Prof. Dr. Maharaj K. Pandit
Dean & Professor, JSES
How serendipitous that earth’s orbital location is neither too close nor too far from the sun. This fortuitous celestial arrangement made it possible for life to originate, evolve, diversify, and prosper on this planet. How blessed is human species that it appeared on the scene after a full tapestry of foods, flowers and fruits had come to occupy the earth-stage. How grateful each day we must be that earth is our home and how mindful we must remain that we share this spaceship with myriad other life forms that predate our own arrival. With a fair chance to compete and succeed, earth remained a level playing field for each species for a very long period. The species losses were restricted to a minimum or what is called as the ‘base level extinction’. With the momentous discovery of fire and ensuing development of brain humans began dominating earth and its resources. As human social and cultural spheres wrapped around the biological world, all other life forms were subjugated by the ‘noosphere’. Copious use of fire for softening meat, food, and ward off enemies for security, to begin with and clearing of natural landscapes for agriculture later, human enterprise ascended unimpeded. With each passing generation, humans prevailed, consuming more, and offering less to their next kin.
Speeding forward, human race marched ahead aided by the technological prowess at its command. We lost forests, the rich biodiversity, polluted rivers, and soil and damaged fertile lands. Today, we are looking at another mass extinction, a discomforting warmer earth, communities confronted with acute water shortages and wounded ecosystems. Despite these uncertain circumstances, we must ever remain harbingers of hope and readiness. Technology has undoubtedly impaired the natural landscape globally, but it has also made our lives better compared to our ancestors. Human health and average life expectancy have seen transformational improvements. We require far lesser material resources to execute a task than our earlier generations. The industrial landscape stands to be revolutionized by 3-D printing technology. The leap-frogging advances in information technology have bettered every sphere of human life and enterprise. We cannot shut our eyes to the solutions offered by engineering and technology interventions that supplement the policy instruments. We must ever remain hopeful that tomorrow will be brighter than today.
To be optimistic, however, obliges us to be vigilant against profligate consumerism and adopt conservation as bedrock and the central mantra of sustainability. There is increasing realization that conservation of land, soil, water, and wilderness areas is linked to human survival and sustainability. Estimates of World Resource Institute indicate that the world has lost about 4.5 million km2 of tree cover since the turn of the century at an annual rate 0.133 million km² in 2001, which more than doubled to 0.293 million km² in 2017. Of this tree cover, nearly 65% are primary tropical and subtropical forests. The loss of tropical primary forests is of utmost concern, because not only does it destroy disproportionately high biodiversity and disrupts valuable ecosystem services, it is increasingly being associated with the spread of zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19. The covid pandemic has so far killed over 6.4 million of the 560 million individuals infected worldwide besides wreaking havoc on the individuals and world economies. Equally, the looming global water crisis is bound to jeopardize our water and food security. In mid 1980s about 42% of the world populations faced water shortages, which worsened alarmingly to 58% in 2000. These figures must be viewed seriously because less than 3% of the earth’s water comprises fresh water and of this over 2% is locked in glaciers and less than 1% makes up for all the ground water, soil and atmosphere moisture, lakes, and rivers. Global soil degradation estimates reveal that about 2 billion ha of soil comprising 22% of the total cropland, pasture, forest, and woodland have been degraded which will damage global food security.
Raising these concerns in forums such as high-impact journals, with influential independent think tanks and policy-makers, in classrooms at universities and research institutions with a focused agenda of nature and natural resource conservation is key to sustainability, environmental justice and global peace. JSES pledges to play frontline role in generating and delivering relevant knowledge and empower our students and faculty to embrace this challenge and rededicate ourselves to the ideal of environmental security and sustainability for the globe. We are aware that our students are motivated, confident, idealistic and have come to us with excellent records of academic accomplishments. Together, we shall come up to their expectations and meet their aspirations. At the same time, we shall encourage our young friends to assume responsibility for making earth a better place for the present and future generations. Conservation of natural resources is key to good governance, diplomacy, and human prosperity in order to attain justice for the less privileged and for world peace. Abjuring violence against nature is the pre-requisite toward this effort. May I end with these words of Aldo Leopold, “We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive.” Till such time, we keep at it and recite this ancient Indian hymn each morning – “I salute you, oh goddess earth, wrapped by the seas and mountains as your bosom; oh Lord Vishnu’s consort, do forgive me for touching you with my feet”.