Ecological destruction

Hunger for energy is our nemesis

Energy requirement is at the head of consumerism and whether it comes from oil, coal, hydroelectricity or nuclear source, it has great potential to destroy human species. Coal and oil are not only expensive but also highly polluting, spewing toxic gases into the atmosphere. Accidents can cause much more destruction as happened on March 24, 1989, when an oil tanker named Exxon Valdez, equal to the size of two football fields, hit a submerged rock near Alaska, creating oil-spill that coated 1600 km of US shoreline and killed an unknown number of organisms. The clean up operation with hot water jets that followed, killed more animals than did the spill itself. Oil spills from tankers have become a frequent phenomenon in recent times.

Burning of fossil fuels releases highly toxic gases into the atmosphere, such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and nerve destroying heavy metals. An increase in the incidence of chronic ailments in towns and cities is attributed to air pollution caused by hydrocarbons. In spite of our scientific advancement, we still do not have a safe source of energy available to us.

Nuclear energy is enemy no.1

There is a misconception that nuclear power is cheaper and safer, simply because no safety measure is foolproof while dealing with nuclear energy. Chernobyl disaster of 26 April, 1986 in Ukraine is a reminder, in which roof of a nuclear reactor blew up, spreading radioactive debris in an area of 160,000 km2, killing more than 32,000 people prematurely and displacing 400,000 others.

Three-mile island disaster in USA caused destruction of equal proportions. Accidents apart, disposal of radioactive wastes produced by the atomic reactors is a problem that defies solution, resulting in huge stockpiles all over the world. In the absence of an acceptable disposal method, the radioactive wastes are currently sealed in drums and stored in underground storage tanks, where they lie below the surface like a sleeping monster that can escape anytime to cause immense destruction.

In Russia such a nuclear waste storage tank blew up in Mayak in 1957, releasing 2.5 times as much radiation as the Chernobyl accident. Radiation level in that area still continues to be fatal.

It is now widely agreed that nuclear power is too risky, eventually costly and does not make commercial sense. Even peaceful uses of nuclear energy are as destructive to mankind as the nuclear bombs.

Dams are ecological disasters

People think that dams provide cheap and pollution-free energy, water for irrigation and control floods in rainy season, which is enough to pump large sums of money into their construction. But this is not true as the Egyptians learnt the harder way by building the billion dollar Aswan High Dam on the river Nile in 1960s.

Initially the dam met one-third of the electricity requirement of Egypt, brought more area under the irrigated agriculture and stopped floods during the next 15 years. But after that the deleterious ecological effects started showing up. The dam ended yearly flooding that earlier used to fertilize the Nile Delta with silt. The silt now accumulated behind the dam, filling up the reservoir. In the absence of annual flooding, the cropland in Nile Delta basin now needed synthetic fertilizers, for which fertilizer plants were set up and they used up much of the electric power produced by the dam.

Crop production around the dam also went down due to increased salinity and water logging caused by the reservoir. Not only that, without Nile’s annual discharge of sediments, the sea started eroding the delta and advanced inland, destroying agricultural fields in the coastal areas. Also in the absence of annual flooding of Nile Delta, which earlier brought food material with it, two-third of the fish fauna in river’s mouth vanished, severely affecting fishing industry, causing loss of millions of dollars and rendering fishermen jobless. Dam uprooted 125,000 people from the affected area, who had to be allotted alternative sites, which were then created by clearing forests. Today, Aswan High Dam is considered by the Egyptians as an economic as well as ecological disaster. The huge dams which we are constructing in India so enthusiastically are also destined to end up the same way.

Nature is a very complex organism and when projects are initiated without taking into consideration all its facets, the consequences are disastrous. Gigantic projects bring about gigantic disasters. Nature offers only two options: either learn to live with it or perish and we ought to learn to be in agreement with it.

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