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Monday, July 22, 2019 - 9:50 am

The Problems of the 20th Century

in 1966 - Golden Jubilee

 

The Twentieth Century we may probably characterise as the most prodigal in the history of the World.  In every avenue and in every sphere, the earth's resources are being used up at a rate never before equalled.  Land is being artihcially fertilized and remade so as to provide adequate food supply for the world's increasing population.  Industries are using up resources so speedily that a natural change is brought about.

 

A new environment is naturally being created for us, an environment which though for the time is satisfying our demands; will in the future create hardships or will be helpful to our successors; will create habitable conditions or will prove deterrent.

Human life is not a simple thing like stepping from one condition into another automatically.  Life, before becoming so complicated, had its origin in a simple and uncompllcated form in the single cell by a process of evolutionary changes into higher and higher forms.  Changes are still taking place as evident from one ice age to another.

Since mankind has successfully planted his foot on the earth and has trodden its pathways, there has been remarkable changes brought because of necessity and demand on his part in satisfying his needs.  But at the same time there has been no significant change in the earth's 24,902 miles circumference, its 145 million square miles of ocean, its 58 million square miles of land surface.   If the 14,710 million acres of cultivable land and about 2 acres per person living today.

It is obvious since we live within limited bounds, every change we make in our environment would have a significant effect on mankind.  We must realise that as we alter things we will have to adjust to existing conditions.  Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest does not mean survival of the best, but the survival of those that are best fitted to cope with existing circumstances.  Evolution not only propounds what we came from, but the hope of changing to the logical conclusion.

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To what extent then shall the change we bring about to our environment have and effect the change we will undergo?

One existing and pressing problem to be faced is the world's increasing population.  As far back as history can account for, there has been this spontaneous increase, this biological process of increase on the available food resource, and means of production.  Expansion to the new continents as in the past has helped to relieve this pressure some by increased food production.  There are no new continents today and world population has increased enormously.

Food supplies are obtained from soil intensively worked.  Soils previously, though unfertile, are now made productive by careful analysis and carefully controlling the proportion of mineral content.  Methods and projects have been implemented to prevent the leaching or wasteful washing away, removal (loss) of soil and nutrients.   This had been successful by terrace cultivation, planting of shelter belt of trees and other scientific methods of farming.  But for how much longer will this enable supply to meet up to demand is a question of the future.

While life has been evolving for perhaps 500 million years, this great demand has only stepped up during the last 200 years and world concern only from about 50 years ago.

Being made aware or cognisant of this great crisis that is approaching, we may then try to survey our environment more and find out exactly what future trends are likely to be.

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Basically we may say that nature is an orderly system of things and events, and thus for our preservation there must be a balance between soil and population, plants and animals, air and water and industry.  In this cycle of events, men have a dominating role in that they are able to interfere with the ways of nature and bring about a balance, e.g. adaptation, succession.

By carefully controlling these, he, together with nature brings about stable conditions or a gradual change.  For a forest can be converted into a land with teeming cities, a desert can become a luxuriantly tropical garden under the magic wand of irrigation.

Man has in the past and at present interfered with nature, but is he playing with his own peril?  Will nature retaliate to these changes?  If we are making the earth sick we will reap the disease of pollution, the exhaustion of soil and the wasting of water.

 

Even though science is progressing in many avenues we must realise and make sure that the basis of our lives — soil, water, air, — are pure and that they contain the elements necessary to human existence.

Soil if proportionally balanced is self renewing, but the quality of the soil its organic and chemical contents has a great effect on the vegetation it can sustain, and thus their food vaiue.  Some agricultural crops have however, been forced into new environments, largely artificial, and thus we owe them the debt of protection and culture.

Forest laws have been implemented both for preservation and cultivation despite the pattern set by our predecessors of levelling forest for their own benefit.   With forestry is closely allied wild lifeand their preservation is also essential.

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The world is becoming overcrowded and much of the forest is accordingly levelled. The bulldozer seems to be the symbol of the Twentieth Century.  Man must in this, take care that he does not destroy too much in his attempt to control nature.  On the wall of a museum in Canada is an inscription "The Animal You See Here Is The Most Dangerous and Destructive Creature on Earth."  Below these words hangs a mirror.

Another great problem we have to guard against is the pollution of the atmosphere; for this will affect the soil, the sea, and our health.  Pollution of the air is going on even though at a snail's pace.  It has been estimated that "the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide has increased by ten per cent in the past century on account of domestic and  industrial  outpourings  of  gas  from  the  combustion  of coal on earth."

Pollution of the sea is also important, for the lives of fishes are affected and thus in turn man, since fishes form a great part of his diet.  Water from the seas and rivers is taken directly for his use and thus pollution of it will present a direct threat to his existence.  Modern methods of filtration however, are in use, but how effective this will prove is a question of the future.

Pest control is a great problem.  Twenty years ago 25 per cent of all crops were destroyed by pests.  Today, the problem has greatly decreased.

The great question presents itself – what about the future?  The earth we abuse, will in the end, take its revenge; for in exploiting it today, we may be diminishing the future of our children.  Many may cry "return to nature," but modern man can never return to nature if he is to survive.