The term ‘environment’ is viewed differently by different environmentalists. It means surroundings and is defined as the sum total of all living (abiotic) and nonliving (biotic) components. The environment creates favorable conditions for the existence and growth of all living organisms including man. The environment has never been static or constant. It has been changing slowly, rapidly or drastically. These changes in environment has affected all living organisms including human beings.
The changes in the environment may be beneficial or harmful. It is known that many species on earth (which could not adapt to the changing conditions of the environment) vanished or are on the brisk of vanishing.
A typical example is the extinction of dinosaurs due to adverse environmental conditions. It is believed that the main cause of this was the appearance of tiny primitive mammals, which ate the eggs of dinosaurs. In this way, the environment was favorable for primitive mammals but unfavorable for dinosaurs.
Environment is comparatively a new movement in the world. In the developed and developing countries, environmental education is getting top national policies. The objective of environmental education is to make the public including the students at all levels aware of the importance of the protection and conservation of our environment and the need to restrain activities which lead to an indiscriminate release of pollutants into the environment.
According to Haruhiko Tanaka of Hiroshima University, Japan (J. Indian Chem. Soc., 2002, 77, 537 538) environmental education not only aims at acquiring the content of knowledge related to environmental problems in the society, but also on fostering student’s abilities and the attitude necessary for the precise judgement to solve the problems.
This could be summarized by citing the so called three aims (3A’s) which should be adhered to if we want to improve our environment. There are awareness (environmental literacy), attitude (problem solving skills) and action (decision-making). It can be said that the ultimate aim of environmental education is to develop people’s awareness, attitude, competence and values. This will enable them to be effectively involved in sustainable development at the local, national and international levels and guide them towards a more equitable and sustainable future.
With this idea in mind, environmental education is now being taught at the school, college and university levels. Human activities have been responsible for changes in the environment leading to its degradation. Some of the activities are:
Deforestation due to cutting trees for wood and bringing forest land under cultivation. This is responsible for erosion of the soil. This activity has-been going on for thousands of years.
Killing gentle animals for food and the fierce animals due to safety reasons, has also been going on since ancient times and has led to the gradual extinction of animal species.
The industrial and scientific revolution in the recent past has a tremendous effect on the environment. The various activities involved in this are mainly responsible for polluting the atmosphere by the discharge of a number of harmful and poisonous gases discharged from industrial establishment including power plants using coal. The activities have also resulted in polluting the water bodies with discharges from various industries.
A large number of episodes have affected the environment. The most important is the London smog that killed about 4000 people in 1952, nuclear catastropes including dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the World War II that was responsible for the death of thousands of people and disabling millions of people for the rest of their lives. The leakage of methyl isocyanate gas (MIC) from the Union carbide factory in Bhopal, India, on 2 December, 1984. This was the world’s worst ever industrial disaster.