Our beloved earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago. The formation of earth is a complex process and there are many theories surrounding it which I refrain from discussing as I feel it would be quite irrelevant for the readers in this article. But since the earth came into being, the earth has seen a lot of changes. The earth continuously burned with fire volcanoes at the beginning which was later cooled down. The giant Pangea broke down to form Laurasia and Gondwana which further separated to form the current scene of landmass as we see today. The collision of tectonic plates gave rise to majestic mountains like the Himalayas. On the other hand, huge peaks and landmasses broke down with the changing climates, and rivers changed their courses as sediments from the mountains changed the geographical topography.
In case of other elements of nature too, these changes have been continuously taking place. The earth first saw the advent of life on earth in water, which later also developed in the land. Reptiles changed their bodily structure and mechanism to evolve as an amazing new whole class of Aves or birds, which can fly. Those who could not survive the hardships of the environment and climate went on to become extinct. Huge mammoths which once roamed about the earth cannot be seen today.
These geographical changes are even prevalent today. On careful study, we will find that our rivers move about a cm or a few each year. So, does our continents. The sun may not set at the same horizon of the river as it sets today, a few hundred years later. The rate of natural deaths of a particular species might naturally grow, pushing it to the brink of gradual extinction, thus in turn also changing the ecological food web; further bringing changes in the population dynamics of the ecosystem at all levels in the nature. A particular species of the world might feel the sunshine today, but may no longer exist to do so a few thousand years later. A new plant species with shorter leaves and stumper branches might develop to adapt with the changing climates. An insect, which is so tiny, might change its color due to its changing environment.
All these changes are natural and absolutely normal. In fact, nature itself is dynamic. This dynamism of nature is the very characteristic that has allowed such a beautiful diversity in gene, color, species, etc. The earth and its elements have always been naturally changing and it shall keep changing.
If changes are so normal, why do we see the hue and cry for conservation? Why the climate strikes? Why the conservation movements across the world? Why do we raise concerns about the melting of ice caps?
To answer the above questions, we need to understand that the changes that occur in the environment have a certain pace. And to the eyes of a man, this pace is very slow. It is disturbance of this pace that leads to the ecological imbalance or unnatural environmental change. For example, the natural death of Rhinoceros can be considered as a normal process, but when the natural rate of death is disturbed due to some element unnaturally, it disturbs the natural process of changes. Rhinos will be extinct earlier than it was meant to be. Now, this change is undesirable in the eyes of Mother Earth. And by the rule of Butterfly effect, which means that small changes result in humongous consequences: even small disruptions in the normal process of environmental changes can result in humongous havoc in the world’s ecosystem.
So, what or who are the elements that have brought about this undesirable change or have disrupted the normal pace of environmental change. The simple answer to this is the anomalous species of Human beings (Homo sapiens) and its natural growth of human brain.
We all know that the human brain is competitively developed than the other species of the world. The developed human brain and the various feats and milestones achieved by human beings in a short period of time are amazing. They are greater in intelligence and more evolved and more adapted to survival. They are placed higher up in the food chain and are continuing to advance at a pace ten times greater than any other species we know of. After coming to this earth only 66 million years ago, man has developed civilizations. They have created transportation to go anywhere in the world in a few hours. They have created trains, planes, cars, spaceships, satellites, drones, skyscrapers, industries, mines, machines, fertilizers, test tube lives. Animal species that have been around for hundreds of millions of years, have never come close to creating anything like what the human beings have created in our 1000 years of civilized life.
But the big question to put forward again is- Whether this extraordinary development of human brain is normal? When we look at the evolution of human brain, for the first two-thirds of our history, the size of our ancestor’s brain was within the range of those of other apes living today. The final third of our evolution saw nearly all the action in brain size. Homo Habilis, the first of our genus Homo, who appeared 1.9 million years ago saw a modest hop in brain size; including a sudden expansion of a language connected part of the frontal lobe in the brain called ‘Bocca’s area’. The first fossil skulls of Homo erectus, 1.8 million years ago, had brains averaging a bit larger than 600 ml (which is almost twice than that of the internal volume of the skulls of Australopithecus afarensis, one of the earliest Hominini.
The exact cause of this sudden brain development of humans is still unknown; but it is believed that this sudden development could be the cause of the arrogant and extravagant nature of humans; which disbalances the ecology and the overall pace of nature or natural changes.
Since the pace of environmental change has been disfigured by human beings, humans can come forward and reverse this process towards normalcy, creating a fine ecological balance and an organic natural pace of environmental change. This can be achieved by the means of conservation.
Since the need for conservation comes from the activities, behaviour and culture of human beings, it becomes quite clear that the opposite of destruction can also be achieved through human beings. It is due to the unnatural and evolutionary strange human brain that we need to conserve-which again can be achieved through people’s participation. The ideas of nature destruction and nature restoration all revolve around a common platform of anthropological studies.
The conservation of biodiversity has always been possible only through people’s participation. This has happened in different times of human civilization in various manners. Historically, the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats, as cats-controlled hordes of rodents which were responsible for bringing famines. This in turn from a modern scientific point of view helped balance the food web; on the other hand an excessive killing of cats by human beings would have triggered a rise in rat population; creating a disbalance in the ecological structure. The Egyptians depicted the Goddess of fertility as a woman with a cat head; and also built temples in honour of cats.
Many a times animals were often associated with religious mythology, Zeus and Jupiter in ancient Greece and Rome was represented by the eagle; Poseidon or Neptune by a horse, Hera or Juno by a peacock, etc. Buddha the great reformer from India urged everyone to be compassionate towards all living creatures. In Hinduism, goddess of prosperity Lakshmi travelled on owl; Saraswathi, the goddess of learning on swan, Durga, the goddess of power on lion. These deities, according to scholars find their roots to ‘Tara’, an important deity of Buddhism. There was a close interlinking of animals with divine powers on every societal groups or communities.
Often in ancient societies, animals were considered sacred because man wanted to protect them. When legal conservation (the modern conservation outlook) was still absent, a protective religious or cultural belief was used for social conservation. For e.g.: The cow was an indispensable utility to the Indian society. Thus, in the Hindu culture, it was given a divine and sacred status so that it would not be killed. Krishna, a Hindu deity was depicted as a cowherd. The Jains through their religious beliefs contributed in social conservation. Examples like these than incorporate social conservation through beliefs are numerous. These traditions are prevalent even today.
But as people started developing a more scientific outlook, they started getting detached from age old customs, finding no proper explanation for things that are done; thus, disbalancing the important factor of conservation in maintenance of the pace of natural change. Things started to get disbalanced and go downhill. This disbalance gave rise to the new outlook of conservation, which comparatively focused on reasoning and answers to the question of- ‘Why are they done? Awareness began to spread the explanation to people why conservation was done. This explanation was based both on ethical and anthropogenic reasoning. This awareness in turn gave rise to conservation movements of all scales all over the globe. People started using the environmental laws for conservation purposes. These conservation movements, each one of them were through people’s participation. It is worth mentioning now that the destruction, making of law, conservation; everything involved human beings or people. Thus, an anthropological outlook is an essential part for conservation.
As I mentioned earlier, the new conservation outlook or thought which focused on ‘why-we-should conserve?’ had reasonings both of ethical and anthropogenic nature. Conservation movements usually include both of these reasonings; ethical reasonings viewed welfare of nature, creatures and the duty of man towards them, while anthropogenic reasonings focused on eco-tourism, man’s love for nature, cultural development and solving of man-animal conflicts.
To cite instances of conservation movements, we have seen successful conservation movements through people’s participation like the ‘Conservation Movement’ of Assam, which was spearheaded by Nature’s Beckon in the late 20thcentury and the early 21stcentury,which ultimately gave birth to amazing protected forests such as the Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary and the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. Even today, their rainforest conservation movement continues which demands an area expansion of the Dehing Patkai Wildilife Sanctuary. The movements occurred through activism and people’s participation. The organization did the ardent task of creating awareness among people and also sensitizing them to actively become a part of the movement. This socio-economic conservation, being of the modern era focused on ‘why we should conserve?’ reasonings. Both ethical and anthropogenic reasons were taken into account. People in these conservation movement spearheaded by Nature’s Beckon included the fringe communities, writers, journalists, intellectuals, filmmakers, etc from all spheres of social platform. Nature’s Beckon has also introduced the concept of ‘Village Sanctuary’ which is again based on conservation through people’s participation.
Another example we can put forward is that of the Chipko Movement, which is widely mentioned as conservation through people’s participation in academic textbooks and research papers.
‘The Johar’, a traditionally dug out tank with earthen embankment revival programme initiated by a highly committed NGO, ‘Tarun Bhagat Sangh’ through people’s participation in the Alwar region of Rajasthan is also worth mentioning. These movements were based on the modern outlook of conservation.
The new age of conservation outlook does not mean the eradication or wiping off the traditional or classical outlook of conservation. Hindu people still consider the Tulsi plant sacred. The sacred groves of Meghalaya and the Pangong lake of Ladakh provide a perfect example of socio-cultural value of ecosystems. The indigenous agricultural practices of the Khasi, Garo and other tribes of NE India have led to the conservation and retention of rice biodiversity. The Idu Mishimis of Dibang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh would never kill a Hoolock Gibbon, since it associates the species with their ancestors.
Such practices are equally effective as it moves towards the common goal of conservation, which helps restore the disturbed pace of environmental change or ecological balance. I feel the modern outlook, although can sometimes get more complex is necessary as it would be long lasting in this age. This is because the detachment from traditional practices can unfortunately be clearly seen in the present-day society. Or there could be a mixture of two where people preserve their age old conservation tactics and also find ethical and anthropogenic reasonings in the cultural traditions. Apart from that, people can move one step further and adopt the elements of new-age conservation outlook like conservation ideas through laws, understanding of ecology, biology, anthropology etc. This shift from darkness to light of reasoning; by retaining the essence of conservation practices could be a major boost for the prevalent conservation models. Not just a major boost for conservation, this should be done because the alternative would be detachment of pro-conservation cultural practices with the surge of modernization. This is due to the dynamic nature of human society. Socio-cultural change will take place as the way of looking at things change with time. Moreover, the detachment of traditional conservational practices is never good in the eyes and philosophy of conservation.
(b) Nature’s alternate ways of correction:
We have already discussed that the way to correct the ecological imbalance brought about by the anomalous development of the human brain is conservation. But what if people do not conserve? What if we just do not understand its importance and keep exploiting the world? What shall happen? Will nature keep suffering? What could be the end result? Is there an end?
It is a well-known fundamental law that ‘Nature loves stability’. Be it Newton’s third law of Motion, the various ecological cycles, the nuclear structure, or chemical bonding-it is clear and evident that the world wishes for a stable state.
It is already clear and established that the cause of natural instability, along with ecological destruction is the anomalous human brain. The rate at which nature is getting exploited by us is very high. The high rate of destruction has resulted in climate changes over the past hundred years. The chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used has resulted in greenhouse effect. We are aware of the global warming and its effects on the ice caps of the world. It is estimated that by the next two hundred years, the ice caps would melt and the water levels would rise; resulting in the extinction of many important key ecosystem species. The hydrological cycle of evaporation and precipitation and the ocean currents would also change. These changes could also result in sea-level rise. It is also estimated that by the year 2100, the ecosystems will be exposed to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels substantially higher than in the past 650,000 years. Significant disruptions of ecosystem are projected to increase with future climate change. Examples of disruptions include disturbances such as fires, drought, pest infestation, invasion of species, storms and coral bleaching events etc. Many countries will be negatively affected by increases in the severity and frequency of some extreme weather events such as ‘heat waves’. Coastal areas will be severely affected too.
All the changes and future assumptions clearly indicate that there would be a massive climate change in the earth’s biosphere. This climate change could even result in the extinction of human beings, along with other species. The humans could, for sure, evolve and adapt to the changed climate; but the chances of that happening is very thin as nature would not bear more disbalance due to human activities. Nature looks after all; it has its own mechanism to take care of itself.
Another school of thought also believes that human beings would not be able to cope with the extreme climate change; and would eventually be extinct. This would be nature’s way of correcting the disbalance created.
This is definitely just a hypothesis but one cannot wait for the time when hypothesises like this are validated. The possibility of such theories seems closer to truth with the coming to pandemics like Covid-19. We never know what lies ahead.
The earth has been continuously changing with a certain natural framework. With the disbalance of the pace of changes and ecological stability, conservation is the only option left for us to protect and retain our integrity as human beings and progress in this world.
The anthropological and cultural outlook is an essential component of conservation as man has always established himself as both destructor and restorer of natural balance. Thus, we must all come forward together for the common noble goal of conservation, to make this world a better greener world; for the protection and development of mankind and most importantly to fulfil our duties as a respectable species of the world.
Noble conservation movements like the ‘Rainforest Conservation Movement of Assam’ spearheaded by Nature’s Beckon and the ‘Johar’ revival programme by ‘Tarun Bhagat Sangh’ can be taken as examples, especially by the youth on how we can march forward with conservation by studying and working towards nature and people, for a better, secure and more peaceful future.