Where the Environment Begins
Much is being said and talked about Man and Environment. Man has progressed unbelievably with his intellect during the present century. The discoveries and inventions leave us awe-struck and have contributed a lot towards a better living in many respects. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, he failed to foresee the long-term effects of some of his activities, which he undertook for short-term benefits.
It is a fact that the grave problems which man faces today, such as environmental pollution, acid rains, ozone depletion, greenhouse effect, cancers and many other health hazards, etc., are all results of overindulgence and tampering with Nature. Now, even mineral and other natural resources are being depleted. Overpopulation and excessive industrialisation have led to degradation of our very environment to an alarming degree, which will pose a threat to life on this planet, unless drastic measures are undertaken to check further damage and to undo the harm already done.
“We got into this mess by changing the planet’s metabolism in ways we did not understand nor intend”, says Jessica Mathews of World Resource Institute, “Technological fixes can turn around and bite you.” But, this is one lesson man has difficulty in learning and believes in the magic wand of technology. Now, he is trying to tackle greenhouse effect and ozone depletion through geo-engineering, at an outrageous cost.
Some of the proposals for greenhouse gases are :
- A fleet of Boeing 747s to criss-cross the skies, releasing dust into low stratosphere, blocking sunlight;
- Use of naval guns to shoot dust into stratosphere;
- Send billions of aluminised hydrogen-filled balloons into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight;
- Orbit 50,000 mirrors, 39 miles squares, which would be ferried into orbit in pieces and assembled by space-walking astronauts; etc.
And for ozone depletion:
- Install powerful infra-red lasers on 1400-foot mountain sides and ricocheting between mirrors three miles apart.
Besides costs, the trouble with technological fixes is that they can leave a problem worse than before. The history of weather modifications offers little reason for optimism. Our knowledge of climate is too imperfect to know precisely how many dust-filled balloons to loft or how many 747s to fly to counter the oil and coal we burn. A few too many balloons, or a dust cloud a little too thick, and the geo-engineering might push the planet into a deep freeze. And instead of succeeding in making Mars green, man might turn Earth into another Mars.
Since pollution of the environment and its adverse effects on man cannot be attributed to any single factor, a multidimensional approach is the only way out to rectify the situation. Awareness and participation at global level is the need of the hour. While many of the harmful activities can only be curbed at national and international levels by governments, there are some measures that can be taken up by social organisations and require group participation. Apart from these, there are certain ways in which individuals can contribute towards a healthy environment on this planet, which require no laws or legislation for their implementation.
The body surface of every organism, whether animal or plant, shows specific modifications, which enable it to adapt to its surroundings for survival. This surface, thus, assumes a great importance in maintaining a healthy state of body. In much the same way, in case of human beings, the skin, and hair as part of it, is the obvious link between man and the environment, and as such, acquires great significance for this subject. Because of the variety of functions it carries out, skin is known as the “Master Organ” of the body. Our bodies are not sealed off from the environment, but communicate with it through various known and unknown means. In fact, environment is the medium in which human body sustains itself and performs its various functions.
Skin is the body’s largest organ. It provides the body with a tough, flexible barrier which protects against diseases, injury and loss of water from the moist internal tissues. It also serves as a major sensory organ, registering pressure, touch, pain and temperature. It has about two million sweat glands distributed over the surface of the body, each communicating independently with the environment. These help in regulating the temperature of the body and excrete some wastes as well. Any blockage thereof develops prickly heat. Every single hair of the body, (of which there are about 1,25,000 on head region alone) is associated with a sebaceous gland, the oily secretion of which lubricates the hair and prevents the skin from becoming too dry. Blackheads form due to blockage of these glands’ opening, which may result into acne and pimples. If certain kind of bacteria get into the pores, they cause boils. As such, it should not be difficult to understand that special care should be taken to keep the skin clean, and free from any foreign particles, so that the pores of the glands can communicate freely with the environment. And, maintenance and nurturing of this organ in its natural form is the only logical thing to do for it to function effectively.
But our activities are to the contrary. Can a tree carry out its functions without leaves or with painted leaves ? Inspite of knowing that interference with Nature is detrimental to our health, we refuse to infer that any kind of interference with the immediate environment of the human body will also have similar consequences. If, according to Dr Sobti of Panjab University, even paint on the walls of a room is harmful to us, then what about the endless variety of cosmetics, deodorants, antiperspirants, perfumes, sprays, aftershaves, lotions, hair-removing creams, dyes, etc., that we apply directly on our bodies ? Also think of the tortures that monkeys, rabbits, rats, mice, etc., are subjected to in order to test these products before marketing. Not that the results of such researches are any guarantee of safety anyway. The majority of the products are not even tested before they are put on the shelves. According to the World Book, even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States does not lay much emphasis on regulation of cosmetics, apart from asking the companies to mention the names of the chemicals used in the preparation of the products.
Imagine the state of affairs in a country like India. Moreover, why should industrialists spend large amounts of money, time and space, on such researches, when their products sell anyway ? Researches in the U.S.A. showed that deodorants and antiperspirants containing hexachlorophane as the antibacterial agent could damage the nervous system. Antibacterial agent, a necessary component of such products, also destroys helpful bacteria harbouring the skin. Sindhoor and bindis are reported to contain poisonous chemicals. The hair dyes, which are only tested on switches for the number of wash they last, too, have been associated with breast cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukaemia, respiratory disorders, eye problems including blindness, skin problems, etc. The Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI) has reported that henna can also be harmful for some people. It can cause allergies like sneezing, cold, and respiratory problems, and that persons suffering from asthma should never use henna.
In a recent breakthrough, scientists have tricked human hair cells cultured in test tubes into making the melanin pigment which gives them colour. They believe that they may one day be able to produce a lotion to replace the range of dyes and end the ordeal of everyone who has resented their hair turning silver. But, the side-effects of such products will only be known after use by human beings. Although, keeping in mind the latest developments, it should not be difficult to guess the consequences. And, thank God, not everyone is convinced. Jilly Cooper, the vibrantly greying author, comments, “Do we really want to see old people with these terribly lifted faces that look as if they have come out of the deepfreeze too soon, with this young colourful hair on top ? It will look bizarre !” Nafisa Ali, 40, a former Miss India and an actress at present, refuses to dye her hair, and considers her grey hair and wrinkles a reward from Almighty.
The excessive processing and polishing of many foods, such as sugar, rice, wheat, etc., has reduced their nutritional value to a great extent. In much the same way, is the natural human form being processed and polished in the name of modernity and civilisation. We subject parts thereof to tortures of cutting, plucking, dyeing, bleaching, electrolysis, shaving, waxing, piercing, painting, tattooing, face-lifting, fat-suction, implanting, EMS, etc., without giving a thought to the side-effects. An artificially painted face is the in-thing, and the natural look is considered backward or perverted. All this is done in the erroneous belief that these improve our looks. Do we really believe that we can improve upon God’s creation ? No, we cannot paint a lily better ! We even squeeze ourselves into extremely tightfitting, uncomfortable clothes, and pointed, high-heeled shoes, not caring for the hindrance that is caused to the circulating blood. We forego our health and comfort only to be labelled as hep or sophisticated. Beauty contests have quantified beauty into centimetres and grams, and it no longer remains a quality. We are willing to do anything, ad nauseam, just for the Barbie look.
Denudation of the body will have an adverse influence on our health, as did the denudation of the planet. Since denudation of the earth’s surface kills the useful microorganisms therein, then what is the fate of the beneficial microorganisms guarding our skin following depilation ? Ginu Kimani, an author, wonders, “Why all the fuss about removing bodily hair ? What exactly are we eliminating when we strip our skins bare ? Only one of the richest treasures of sexual chemistry — the pheromone-rich aroma, that clings to the roots of the body hair. And having done that, we are then encouraged to splash on some entirely alien scent that resembles nothing human, is mass produced in laboratory, and is tagged with an exorbitant price.”
Actually, hair is considered lifeless and useless, and therefore, subjected to all kinds of cruel treatments at the altar of fashion. We shave, cut, colour, perm or straighten them in the name of style or comfort. Do we mutilate or dispense with any other part of the body for similar reasons ? Moreover, we must not forget that the upper layers of the skin, which provide protection to every organ of the body are dead. Can anybody challenge the fact of certain death without these layers of skin ?
As is the case with every system of the body, the dense and long growth of hair on the head region is to increase the surface area for some particular function. The leaves of most plants, too, are structured in such a manner as to increase the surface area for maximum absorption of carbon dioxide and sunlight for photosynthesis. According to an estimate, a tree assimilates thirteen pounds of carbon dioxide every year, which is equal to the carbon dioxide released by a car driven for twenty thousand miles. No other air filtration device can remove this amount of carbon dioxide so cheaply. Any reduction, therefore, in the surface area of leaves of a tree will reduce this absorption proportionately. Likewise, since the hair has an ability to absorb harmful radiations from the sun, any reduction in its surface area will impair this function too, proportionately.
But, we are blinded by consumerism and desire for comfort, and do not even let Nature heal itself. A techno-fix is more appealing to us, as it promises to cure problems without requiring society to change its habits, which are actually the root cause of the problems in the first place.
Advertisements of various products in the media have taken us so far away from Nature, that distorted images have become normal values. What to talk of children and the common man, even educated adults get exploited, and become willing victims. Surely, the industrialists and the models displaying their products are not interested in our health or well-being, but their own pockets. Professor Ramesh Kapoor of the Panjab University informed that certain media-persons even admitted publicly to being on pay-rolls of certain industrialists. Advertisements capture the very minds of the people — children are lured into thinking that they can become goldmedalists by consuming certain products; and women are given the complex that their worth lies only in looking young; and all are given the impression that men who smoke are the most healthy and brave. Can anything be more absurd ? The media gives us a mindset, and we behave no better than sheep.
In a similar vein, men, as well as women, are made to believe that the closer the shave the more the man. But, beard and moustache are secondary sexual characters and represent masculinity. Sexual dimorphism is a common feature in many of the animal species. Would peacocks, many other birds, lions, deers, etc., look better after getting rid of their secondary sexual characters ? Even trees cut to a shape are not as pleasant a sight as natural ones. Natural look alone is beautiful / handsome, and natural life style alone is healthy.
While on the subject of beard, I am reminded of incidents in the lives of two great men, as recorded by Sarup Singh Alag in Hair Power : “When Rabindra Nath Tagore experienced spiritual consciousness, he was then sailing in a ship. As a symbolic gesture of his submission before the power of the Divine, the first thing he did was to throw away his razor and other items used for trimming and shaving off hair into the ocean. The father of George Bernard Shaw immediately threw away his razor and started growing his beard, when one day Bernard Shaw, a small child, innocently asked his father as to why he shaves off his beard. The father had no satisfactory answer for this. He felt that this was an unnecessary exercise, and gave it up all together. Bernard Shaw also maintained the sanctity of his beard throughout his life.” Some personalities of national and international fame who have maintained their natural form are Vinoba Bhave, Mahatma Hans Raj, Yogi Mahesh, Aurobindo Ghosh, Shankracharya of Puri, Dhirendra Brahmchari, Acharya Rajneesh, Socrates, Pluto, Aristotle, Herodotus, Michaelangelo, Walt Whitman, Karl Marx, Count Leo Tolstoy, Abraham Lincoln, W.G. Grace, Wilhelm Roentgen, Robert Koch, Charles Darwin and Rudolf Virchow, to name a few.
There is no denying that shaving is a waste of effort, money, time and energy. And, why fight a losing battle day after day ? Imagine the benefits and impact of giving up shaving on alternate days alone, which, according to Mr Santosh Babu from WWF (World Wildlife Fund), could solve the water problem of a metro like Delhi. May be environmentalists could lead the scientists, and go on a crusade to bring about awareness regarding health hazards and other disadvantages of shaving.
Through science, we are merely unfolding and naming the various phenomena, and devising means to benefit from them ! Whatever man enjoys today is only from pre-existing matter. He is unable to create anything. Merely giving names to the phenomena taking place around us does not, in any way, explain why these things are happening. For example, by naming a phenomenon as ‘photosynthesis’ does not mean we have understood as to why it is carried out. Even if we had called it ‘greeno-solar’, we would not have learnt any more or less about it. Similarly, giving a name ‘sinoatrial node’ to the centre in the heart where the impulse for its contraction starts, does not explain anything. We can only be wonderstruck as to how it keeps beating, or why it stops ! Thus, even today, in spite of knowing so many facts and figures, we do not understand life.
Knowledge of more and more scientific terminologies, and acquisition of qualifications does not make us any wiser than those who do not know these terms. The terms known to a physicist are not known to a chemist. Can we say who is wiser ? Wise is he, who learns from the Almighty’s volume — the Nature. There alone lies the way to our salvation. According to Albert Einstein, a scientist of eminence :
“In our endeavour to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility ofthe meaning of such a comparison.”
It is preposterous to believe that man is in a position to manage Nature. Most of the inventions and discoveries we rejoice one day, become the cause of concern within a few years. What appears as the best remedy today, requires ban and remedies itself tomorrow. Our arrogance must yield place to the conviction that Nature alone knows best, and does nothing without purpose. The more we manipulate, the more we complicate. Let us submit to the Divine Law, and live in tune with His Will. Nature’s decisions must be respected and complied with, in totality. The human body must be nurtured in its natural form. If only man would acknowledge his short-sightedness, so many problems would not arise. It is sad that inspite of so many obvious negative results of tampering with Nature and the natural form, we refuse to learn. Only a change in our attitudes and values will save the earth. Simple and natural living on the part of every individual will eventually lead to the closure of so many irrelevant industries, and consequent reduction in deadly wastes being added to our environment.
Let us leave a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren. Let us not live at their cost.
Hopefully, the governments will do their duties effectively and without delay, but let us get started with ours ad interim. Even if we consider our participation towards environment protection equivalent to a drop in the ocean, but for it, the ocean would be lesser by that drop !
Polished brass will pass upon more people
Than rough gold.
If any thing is sacred, the human body is sacred.
— Walt Whitman
No knowledge can be more satisfactory
To a man than that of his own frame,
Its parts, their functions and actions.
Everything in Nature acts in conformity with law.
— Immanual Kant
Accuse not Nature, she hath done her part;
Do thou but thine !