Look around you wherever you are right now. You should be able to spot at least one or two environmental issues the whole world is facing today. From climate change to deforestation, our environment is taking a beating from natural occurrences to human-related acceleration. Some of the threats, if they go unchecked, could be life-altering for us, animals and the environment. There are some measures we can take to slow the degradation, damage, and changes that are happening, but first, we must know what we’re facing at every corner of the earth.
What are Environmental Issues?
Whether you follow the news, or you’ve simply noticed how much warmer the summer seems to be now compared to when you were a kid, you are likely aware of the environmental issues we’re all up against in our lifetime. We’re not likely to see a major change in the next few years, but give it 30 to 50 years, and the impact could be life-threatening. So what are environmental issues we’re facing right now? Listed below are the top environmental issues and threats to Earth and its inhabitants.
- Climate change
- Rising sea levels
- Dead zones
A Closer Look at the Problems
To further understand what the recent environmental issues and risks are to Earth, let’s dive a little deeper with each one. Some say the environmental health issues we’re facing are just par for the course. That it’s how Mother Nature deals with the issues plaguing the planet, and that’s partly true. Consider how nature uses fire for beneficial reasons. Sometimes a forest fire is necessary to clear out dry underbrush to allow the sun to reach the plants underneath, or to spread seeds from other flora. While there are benefits to some clearing out, it’s a rare occurrence. On a global scale, most forest fires are caused by humans – up to 95 percent – and most of those are only damaging. It’s a good metaphor for everything that’s happening with our planet. Here’s a closer look at some examples of environmental issues we’re currently dealing with.
There are lists of environmental issues and climate change is at the top. The climate around the world is changing, and it’s doing so at a more rapid pace than it should, due in part to our influence. The warning of climate change came three decades ago from a NASA climate scientist. James Hansen spoke on the temperatures in 1988, and that the earth was warmer than any other time in recorded and measured history. The reporting was dismal and was met with skepticism.
Despite the evidence showing that the carbon dioxide level of the earth has never been higher, many people, particularly Americans, turned their noses up at the idea that humans could be responsible for the change. After all, isn’t this what Mother Nature does in cycles? Yes, it is a natural occurrence, but humans have accelerated the rate and level at which climate change is happening.
When you think of pollution, do you picture a city like Los Angeles covered in a brown or grey haze of smog? Air pollution is just one of the many types of pollution we’re facing today. There’s also water pollution, soil pollution, noise pollution, and light pollution. And you must consider other inhabitants of our planet, not just humans. Bottom line: pollution of any kind is one of the major environmental issues.
Animals and plants that walk the land or swim the lakes and oceans can all be affected by these pollutants. Think about the fertilizers we use to make our lawns green and lush – where does the runoff of those chemicals go? Down the storm drain and into rivers, lakes, and oceans. While the high concentrations of fertilizer are great for a good-looking lawn, they can wreak havoc for an ecosystem in the natural waters. Not only does it affect the food we eat (fish), it can disrupt a whole food chain, and potentially wipe out a species. That’s just one example of water pollution.
Often people think of environmental issues as those that pose a threat to our air, water, or land, but rarely do we consider the extinction of a species as an environmental issue. Perhaps it’s because we think about how the dinosaurs lived and died, and then we believe it’s a totally natural process. The permanent loss of a species can be a part of the cycle of nature, but it could also be because humans hunt a species into extinction, or pollution could play a part. The dodo and Pyrenean ibex are just a couple examples of animals that fell to extinction. The passenger pigeon was driven to extinction due to hunting. At one point, there were up to 5 billion of these birds throughout North America, and the last one died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.
Sadly, this has been one of the biggest environmental issues for decades. Whether it’s for more housing or agriculture, deforestation and the sustainability of our forests is kind of a big deal. Of course, deforestation happens naturally in some situations, but most of it is due to loggers, agriculture, and developers clearing out large areas of trees to make way for other stuff. Aside from losing some of the beauty of the land, we’re also wiping out the home of many creatures who make forests their home.
Deforestation can also influence climate change, even if indirectly. After all, trees are able to help absorb some of the greenhouse gases in the air, but without those trees, there’s nowhere for those gases to go except into the ozone.
Rising Sea Levels
Point out to a skeptic of environmental issues that the sea levels have risen 2.6 inches between 1993 and 2014, and they’re likely to shrug their shoulders. What’re 2.6 inches, anyway? The problem is that the sea level continues to rise at about one-eighth of an inch per year. So, at a rate of 1.2 inches every decade, that could add up quickly in the next 50 years or so. One contributing factor to the rise of sea levels is global warming, which is heating up the oceans. The result is that ice sheets and glaciers are melting, and as the water inches upward, so do the threats associated with rising sea levels.
Technically, an oceanic dead zone is more of an effect rather than a cause of an environmental issue, but it’s also sort of both. Dead zones are areas in an ocean where oxygen has been depleted and life can no longer thrive there. These dead zones can be created by pollution and algal blooms, which are already an environmental issue. It also can contribute to the extinction of species, which can affect a whole ecosystem. The leading cause of dead zones is sort of a flooding of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Sound familiar? Check your container of fertilizer you use on your lawn and you’ll have an idea of how that’s happening. And considering the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest one in North America because of the runoff from the Mississippi River, you might have a better idea of how humans are the biggest contributing factor.
At first, it sounds kind of ridiculous to say that overpopulation is an environmental issue but think about it for a moment. The more people there are on earth, the more resources we require for sustenance, whether that’s water, food, or land. So, the more we populate the planet, the more we need to lean on the earth’s resources. But there’s a finite supply of water, and the earth needs time to catch up. The rate at which we, as a species, are growing is too fast for Mother Nature.
All these issues on their own seem easy enough to deal with, but when you combine them all, you’re looking at an overwhelming and alarming problem. So, what will our planet look like in 50 or 100 years, if we do nothing to halt the impact?
The Long-term Effects of These Environmental Issues
It might be difficult to imagine just how damaging all these environmental issues are going to be in the future for our planet. It’s a massive problem, and looking forward to 50, 70, or 100 years, is asking people to understand that there’s no way to reverse the effects. Earth as you know it will not be the same, just as it isn’t now compared to when you were a child. Experts have weighed in to offer examples of what to expect if nothing is done to slow the effects of climate change, pollution, deforestation, overpopulation, and other environmental issues.
As the population increases and resources dwindle, the access to food will be lower. Agriculture relies on land, nutrients, and fresh water. All those will be in limited supply in 50 to 100 years, and when you combine that with the need to feed more people, well, it’s one of those equations that just don’t add up. It’s a simple supply-and-demand issue. If the demand is higher than the supply, many will perish. Estimates are coming in that by 2050, the world will need to produce 60 percent more food, and about 120 million more people could be at risk for undernourishment.
Never mind in the next 50 to 100 years, let’s look at the increase in demand for water by the year 2050. Experts are estimating that the world’s need for water will increase by 400 percent, according to the United Nations. Fresh, clean water is needed for drinking, obviously, but also for energy, food production, and industry needs. Other than population growth, pollution is a big factor in whether we’ll have enough water conservation for everyone.
Air pollution is one of the biggest contributors to the rise in sea levels, climate change, and more. Emissions are doing serious damage to many areas, and if we luck out, the earth’s global temperature might only rise 4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, air pollution is a big environmental cause of premature death and could be the biggest over the next few decades. We need to find more efficient ways to clean the air in our homes as well as our planet.
It was a hot summer, wasn’t it? Regardless of what year it is you’re reading this article, that statement is likely to ring true due to climate change. Extreme weather events are becoming more commonplace as the earth’s temperature rises. The oceans are gradually heating up at a faster pace than nature would’ve intended, and one of the results is rising sea levels. Those levels could reach several feet higher in the coming decades, and it contributes to more inland flooding than before. Expect more and longer droughts, more powerful hurricanes pounding the coasts, and extreme heat waves.
Although population growth is expected to continue climbing, the death rate due to environmental issues is also expected to rise. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution contributed to 3.7 million deaths in 2012. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 6 million people annually. The environment will continue to deteriorate, and with overcrowding in cities, and a lack of access to clean water, diseases and viruses will spread faster and more effectively than ever.
Is This a New Problem?
A point skeptics bring up is that humans have been roaming the planet for millennia and things were just fine for our ancestors. Well, that’s true, to a degree. Our ancestors weren’t exactly all that concerned about the environment. Just look at the extinction of species, such as mammoths and rhinos – our forebearers were not thinking about the future. In fact, it’s kind of a matter of survival, and humans are hard-wired to think about the here and now, rather than the distant future. In a way, we have to fight against our biology and the way our brains work to ensure we leave behind a habitable planet for those who come after us.
Are There Solutions to Today’s Environmental Issues?
To fight the environmental issues we have at hand, we have to understand the results of increasing air pollution, climate change, and overpopulation. If the sea levels rise by 1 to 4 feet by 2100, that could displace up to 4 million people who live on coasts around the world. The next step would be to find a solution to these issues.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to reverse the effects of pollution and climate change. Climate change will continue to march forward, affecting future generations for decades and centuries to come. However, we can help mitigate the effects, according to many experts, if we focus on reducing emissions and adapting to the situation as it is now.
Reducing greenhouse gases means relying less on burning fossil fuels for energy, whether that’s for heat, transportation, or electricity. Greenhouse gases are going to continue to emit naturally, but we can stabilize what’s here and now to help keep temperatures from climbing higher. That’s part of the reason behind the Paris Agreement.
Humans love to innovate, and when we focus our efforts on finding innovative ways to deal with climate change, we might make a difference. Of course, these ideas are big, bright, and optimistic, but they may not be entirely possible, or even probable.
Maybe you’ve seen the planters at IKEA or on Amazon. Those hydroponic or even aeroponic growers. You can grow your own food right from the comfort of your living room – or probably your garage because those lights are bright. What happens, though, when you take the concept of hydroponic gardens to a bigger level, and you place those farms vertically? Could it be possible that we’d be able to grow our food in smaller spaces, and not have to clear land for crops? It’s possible, but not probable. And we’re going to need more than microgreens and herbs to feed the whole population.
There’s the Bolt, the Spark, the Fit EV, and several models of Tesla, but what if we could go beyond electric cars? Transportation is a big part of the problem when it comes to emissions and climate change. So, why not focus efforts on creating a hybrid airplane? Although aviation is only responsible for about 2 to 3 percent of global greenhouse gases, it’s a noble effort to change that. The eFusion is only one example of an aircraft that’s able to run on electricity, and it’s a short flight. It’s just one step in the right direction for innovation, though.
There are vegetarians, vegans, and those who participate in Meatless Mondays. For some, not eating meat is a moral choice, while for others it’s all about health, and others still are choosing to go for tofu or other meat substitutes for ethical reasons, such as for our climate’s health. The more meat we eat, the more strain it puts on our environment. That’s why people like Atze Jan van der Goot is creating new ways to turn vegetable-based products into impressive meat substitutes.
Experts are unsure as to how close we are to eating realistically meat-like plant-based meat substitutes, but there’s a lot of money being poured into the innovation. It’s a good effort though, especially when you consider that the production process that goes into creating a single burger creates the same amount of greenhouse gases as a small sports car driving about 37 miles.
Advanced Nuclear Power Reactor
Is it possible for a nuclear power reactor to be safe, create less waste, and even produce its own fuel? TerraPower is placing bets on it. The Washington-state-based company is working with Bill Gates as the chairman and has China interested. The traveling wave reacto uses depleted uranium as a fuel source, which is huge on its own – it’s a byproduct from the enriched uranium used in the older types of nuclear reactors, so it would be running on nuclear waste, essentially. It’s a safer, cheaper, and more efficient way to create energy.
Nixing Nitrogen Fertilizers
Feeding a bunch of people requires lots of lands, whether it’s for meat or crop production. To get crops to grow, though, farmers realized the importance of nitrogen. It’s an effective fertilizer, but to get it naturally, there was this whole long process that was incredibly inefficient. Enter chemical nitrogen fertilizer. While effective, nitrogen was also starting to leach into the air and water. Plus, there’s the process of making those fertilizers, which requires lots of burning of fossil fuels. Some sectors of the biotech industry are working on a solution that would introduce engineered microbes that would eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
CO2 Fuel Cells
There’s gasoline, solar power, and wind power, and you’re likely familiar with all those. What about fuel cells, though? This is the energy source to watch in the coming decades, as it’s one of the cleanest ways to produce fuel. It has the potential to change the way we get around in cars, buses, and even transporting freight. They could even power buildings and communication towers.
What You Can Do Right Now
All the efforts that big business, governments, and innovators are doing to push new ideas and plans ahead to help curb emissions and halt climate change, or at least stall its effects are great. Is there anything you can do, though? Sure, there’s plenty!
Meatless Mondays, Wednesday, and Maybe Fridays?
The less meat you eat, the better off the environment will be. You may only be one person or one family, but if enough of us switch to protein alternatives, we can help reduce the emissions by creating less of a demand for meat. If we all ate one less burger per week, it could make a huge difference.
Maybe you’re already doing your part to live a green life, such as turning off lights when they’re not needed or making sure TVs, computers, and other appliances aren’t constantly running. You could also switch your lights to energy-efficient choices.
Reuse, Recycle, Reduce
Plastics are a big problem for the earth and its creatures, so why are you still using so much of it? Here are a few ideas for how you can reduce, recycle, and reuse:
- Buy metal straws (don’t use plastic ones)
- Get reusable bags for groceries
- Use containers for leftovers, rather than foil and plastic
- Recycle whatever you can
- Unsubscribe from catalog mailings
Conservation is a big thing and can apply to so many things. Using less energy is one way to conserve, and you can do it in many ways. For example, rather than driving your car every day to run errands, try to run them all on one day out of the week. Carpooling is another good way to conserve. Even just turning off your faucet while you brush your teeth is a form of conservation.
Be a Hipster
OK, this has nothing to do with adopting a new haircut, style of jeans, or having a perfectly groomed handlebar mustache that looks effortless, though, by the way. Buy local. Seriously, hipsters got this one right. Whether you’re spending money on food, souvenirs, or anything else, if it’s been locally produced, you’re helping to conserve energy, fuel, and you’re helping to preserve a local workforce. It’s all good.