Since December 2019, the world is battling with a unique opponent. The enemy is unseen, unpredictable and can bout from anywhere. Over the last one year, the mankind has gone through various ebbs and flows. The health crises led to shutting down of nations and caging of people in their own houses. The world had become an open coop where the humans got self-prisoned and were struggling for their very survival. However, the world had combated the deadly virus COVID-19 to some extent and had adopted new means to support life on earth, but, the war had never ended. The virus has once again attacked the humanity and this time the strike is more powerful. The hue and cry all around and day by day increasing numbers of people getting infected have made us vulnerable. It is tragic to see people dying due to shortage of oxygen supply. All the wealth earned is useless unless we cannot breathe and survive. When a sheer scarcity of oxygen has made us so miserable, can we imagine a condition when the air we breathe in will become oxygen deficient?
The time which humanity is facing is somewhere the result of our own deeds. In our greed to become big we have heartlessly exploited the resources naturally available to us. We have created a concrete forest emitting smoke at the cost of our natural forests which were emitting life in the form of oxygen for which humans are struggling now. How can we breathe, when we have crumbled the lungs of our planet?
In a recent study, scientists have revealed that after one billion years from now, the earth will contain very little oxygen. The research was conducted by Kazumi Ozaki and Christopher T. Reinhard and the findings of the research were published in Journal, Nature Geoscience under the name “The future lifespan of Earth’s oxygenated atmosphere” on March 1, 2021. The researchers have quoted “Here we use a combined biogeochemistry and climate model to examine the likely timescale of oxygen-rich atmospheric conditions on Earth. Using a stochastic approach, we find that the mean future lifespan of Earth’s atmosphere, with oxygen levels more than 1% of the present atmospheric level, is 1.08 ± 0.14 billion years (1σ).”
The study predicts that as the sun continues to grow hotter, one billion years from now, the sun will heat up to a level that absorption of its radiations by the carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere will also increase and ultimately result in the breakdown of the gas. The reduced level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will affect the existence of photosynthetic organisms like plants on land, algae and plankton in the ocean. This will eventually drop the oxygen levels in the atmosphere.
Not only the factors like rapidly decreasing number of trees and forests on land and increase in the solar radiations are responsible for the environmental imbalance, the emerging pollution in the oceans is also one of the main contributors in the ecological disparity. Scientists estimate that 50 to 80% of the oxygen production on earth comes from the ocean. The majority of this production is from oceanic plankton — the drifting plants, algae, and some bacteria that can photosynthesize. Planktons are marine drifters which are carried away by ocean tides and currents. The planktons can be divided into two groups phytoplankton (plants) and zooplankton (animals). Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that photosynthesize. Thus, they are found near water’s surface as they convert sun rays to energize themselves, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and hence produce oxygen. Zooplankton are microscopic animals that reside in deep waters during the day time and migrate towards the water’s surface during nights to feed themselves on phytoplankton. This movement of zooplankton is considered to be the largest migration on Earth as so many animals make this journey that it can be observed from space. Hence, it is clear that not only the plants and trees on land produce oxygen, the plants in the ocean also release oxygen in the atmosphere. But, the oxygen that is generated by aquatic plants is majorly consumed by the marine life in the ocean. So, the basis of human existence lies with the existence of plant life on earth as well as in ocean.
The increase in human population has resulted in the decrease in number of forests. Most of the times, deforestation takes place because the land is to be used for agricultural purposes, making human dwellings, setting up the industries and for various other purposes for raising the welfare of human life . It has been observed that the overpopulation of one species always put burden on the available resources. Today, the growth of human species in abundance is considered to be the major cause of world’s problems. Every country in the world is or will be facing the problems of food shortage, lack of drinking water or energy shortages. It is a matter of worry that among these problems, the distress of lack of oxygen is also added.
If we look at the Indian picture, as per the India State of Forest Report, 2019, “the total forest and tree cover is 24.56% of the geographical area of the country. The total forest cover is 7,12,249 sq km which is 21.67% of the geographical area of the country. The tree cover is 2.89% of the geographical area of the country.” As compared to India State of Forest Report, 2017 the above assessment shows an increase of 0.65% of forest and tree cover put together, at the national level- 0.56% of forest cover and 1.29% of tree cover. The States and Union Territory that had topped in the ranking of increase in forest cover were: Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
It is appreciable, that the efforts are being made to save and replenish the vegetation, trees and forests in the country. But, considering the increasing levels of carbon emission in the atmosphere, there is a grave need to take aggressive steps in this direction. We cannot shed the whole responsibility on the government for the task to be done. It is the need of an hour that we as the consumers of the earth’s valuable resources take every possible step to save our planet. This is a hopeful wake-up call and we need to act upon in urgency. We can contribute in increasing the tree cover outside forests by planting trees in the community parks and near our houses. It should be made mandatory for every housing society, shopping complex, multiplexes, office complexes and plotted houses to allocate specific area for plantation of huge trees and not just the artistic ones. However, every tree is crucial but, more focus should be given on plantation of trees which exhale maximum amount of oxygen. We Indians are blessed to have our very own Peepal Tree also known as Ficus Religiosa or Sacred Fig. The peepal tree releases oxygen throughout the day as well as during nights. Although, the amount of oxygen released during nights is reduced but still the plantation of peepal tree in huge amount will definitely help the environment. Trees like Banyan, Neem, Ashok, Arjuna, Saptaparni, Curry and Jamun are considered to be air purifiers and may act as a boon for the environment. All these trees have a great place in Ayurveda as well due to their medicinal value.
Following the model of three R’s ‘Reduce’, ‘Reuse’ and ‘Recycle’, we can curb the amount of waste generated by us as a whole. Till now this model has remained just a part of our textbook curriculums but there is need to understand its significance and bring it out from the books and make it a part of our lifestyles.
Since a major percentage of oxygen on earth comes from ocean, it becomes very vital that steps must be taken to reduce the level of pollution in ocean. Fuel efficient vehicles must be used for marine activities. Industries must find out ways to reduce ocean dumping. The science and technology have grown enough to find the solutions to these issues. The only thing is we need a spark in ourselves to protect and preserve our planet. The prevailing health crises, avalanches, floods, glacier bursts and any other form of natural disaster is only a call to humans to understand the criticality of the situation and step forward to save the mankind on earth. We need to join hands to make our planet a sustainable place for our children to thrive upon and breathe freely.
-Neha Singhal (Freelancer)
Picture Credits: PTI