English CBSE Class 11 NCERT Hornbill Chapter 5 The Ailing Planet Line by Line Explanation and Meaning of Difficult Words



Author – Nani Palkhivala

The following article was written by Nani Palkhivala and published in The Indian Express on 24 November 1994. The issues that he raised regarding the declining health of the earth continue to have relevance.

Notice these expressions in the text. Infer their meaning from the context.

a holistic and ecological view Over all view toward environment and living beings
sustainable development Development that can be maintained
languish Remain un-noticed
ignominious darkness Disgracefully unknown
inter alia Among other things, Apart from
decimated Destroyed to a large extent
catastrophic depletion Terrible reduction, Disastrous decrease
transcending concern Extraordinary anxiety


ONE cannot recall any movement in world history which has gripped the imagination of the entire human race so completely and so rapidly as the Green Movement which started nearly twenty-five years ago.

Word Meaning
Gripped Caught, Affected
Entire Complete
Human race Human beings
Rapidly Quickly

The green Movement was started about 25 years ago. It has completely and quickly caught attention of entire human beings. No other movement has ever affected imagination of human beings so quickly.



In 1972 the world’s first nationwide Green party was founded in New Zealand. Since then, the movement has not looked back.

The first national level organisation for Green Movement was established in New Zealand in 1972. Since then the movement has further grown and developed.. It has not receded.


We have shifted — one hopes, irrevocably — from the mechanistic view to a holistic and ecological view of the world. It is a shift in human perceptions as revolutionary as that introduced by Copernicus who taught mankind in the sixteenth century that the earth and the other planets revolved round the sun.

Word Meaning
Irrevocably That cannot be changed
Mechanistic view Mechanical opinion without emotions
Holistic Over all perspective, Broader thoughts
Ecological Related to environment and all living beings
Perception Understanding
Revolutionary New, Causing a big change, Creative

One should hope that the humankind has now changed its approach and it will not return to old thought of considering life as being only mechanical. The new approach now has an overall perspective that includes all living beings and environment. This change is a very big change indeed. It can be as big a change as was taught by Copernicus. In sixteenth century he had said the earth and other planets revolved around the sun.



For the first time in human history, there is a growing worldwide consciousness that the earth itself is a living organism — an enormous being of which we are parts. It has its own metabolic needs and vital processes which need to be respected and preserved.

Word Meaning
Growing Increasing
Consciousness Awareness
Enormous Huge
Metabolic Process of living and life
Vital Important
Preserved Saved, Protected,

In the history of human beings, for the first time, awareness about earth is increasing. The earth is being considered as a huge living being and we are a small part of it. We have understood that the earth also has its requirement to sustain life on it. And such process needs to be respected and protected.


The earth’s vital signs reveal a patient in declining health. We have begun to realise our ethical obligations to be good stewards of the planet and responsible trustees of the legacy to future generations.

Word Meaning
Reveal Show, Indicate, Disclose
Declining Decreasing, Reducing, Deteriorating
Ethical Moral
Obligations Duties
Steward Care taker
Trustee Administrator, Custodian
Legacy Tradition , Inheritance, heritage

The important aspects about the earth are indicating that its health is deteriorating. We have started to understand our moral duties as a good caretaker of this planet. We should act like a responsible custodian to hander over heritage of earth to future generations.



The concept of sustainable development was popularized in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development.

Word Meaning
Concept Idea
Sustainable development Development that can be maintained

The idea of development that can be maintained without harming future became popular in 1987. This concept was given by the World Commission on Environment and Development.


In its report it defined the idea as “Development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”, i.e., without stripping the natural world of resources future generations would need.

Word Meaning
Compromising Damaging, Adversely affecting
Stripping Removing, Depriving

This concept was defines as the development that meets requirement of the present generation without adversely affecting the ability of future generation to meet their needs. Which means that present generation should not deprive the future generation of the natural resources they would need.



In the zoo at Lusaka, Zambia, there is a cage where the notice reads, ‘The world’s most dangerous animal’. Inside the cage there is no animal but a mirror where you see yourself.

Lusaka is a city in a country by the name of Zambia. At the cage of a zoo in Lusaka a notice has been put up. It reads ‘The world’s most dangerous animal. No animal has been put in that cage. It has a mirror. A visitor sees his/her own image. The message is that man is the most dangerous animal in the world.


Thanks to the efforts of a number of agencies in different countries, a new awareness has now dawned upon the most dangerous animal in the world. He has realised the wisdom of shifting from a system based on domination to one based on partnership.

Word Meaning
Dawned Surfaced, Emerged
Domination Authority, Tyranny

Several agencies in different countries have made efforts to create awareness about this new concept. Thus a new awareness has emerged in the most dangerous animal of the world – the human being. Human beings have now understood that it is wise to move away from the system based on authority to concept of partnership.


Scientists have catalogued about 1.4 million living species with which mankind shares the earth. Estimates vary widely as regards the still-uncatalogued living species — biologists reckon that about three to a hundred million other living species still languish unnamed in ignominious darkness.

Word Meaning
Catalogued Tabulated, Identified
Species Creatures
Reckon Believe, Of the opinion
Languish Remain un-noticed
Ignominious Humiliating, Disgraceful

Scientist have identified and tabulated about 1.4 million creatures living on the earth. They share the earth with human beings. There is huge variation about how many more creatures are yet to be identified. Biologist are of the opinion that about three to four hundred million species are yet to be identified. They remain un-noticed which can be considered a humiliating disgrace to those creature.



One of the early international commissions which dealt, inter alia, with the question of ecology and environment was the Brandt Commission which had a distinguished Indian as one of its members — Mr L.K. Jha.

Word Meaning
Inter alia Among other things, Apart from, In addition to
Distinguished Famous, Eminent, Prominent

Brandt Commission was one of the earliest international commission that examined aspects of ecology and environment also. It had examined many other aspects also. A famous Inidan Mr. L.K. Jha was also a member of this commission.


The First Brandt Report raised the question — “Are we to leave our successors a scorched planet of advancing deserts, impoverished landscapes and ailing environment?”

Word Meaning
Raised Asked
Successors Those coming later
Scorched Burnt, Very hot
Advancing Increasing, Spreading
Impoverished Made Poor
Ailing Sick, Unhealthy

In its first report Brandt Commission asked a question. For our future generation are we going to leave a very hot planet? A planet where deserts will increase, the greenery would be less and an unhealthy environment.


Mr Lester R. Brown in his thoughtful book, The Global Economic Prospect, points out that the earth’s principal biological systems are four — fisheries, forests, grasslands, and croplands — and they form the foundation of the global economic system.

Word Meaning
Thoughtful Full of good thought
Principal Main
Foundation Basis
Fisheries Marine life, Species living in water

Mr. Lester R brown has written a book titled Global Economic Prospect. This book is full of several thoughts. In this book he tells that there are four main biological systems at earth – marine life, forests, land for grass and land for crops. These four systems are foundations for the economic well-being of the world.



In addition to supplying our food, these four systems provide virtually all the raw materials for industry except minerals and petroleum-derived synthetics. In large areas of the world, human claims on these systems are reaching an unsustainable level, a point where their productivity is being impaired.

Word Meaning
Virtually Practically
Unsustainable That continue at the present level
Impaired Damaged, Reduced

These four systems provide food for all species. Practically these provide all the material for industry except that for mineral industry and petroleum industry. In most of the areas of the world, human beings have taken away too much from these systems. In those areas these  systems may not survive for a long time. Growth of these systems has been reduced.


When this happens, fisheries collapse, forests disappear, grasslands are converted into barren wastelands, and croplands deteriorate. In a protein-conscious and protein hungry world, over-fishing is common every day.

Word Meaning
Barren Unproductive, Infertile
Deteriorate Decay, Reduce
Over-fishing Catching more fish from water

When such situation occurs, marine life reduces to a great extent, forests disappear, grasslands are converted into unproductive useless land and fields for farming reduces. The world is aware about requirement of protein and so it consumes more protein than needed. Thus catching huge amount of fish from water is quite common.


In poor countries, local forests are being decimated in order to procure firewood for cooking. In some places, firewood has become so expensive that “what goes under the pot now costs more than what goes inside it”.

Word Meaning
Decimate Destroy a large proportion
Firewood Wood used for cooking food

In poor countries, forests have been destroyed to great extent to procure firewood. In some places firewood has become very costly. Cost of firewood has become more costly than the cost of food items.



Since the tropical forest is, in the words of Dr Myers, “the powerhouse of evolution”, several species of life face extinction as a result of its destruction.

Word Meaning
Tropical forest Forest between two tropics, Forest of hot climate
Powerhouse Main source
Evolution Development, Formation
Extinction Destruction, Death

Dr. Myers says that forests of hot climatic region is the main source of development of species. Thus destruction of these forests would result into death of several species of life.


It has been well said that forests precede mankind; deserts follow. The world’s ancient patrimony of tropical forests is now eroding at the rate of forty to fifty million acres a year, and the growing use of dung for burning deprives the soil of an important natural fertiliser.

Word Meaning
Precede To arrive before
Patrimony Heritage, Property received from ancestors
Eroding Getting destroyed
Dung Manure, Excreta of animal
Deprive Deny

It is wisely said that before human beings earth had large forests. And after mankind earth will be full of deserts. The old heritage of tropical forests are getting destroyed at the rate of 40 to 50 million acres per year. Due to shortage of firewood, animal excreta is also being used as firewood, though it is a natural fertilizer. Hence soil is not getting manure to increase its fertility.


The World Bank estimates that a five-fold increase in the rate of forest planting is needed to cope with the expected fuelwood demand in the year 2000.

Word Meaning
Five-fold Five times
Cope with To overcome a problem, To deal with

The world has estimated that speed of planting trees needs to be increased five times. Then only we will be able to deal with expected requirement of fire wood in the year 2000.


James Speth, the President of the World Resources Institute, said the other day, “We were saying that we are losing the forests at an acre a second, but it is much closer to an acre-and-a-half to a second”.

Word Meaning
The other day Sometime ago, On some day

James Speth is the president of World Resources Institute. Some time ago he said that forests were decreasing at the rate of one acre per second. But now  the rate of decrease could be about one and a half acre per second.


Article 48A of the Constitution of India provides that “the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”.

Word Meaning
Provide Prescribe, Specify
Endeavour To make efforts, Try
Safeguard Protect
Wildlife Animals, birds etc living in forest

The article 48 A of the Indian Constitution specifies that government will make efforts to protect and improve environment. It will also protect forest and wildlife of the country.


But what causes endless anguish is the fact that laws are never respected nor enforced in India. (For instance, the Constitution says that casteism, untouchability and bonded labour shall be abolished, but they flourish shamelessly even after forty-four years of the operation of the Constitution.)

Word Meaning
Endless Never ending
Anguish Sorrow, Grief
For instance For example
Abolish To stop, To end
Flourish To increase, To continue

But it is matter of never ending grief that laws are not respected nor applied in India. For example Indian Constitution says that casteism, untouchability and practice of bonded labour should be stopped in India. But without any feeling of shame, these practices continue in India even after forty years of implementing the Constitution.


A recent report of our Parliament’s Estimates Committee has highlighted the near catastrophic depletion of India’s forests over the last four decades. India, according to reliable data, is losing its forests at the rate of 3.7 million acres a year.

Word Meaning
Recent New, Current, Fresh
Highlighted Drawn attention, Emphasised
Catastrophic Terrible, Disastrous
Depletion Reduction, Decrease
Reliable Dependable, Authentic

A new report from our Parliament’s Estimates Committee has drawn attention to disastrous reduction of forests in India during last 40 years. According to authentic data, forests in India are reducing by about 3.7 million acres per year.


Large areas, officially designated as forest land, “are already virtually treeless”. The actual loss of forests is estimated to be about eight times the rate indicated by government statistics.

Large areas which are officially called as forest land is practically without any trees. It is estimated that actual loss of forest is about eight time the rate of depletion provided by government.


A three-year study using satellites and aerial photography conducted by the United Nations, warns that the environment has deteriorated so badly that it is ‘critical’ in many of the eighty-eight countries investigated.

Word Meaning
Aerial photography Photos taken while flying over the area
Investigated Inspected, Analysed, Studied

A study of three year duration has been conducted by United Nations. Satellites and aerial photography has been used in this study. It has studied condition of 88 countries. The study says that in most of these countries condition of environment has been damaged severely.


There can be no doubt that the growth of world population is one of the strongest factors distorting the future of human society. It took mankind more than a million years to reach the first billion. That was the world population around the year 1800.

Word Meaning
Factor Reason
Distort Damage, Twist,

Certainly the increase in population of the world is the biggest reason in damaging future of human society. In one million years population of the world reached one billion. The population reached this number around the year 1800.


By the year 1900, a second billion was added, and the twentieth century has added another 3.7 billion. The present world population is estimated at 5.7 billion. Every four days the world population increases by one million.

From 1800 to 1900 population increased by one more billion. Thus in 1900 the world population became two million. At present world population is about 5.7 billion. World population increases by one million in four days.


Fertility falls as incomes rise, education spreads, and health improves. Thus development is the best contraceptive. But development itself may not be possible if the present increase in numbers continues.

Word Meaning
Fertility Rate of increase of population
Contraceptive Method to prevent population increase

When income rises, education spreads, health improves and rate of increase of population reduces. Hence development of society is the best method to reduce rate of population increase. But if the number of people goes on increasing, development of society may not be possible.


The rich get richer, and the poor beget children which condemns them to remain poor. More children does not mean more workers, merely more people without work.

Word Meaning
Beget Produce, Generate
Condemns Sentences, Forced into

The rich person would get richer. Children of poor people are forced to remain poor. Having more children does not mean that we would have more workers. It means that we will have more people without work.


It is not suggested that human beings be treated like cattle and compulsorily sterilised. But there is no alternative to voluntary family planning without introducing an element of coercion. The choice is really between control of population and perpetuation of poverty.

Word Meaning
Suggest Recommend
Cattle Animal
Sterlised Made unproductive
An element of Some amount of
Coercion Force, Compulsion
Perpetuation Continuation

It is not recommended that human beings should be treated like animals and made unproductive. But voluntary family planning would certainly need some amount of compulsion. We would need to choose one of the two options – either control population or increase poverty.


The population of India is estimated to be 920 million today — more than the entire populations of Africa and South America put together. No one familiar with the conditions in India would doubt that the hope of the people would die in their hungry hutments unless population control is given topmost priority.

Word Meaning
Familiar Known

Presently population of India is estimated to be about 920 million. It more than the combined population of Africa and South America. Everybody who knows conditions of India is sure that population control needs to be given highest priority in India. Otherwise people of India may die due to poverty and hunger.


For the first time in human history we see a transcending concern — the survival not just of the people but of the planet. We have begun to take a holistic view of the very basis of our existence.

Word Meaning
Transcending Increasing, Extraordinary
Holistic Overall

In the history of human being an increasing concern is being seen for the first time. People are talking about survival of the complete planet rather than only of human beings. We have started taking an overall view about our existence.


The environmental problem does not necessarily signal our demise, it is our passport for the future. The emerging new world vision has ushered in the Era of Responsibility.

Word Meaning
Demise Death
Passport Path, Key
Emerging Growing, Developing,
Ushered in Started
Era Period, Age

The present problem of environment may not definitely mean that all human beings will be eliminated from the earth. But environment is the path or key for our future. This growing new thought has started a new period or age of responsibility.


It is a holistic view, an ecological view, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts.

Word Meaning
Integrated Combined
Dissociated Separated

This is an overall view towards ecology. It is about considering the complete world as one instead of collection of separate parts.


Industry has a most crucial role to play in this new Era of Responsibility. What a transformation would be effected if more businessmen shared the view of the Chairman of Du Pont, Mr Edgar S. Woolard who, five years ago, declared himself to be the Company’s “Chief Environmental Officer”.

Word Meaning
Crucial Important
Transformation Change
Effected Made

Industry needs to play the most important role in the period of responsibility. A great change can be made if every businessman followed the views of Chairman of Du Pont Mr S Woolard. Five years ago he had declared that he was the Chief Environmental Officer of his organisation.


He said, “Our continued existence as a leading manufacturer requires that we excel in environmental performance.”

Word Meaning
Leading Prominent

He said that to continue to exist as the prominent manufacturer, it was necessary to do excellent work in environmental aspects.


Of all the statements made by Margaret Thatcher during the years of her Prime Ministership, none has passed so decisively into the current coin of English usage as her felicitous words: “No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy — with a full repairing lease”.

Word Meaning
Decisively Convincingly
Felicitous Appropriate, Suitable

Margret Thatcher had made several statements when she was Prime Minister. One of her statements is considered as the most appropriate statement in English language about environment. She said that nobody is the owner of this earth. We all have come here as a tenant for our life time. It is our duty to repair whatever damage we cause to earth.


In the words of Mr Lester Brown, “We have not inherited this earth from our forefathers; we have borrowed it from our children.”

Word Meaning
Inherited Received from ancestors

Mr. Lester brown has said that we have not received this earth from our ancestors as our own property. We have borrowed it from our children. We must return it to them in good condition.



Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected !!