Nature sustains itself through a cycle that consistently balances changes in one direction with exactly opposite changes in the other direction, resulting in stable equilibriums. The fine balances between the processes that sustain such equilibriums are the pillars on which all dynamic forms of life and civilization thrive, and disturbance therein results in a crisis. Understanding these laws of nature and abiding by them is the only way human development can be sustained.
A living being is a miracle of nature, because it has an inherent ability to survive. It can survive in spite of all kind of onslaughts of nature, by ensuring that any change in its own constitution resulting from any external influence is immediately reverted by corresponding changes in reverse. Thus, when part of a living tissue is destroyed by an injury caused by something external, the remaining cells immediately respond by growing and multiplying in a way that ‘heals’ the injury. Similarly, the electrolyte balances in the body of a human being are maintained by ensuring that any changes on one side are immediately compensated by a body response in reverse. This ability of the living being to maintain the equilibriums is an essential feature of its capacity to survive.
Nature too, preserves itself by ensuring that the equilibriums between opposing processes is sustained. These natural equilibriums enables stable environment to prevail.
As living organisms can thrive only within such supporting environments, their existence is as crucial for the survival of living creatures as the maintenance the biologic equilibriums within their bodies.
The technical advancements of humanity were based on science, which in turn is only a systemic deciphering of the laws of nature. As humanity struggles today in addressing the fall outs of our technological exploitation of nature, maybe it is time to go back to the laws of nature and identify what we might have overlooked earlier.
One of the more easily observed natural equilibrium is the one of vegetation and soil fertility. Every cycle of vegetation, whether harvested or not depletes soil of its nutrients. The fertility of soil can be sustained only if the nutrients taken away from it are replenished back to it. In a forest, this invariably happens as every dead leaf is merged back in the soil. However, in a human harvest, the products are taken away and need to be replenished by artificially adding fertilizers. When these nutrients are not sufficiently put back, the soil may gradually lose its ability to sustain vegetation and the land may turn unproductive, till its nutrient level is again build up by natural processes and soil regains its fertility.
Similar equilibriums constitute what are known as the water and carbon cycles, which are crucial for the survival of all species, including mankind. The natural equilibrium requires that carbon released in the atmosphere as carbon di oxide as a result of organic and inorganic processes is roughly equivalent to that getting fixed by vegetation in to organic material. Thus, when the level of carbon di oxide in the atmosphere rises, nature responds by a rise in vegetative growth, and left to itself, would be able to revert back to the original level sooner or later, unless of course, something else interferes to prevent such correction
Water cycle is another important equilibrium that sustain human lives. It consists of water moving naturally from the seas to land and glaciers through the process of evaporation, rains and snowing, while an equal amount flows back to the sea as river water. This stable equilibrium has sustained for ages and is essential for the survival of life.
Another readily understood equilibriums in nature is the equilibrium between life and death. All biological organisms have a limited span of life, at the end of which their bodies are no more able to sustain their own biological equilibriums and perish. However, the species continue to survive and thrive by the process of reproduction that gives rise to new organisms. As per the laws of natural equilibrium, sustainability necessitates a statistical equivalence between births and deaths in a given population. Notably, it does not mean that the moment an organism dies, another will take birth. What it means is that such fluctuation remains within a range that the nature can sustain. So we witness seasonal fluctuations in the number of insects that goes up in warmer climates and goes down during the winters.
There are much such natural equilibriums in nature. It would not be wrong to say that the nature and our life, both survive and thrive depending upon these natural equilibriums
Most of the environmental challenges that we face these days are in one way or the other a consequence of our own interference with the ability of nature to replenish itself. They often arise as a result of breakdown of natural equilibriums. An important example is the interference of carbon cycle by deforestation. Increased human consumption of fossil fuels led to an increasing level of carbon emission. The nature would normally respond to it by a rise in carbon fixing and increased growth of vegetation. However, this process gets disturbed when there is a simultaneous deforestation resulting from human greed. In such a scenario, it is actually humans, who have interfered and prevented the nature from replenishing itself, and thereby given rise to the resulting crisis.
The rise of carbon dioxide in the air disturbs the natural equilibriums related to heat and water. The accumulation of carbon dioxide leads to a rising temperature of the atmosphere, resulting in 'global warming.' This, in turn, results in melting of ice in large glaciers that store most of the sweet water on planet. Such large quantity of water going in the oceans cannot be fully compensated by the loss of water lost by way of evaporation. As a consequence, the equilibrium in the natural processes is broken and ocean levels tend to rise upwards.
Nature has successfully maintained the carbon equilibrium for millions of years. Green forests have been regularly sequestering atmospheric carbon and converting it into organic matter by photosynthesis, using the energy from the Sun. This fixed carbon along with the energy absorbed from the Sun and converted into chemical energy makes the fossil fuels like coal and gas, which is the most readily form of energy available to us. Thus it is not surprising that our civilization has come to depend upon it.
We need to note that in the history of our planet, it was usually some extra-ordinary even that was able to interfere with the ability of the nature to replenish itself and maintain its natural equilibriums. Sometimes, it could be a huge meteor or a solar event, which can trigger such crisis. However, the event that has been threatening nature more than anything else these days is humanity, its myopic greed and its complete neglect to the laws of natural equilibriums.
Scientific and technological advancements of human civilization have been paralleled by the growth of market forces and commerce has now grown to an extent, where it de facto controls all human actions. Unfortunately, commercial entities are only concerned about their own bottom lines, and do not have any mechanism to deal with the social costs that their actions impose on the human society. In economics, this phenomenon is recognized as negative externality. This often results in choices that are good for a private entity but disastrous for the society as a whole. Preference for fossil fuels over renewable energy is one such fall out.
As the awareness about social costs and impending disasters rises, one can hope that there will be public pressure to correct our preferences, and adopt measures like a universal carbon tax, which can ensure that renewable energy replaces fossil fuels in the market.
Man does not have the power to make rules that govern this universe, but it has the intelligence to understand and decipher the rules of nature, which constitute the core of all science and are the basis of all technological advancements, industry and commerce.
What we need to do today, is to go back to nature and learn how it preserves and sustains itself. The realization that stability of dynamic systems in nature is dependent upon sustenance of natural equilibrium between opposing forces can give us the tools that we need to preserve our environment!
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