The global environment is currently facing a variety of serious issues. The effects of climate change are being felt on every continent and in many diverse ecosystems. More than half the world’s population lives in areas that don’t meet their water needs, while more than a third live in places where air quality levels exceed international limits. Environmental groups, businesses, and governments worldwide are working to combat these issues, but there is a long way to go before these problems can be fixed. Here are 10 of the biggest environmental concerns facing the globe today.
- Over Population
A “peak population” is an issue that has been discussed in many forms, but one of the most prominent is the number of people that Earth can sustain. The United Nations estimates that the human population will grow to 9 billion by 2050, when there will be more people than ever before on Earth. Global birthrates are on the decline, but even though living standards are improving in many areas, modern infrastructure and industrialization are not keeping pace with a growing global population. This leads to more rapid resource exploitation on a regional and international scale.
- Climate Change
Nature is a powerful and essential force on the planet. It shapes the lives of billions of people by controlling our weather patterns in the same way that human governments control the economy. A global climate change will not only affect the natural world but also impact agricultural yields, coastal flooding, water supplies, and fisheries. Climate change could also mean mass migration is necessary as global temperatures rise. With the smoke and haze of wildfires blanketing large parts of the Western United States and Eastern Canada this summer, the need to battle climate change is more important than ever.
Air Pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, and noise pollution are all adverse forms of human activity that affect our planet daily. Industrialization has been a boon for humanity, but it has also taken its toll on the natural world. In addition to the pollution the original production causes, the manufacturing process has led to a massive amount of toxic waste. These chemicals are leaking into our groundwater, soil, and surface water. The thought of wasted money is even less appealing, considering that it could be used to clean up toxic waste sites.
Forests have been cut down for centuries to provide wood for heating and cooking, building materials, and fuel for transportation. Approximately 40 percent of our annual forest loss is caused by logging, fire, and other disturbances. Of the 16 million acres that were lost in 2012, there were more than 1.67 million acres that had been harvested for timber. Insects and disease cleared another 2.88 million acres. These factors led to a net loss of 3.86 million acres of tropical forests in one year alone.
- Loss of Biodiversity
Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on earth, including everything from lichen to lions. Since life began in the ocean, there have been more microorganisms than any other life on earth. The combination of microorganisms and plants makes up the plant kingdom, which makes up 80 percent of all living things on our planet. Animals make up just 15 percent, while fungi and protists combine to make up only three percent. The rest of life on Earth is made up of humans, which means we are a small part of the equation.
- Over Fishing
Over fishing is the opposite of overpopulation. Since our seafood demand is growing yearly, we are relying on fish to meet our food supply. The problem with fishing is that as more and more fish are caught; it takes longer to detect a given volume of food. Overfishing is more than just a problem regarding having enough fish to eat. The world’s fisheries are also vital to the ecological health of the oceans by regulating predator and prey populations.
- Phosphorous and Nitrogen Cycles
Phosphorous and nitrogen are vital components of life. They are essential for producing proteins, DNA, and other important proteins. These nutrients are cycled through various living organisms and eventually become part of dead plant matter. Although synthetic fertilizers replenish phosphorous and nitrogen to a certain degree, when they aren’t used properly by crops or absorbed into the soil by microbes, they run off into rivers and lakes, where they cause eutrophication. This overabundance of nutrients leads to excessive algae growth in shallow coastal and inland waters.
- Ocean Acidification
Oceans act as the buffer for the atmosphere. When trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the surface, it keeps growing. This is beneficial since it absorbs heat from the sun. However, when these plants die and decompose, they are no longer able to absorb more carbon dioxide, which makes its way into the ocean, where it reacts with any carbon dioxide that is already there. It responds similarly to baking soda, and its basic state will dissolve into a weaker acid. This phenomenon is known as ocean acidification. Nitrogen in the atmosphere reacts with carbon dioxide and forms a nitrous oxide much more potent than carbon dioxide. This is another reason we should be cutting back on our carbon dioxide emissions.
- Water Supply
The world’s population is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2050. With more people and more of them consuming aquifers for drinking water, this will put even more pressure on water supplies around the world. The United Nations estimates that the number of people living in water-stressed countries will increase from 50 percent to 75 percent in the coming decades. In the United States, about 42 percent of the population is under severe stress regarding access to safe and affordable drinking water.
- Ozone Layer Depletion
Ozone is one of the three naturally occurring layers in the atmosphere. Ozone is a molecule consisting of three oxygen atoms, and it is present in trace amounts throughout the earth’s atmosphere. It acts as a beneficial filter for harmful UV rays from the sun. When this ozone layer becomes depleted, it can cause various side effects that adversely affect human health, agriculture, fisheries, and more.
Once again, we are seeing the destructive effects of human activity at an alarming rate. There is no doubt that modern technology has improved human life, but it also exposes humans to various harmful side effects. For example, the world’s oceans are being over fished and acidified at an alarming rate. The same can be said for our atmosphere. We must be careful to use technology in a way that does not damage our environment, which requires understanding the harmful effects of these technologies on our planet.