Environment and Sustainable Development: The Environment: Definition and Significance (For CBSE, ICSE, IAS, NET, NRA 2022)

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The Environment: Definition and Significance

The environment encompasses all living and non-living things occurring naturally on Earth or some region thereof. It includes all the biotic and abiotic factors that influence each other in nature. All the living elements like birds, animals, plants, forests, etc. comprise the biotic elements. On the other hand, everything non-living like air, water, rocks, sun, etc. are examples of the abiotic component of the environment.

Significance of the Environment

  • The environment provides various resources to man-both renewable and non-renewable. Renewable resources are those resources which are replenished easily over time. Examples of renewable resources include trees in the forests, fishes in the ocean, etc. Non-renewable resources, on the other hand, are those resources which can get exhausted or depleted over time as they are used up. Examples of non-renewable resources include fossil fuels and minerals like petroleum, natural gas, coal, etc.
  • The environment is also an absorber of harmful wastes and by-products, that is, it assimilates waste products. The smoke from chimneys and exhaust pipes of vehicles, sewage from cities and towns, industrial effluents are all absorbed by the environment.
  • The environment also sustains life by providing bio diversity. The genetic variations created by the pressures exerted by the environment on various life forms allows those life forms to adapt, evolve and produce genetic variations which can survive in harsh environments.
  • Apart from the biological significance of the environment, the environment is also important from the aesthetic point of view. It provides scenery and landscapes to us which are priceless to us, and often play an important role in man՚s culture around the world.

Environmental Problems

With the advance of human civilization, human wants have expanded and diversified. This has led to a rapid depletion of natural resources. Many resources are being used up at a rapid rate, which has caused over-utilization and depletion of many resources. With the rapid use of resources, a lot of accompanying environmental problems has cropped up.


A pollutant is a waste material or substance which causes an undesirable change in a natural resource or ecosystem. Smoke, dust and poisonous gases in the atmosphere and industrial effluents and sewage from cities in water are some common examples of pollutants.

Air Pollution

Air Pollution

Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or cause damage to the natural environment or built environment, into the atmosphere. Major air pollutants include sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide (which is also a major greenhouse gas) , toxic metals, and particulate matter.

Effects of Air Pollution

The health effects caused by air pollution may include difficulty in breathing, wheezing, coughing and aggravation of existing respiratory and cardiac conditions. These effects can result in increased medication, increased doctor or emergency room visits, more hospital admissions and premature death.

Water Pollution

Water Pollution

Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies (example lakes, rivers, oceans and groundwater) by pollutants discharged directly or indirectly into water bodies without adequate treatment to remove harmful compounds. Major sources of water pollution include industrial chemicals and effluents, nutrients, waste water, sewage, etc.

Effects of Water Pollution

A number of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhea etc. are produced by the pathogens present in polluted water, affecting human beings and animals alike. Water Pollution affects the chemistry of water. The pollutants, including toxic chemicals can alter the acidity, conductivity and temperature of water. It also kills life that inhabits water-based ecosystems like fish, birds, plants, etc. And hence disturbs the natural food-cycle, which causes instability in ecosystems.

Sources of Water Pollution

Major sources of water pollution include:

  • Discharge from sewage treatment plants and sewage pipes from cities and towns. industrial effluents released by factories into water bodies.
  • Chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers from agricultural farms which constitute runoff from farms.
  • Contaminated storm water from storm water drains in cities.
  • Release of heated or radioactive water by power plants into water.
  • Oil spills and leakages from tankers and oil rigs.
  • Growth of algae in water bodies.

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