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Definition and Functions of the Environment

The total planetary inheritance and the totality of all resources is called the environment. The biotic and abiotic factors that influence each other are constituents of the environment. The living things like animals, birds, plants and forests form the biotic elements while air, water etc form the abiotic elements. Hence in order to study the environment one has to study the relationship between the biotic and the abiotic factors.

Functions of the Environment

The four vital functions performed by the environment are:
  1. It supplies natural resources: the resources can be both renewable and non-renewable. Renewable resources can be defined as those which do not get depleted on usage. Trees, sunlight etc are examples of renewable sources of energy. Non-renewable resources are those get depleted on consumption. For example fossil fuels.
  2. Environment assimilates wastes.
  3. It helps in the sustenance of life by providing bio and genetic diversity.
  4. It produces sceneries and landscapes which serve aesthetic purposes.
The environment can perform all its functions as long as nothing alters its balance and things are within its carrying capacity. This means that the waste generated should be within the assimilation capacity of the environment and the rate of regeneration of resource should be more than the rate of extraction of the resource. If such a thing does not happen, then the environment cannot sustain life. This results in environment crisis.

Today's world faces an environment crisis. This crisis is caused by the growing population and the extraction of natural resources for affluent consumption and production. This high rate of consumption of the natural resources has placed a heavy pressure on the environment in terms of its first two functions. Quite a few resources have become non existent and extinct. The quantities of wastes generated are more than the absorptive capacities of the environment. The ability of the environment to absorb degradation is called absorptive capacities. The developments in the past has polluted and dried up the rivers and other water resources thereby making water an economic good. Also, the intensive and extensive extraction of both the non-renewable and renewable resources has exhausted some of these important resources. We are also forced to spend huge amounts on technology and research to discover and explore new resources. The degraded environment quality has resulted in serious health hazards. The decrease in the quality of air and water has resulted in an increased occurrence of air borne and water borne diseases. Seventy percent of the water in India is polluted. The situation is worsened by global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer. These increase the financial expenditure of the government. The opportunity costs of negative environmental impacts are very high.

The question that has to be pondered on is that why are environmental issues confronting only this generation and why have our ancestors not faced such problems? The answers are the very factors which have aided economic growth:
  • The population explosion which is considered as human capital has put pressure on the environment for its day today consumption.
  •  Industrialization has resulted in demand for environmental resources
In the olden days the demand for natural resources was low and hence they did not face any environmental crisis. The rate of resource extraction then was within the rate of regeneration and the generation of wastes was within the absorptive capacity of the environment. Today population explosion and industrialization have made the rate of extraction higher than the rate of regeneration and also the churning of wastes is much more than what the environment can absorb. A reversal of the supply-demand relationship for environment quality has happened. Today the demand is more and the supply is less. Today pollution and waste generation have become serious environmental issues.

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