rural areas. Several million people were suffering due to consumption of contaminated water.
Pesticides contained dangerous chemicals like “endosulphur”, which were harmful for human health. That way we were eating poison on our plate. New techniques had been contrived to artificially ripen fruits like banana by way of chemical treatment. Underlining the importance of vermitech, he said that earth worms played an important role in enriching soil with fertility. He explained a simple method of vermicomposting which could make the soil rich and compensate for the loss caused by unmindful use of fertilisers. Calling for undertaking innovative scientific work like developing bio-enzymes and producing high quality of seeds in order to augment farm output, he urged the IOS to also do something tangible in that direction. This involved development of heirloom seeds and their treatment. Bio-diversity was being used by the US to enforce seed slavery on the countries of the third world in the form of genetically modified seeds. A beginning in this connection was made by the application of Bt. Cotton seeds in non-edible crops on the plea that being a cash crop this would raise the income of farmers, he said.
Dr. Ahmed pointed out that today bio-diversity had been linked to bio-technology due to water becoming scarce. Rain harvesting had become necessary to cater to the needs of drinking water and irrigation. Sharing his concern about the use of plastic as a health hazard, he said that one should take home a tri-colour bearing blue, yellow and green colours everyday to demonstrate their harmful effects on human health. He advised the people against using plastic bottles without a number. Microplastic should be avoided at all costs. He said that even the dessert was unsafe for human consumption. He also opined that digitisation classes would widen urban-rural divide because the majority of rural population did not possess digital devices. Besides, power supply was erratic in villages and internet connectivity was not available. Compared to physical classes, digital education put economically weaker students in a disadvantageous position, he concluded.
Summing up the lecture, Shaikh Nizamuddin described it as enlightening and useful for protecting the environment from ecological imbalance. Nature had given humans a rare gift of species of living organisms that co-existed with each other. Any imbalance in the ecological system would prove disastrous, he stressed. The lecture ended with the thanks-giving by Shaikh Nizamuddin.