If we take the history of the Earth into perspective from a macro level, we can see that the environment has continuously changed over millennia. However, apart from natural evolution, the last 100 years has been devastatingly dangerous for the environment. Here, we will discuss the top 30 environmental concerns that need to be addressed.
Rapid industrialization, urbanization, and indiscriminate use of natural resources without giving much thought to conservation have led to rapid depletion and degradation worldwide. This has led to an imbalance in climatic conditions and has severely endangered communities worldwide.
Over the last few decades, the exploitation of the Earth and the degradation of the environment have gone up at an alarming rate. Water scarcity has increased manifold with prolonged droughts in many parts of the world.
Storms, hurricanes, and tsunamis have occurred more frequently and with increased intensity. The snow on mountain ranges and ice caps have been melting at an alarming rate with the incremental increase of the atmospheric temperature.
Many national and international policies, plans, and regulations have been formed to tackle these environmental concerns. It is high time for the international community to look beyond immediate national profits and come together as a race to de-escalate this alarming abuse of water, air, forests, and other naturally-curing resources.
Here are 30 of the most critical environmental concerns to keep an eye on today.
Climate change is the pattern of change in the weather condition that includes changes in oceans, icescapes, and land surfaces occurring over time scales of decades or longer. The Earth’s average temperature is about 15-degree Celcius, but the temperature has been much higher and lower in the past few decades.
Two significant factors influence change in the climate. The first one being the natural processes such as volcanic eruption, sun’s radiation, and another is the result of human activities such as overpopulation, pollution, etc.
These phenomena include the increased temperature trends but also encompass changes such as sea-level rise, ice mass loss in Greenland and the Arctics, mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower/plant blooming; and extreme weather events.
According to the World Health Organization, carbon dioxide has increased by more than 30% since pre-industrial times, increasing heat in the lower atmosphere. This global climate change results in a range of risks to health from deaths in extremely high temperatures to the development of infectious diseases.
Air pollution takes a massive number of years to recover. Industry and vehicles create harmful toxins that significantly affect air quality and, subsequently, human health. Substantial metals, carbon emission, sulfuric oxide, nitrates, and plastic-based pollution that are remnants of our lifestyle choices are the biggest detriments to cleaner, healthier air.
As we rapidly industrialize and try to bring the world population that has been untouched by the industrial revolution, we need to keep a vigilant eye for the harm that we are being curated collectively. This is especially important when It is estimated that 9 out of 10 people are breathing air that has a high level of pollutants and when air pollution is one of the top five-factors for leading mortality risks worldwide.
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Water pollution and access to water are some of the major environmental issues that need to be addressed. Ocean dumping, acid rain, wastewater, acidification, etc. are some of the major factors contributing to this. Waste from agriculture and industrial activities pollute the water used by humans, animals, and plants.
On a global scale, about 2 million tons of agricultural, industrial waste, and sewage are dumped in our water resources every day. This, as a result, causes unimaginable harm to marine life, human health, and reproductive cycles.
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Overpopulation and urbanization have increased the level of deforestation worldwide. Forests create fresh oxygen, save wildlife animals, and play a significant role in managing temperature and balancing the ecosystem. Current estimates state that the timberlands cover 30% of the area, but wooded areas are being lost regularly because people are looking for homes, food, and materials.
One of the largest sufferers is the Amazon Rainforest, where large tracts of forest land are disappearing daily. Deforestation is a huge problem and will continue to get worse. Furthermore, 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are produced from deforestation. By 2030, the Earth is estimated to have only 10 percent of the rainforests. The rest is assumed to be cut down for agricultural uses, wood, or wood pulp products.
Overpopulation is one of the most critical factors contributing to alarming environmental degradation. Right now, more than eight billion people inhabit the planet, and this number is expected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100. An increasing population leads to alarming resource depletion and generation of non-recyclable waste. Not only this, but the growing population also increases competition for finite fuel, water, and food.
Loss of Biodiversity
According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), biodiversity has declined by 27 percent in the last three decades. Overexploitation of resources and increased agriculture, both recognized as the indicators of growing human pollution, have contributed majorly to this loss. This relentless exploitation and extraction have led to climate change and resulting in a decrease of species, flora fauna, negatively impacting the Earth’s ecosystem.
This may have far-reaching impacts in disrupting the food chain in our oceans and forests, which can induce more loss of natural life and plantation. There is an urgent need to reverse this trend and figure out how we fuel our growing needs before many of the Earth’s native species are wiped out.
As the middle class continues to burgeon across the world, the rapid increase in resource-intensive and waste-rich communities spring in numbers, especially in the developing countries. The public waste infrastructure is often poor in these countries and cannot continue to keep pace with the millions of tons of untreated waste that is being regularly dumped into our freshwater sources and oceans.
The mammoth landfills where waste segregation is often done become a stockpile of hazardous waste. Burning or mere piling of such emits harmful gases into the atmosphere that pollute the atmosphere. On average, a person generates 4.6 pounds of trash per day and this trend is not showing any signs of slowing down. Unmanaged waste disposal poses one of the biggest threats to the Earth.
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Land Management & Urban Sprawl
As more communities flourish into unplanned cities, giving rise to urban-centric migration from nearly-depleted village communities, the Earth faces another looming crisis: the problem of unmanaged land development and chaotic urban settlements. Such development comes at the cost of deteriorating public management systems – waste, water, accommodation – and places huge imbalanced pressure on infrastructure.
This results in more massive city slums that often have low or no infrastructure in place, contributing to public health and safety problems and unmanaged waste disposal, threatening the core structure around which initial city plans were made. Often the rapid increase outpaces planning and development, and the cost to human and environmental capital is immense.
One of the more direct impacts of this is seen in the rapid depletion of water levels. This spirals into health and sanitation issues for cities that are often too poorly equipped to handle such.
Overgrazing, unsustainable agriculture, and urbanization have contributed to the decrease in soil quality across the world. Scientific studies predict that most of our arable, fertile soil could disappear in the next 60 years if current trends continue. According to a United Nations report, about 12 million hectares of farmland a year get severely degraded.
The effect of soil degradation has gone beyond the loss of fertile land. Our natural food source, from where we derive crops, fruits, vegetables, and on which most of our domesticated animals depend for food, is worth caring and preserving.
Major disruption to the quality of the soil may lead to deforestation, change in microorganisms that form the very first strands of the natural evolutionary cycle, and food chains. More needs to be done urgently to reduce resource extraction for fueling our industries and ever-growing needs.
The constant shifting of the Earth’s plates that has been happening since the Earth was formed is a process that has resulted in many global events of disaster, in the form of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Major storms, hurricanes, and huge tsunamis that have devastated vast tracts of the Earth have also contributed to the loss of life and vegetation.
These geological processes have continued across millions of years. But in more recent history, unmanaged human activity has contributed to disrupting and magnifying the natural calamities. As we continue to exploit the Earth’s natural resources, our land and oceans are affecting weather patterns in a very different manner.
This has led to untimely droughts or rains, leading to major disruption of natural cycles. Although we cannot prevent the natural cycle of the Earth, we can definitely contribute to a better environment.
The atmospheric shield protects the Earth 24X7. Sitting at the Earth’s stratosphere, 15-30 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, the ozone layer is one of the best friends that we have. This layer prevents the harmful UV rays from the sun to be filtered out.
Ozone depletion, or the gradual thinning of the Earth’s ozone layer in the upper atmosphere due to the release of chemical compounds that contain harmful gases produced from industries and other human activities, can lead to severe problems for flora and fauna, natural vegetation, and severely endangering human life by contributing to many illnesses, primarily cancer of the skin.
Although there have been sporadic efforts to ban the use of the very harmful CFC that was omnipresent in some of our machines of daily use, the larger goal is to curb Greenhouse gases. Global transport systems contribute to ozone layer depletion, and more needs to be done to restore and protect this atmospheric layer.
An unconstrained nuclear reaction can result in widespread contamination in air and water beside the loss of human life. Though nuclear reactors do not generate air pollution or carbon dioxide while operating, radioactive waste is the major environmental concern that needs to be addressed.
The radioactive waste is extremely toxic as it remains for thousands of years. Moreover, it can have devastating effects on human health, causing different kinds of diseases such as cancer, skin allergy, and even damage to the immune system. Thus, radioactive waste is considered to be harmful to plants, animals, humans, and the surrounding atmosphere.
The interesting fact is that agriculture is the single largest producer of wastewater. The modern form of agriculture is responsible for the discharge of massive amounts of agrochemical pesticides, making the environment more pollutant.
Around 4.6 million tonnes of chemical pesticides are sprayed into the atmosphere every year worldwide. Some of the chemicals, when sprayed on the farm, do not disappear; in fact, it seeps into the ground and harms crops and plants. The modern form of agriculture has led to devastating impacts on the soil, rendering it useless in many parts of the world.
Littering and Landfills
Historically landfills have been the most common means of disposing of solid waste that is either buried or left in piles or heaps. Landfills are a common phenomenon around the world as waste from households, hospitals, schools and markets can amount to multiple tons in a single day, depending on the size of the catchment area, and find their way to such sites.
In many parts of the world, landfills are well managed and can be a part of a larger integrated waste management system. According to the United Nations (UN), a person dumps 2.12 million tons of waste every year. One of the larger community initiatives that can lead to better landfill management is to start waste segregation at the source, at homes and other public service systems.
Access to safe water is a problem that hits close to 800 million people around the world, and disproportionately affects women and girls since most often as they are the ones responsible for collecting water for the household. That is close to 260 million hours spent daily that could have been spent in education or caring for the family.
The water crisis alongside sanitation hits women and children the hardest and leads to infant mortality and new mothers. It may invite several effects such as hunger, poverty, conflicts, biodiversity loss, sanitation issues, and diseases. Many cities around the world face severe water scarcity like Cape Town, Chennai, California, and many others.
The water crisis is also a global economic crisis amounting to almost 260 billion dollars annually in lost education and work opportunities.
Acid rain is the result of the burning of coal and other fossil fuels that are directly released into the atmosphere. Harmful chemicals like sulfur and nitrogen that are emitted from waste get mixed with the atmospheric water and fall back onto the Earth as toxic acid rain. Directly or indirectly acidic rain affects aquatic animals, wildlife, plants, and trees.
Acid rain is a result of the presence of pollutants in the atmosphere. The more the acid introduced to the ecosystem, the more harmful substances will be released. Acid rain is an environmental problem that can have an adverse effect on human health and the ecosystem.
Public Health Issues
Environmental problems are the main factor that poses a lot of risk to the health of humans and animals. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 12.6 million deaths each year are attributable to unhealthy environments. This is nearly one in four of the total global deaths.
Several environmental risk factors contribute to more than 100 diseases such as air, water and soil pollution, climate change, chemical exposures, and ultraviolet radiation. Similarly, unsafe drinking water is another factor contributing to public health risks. Likewise, air pollution causes respiratory diseases like Asthma and cardiac-vascular problems and even lung cancer.
There is a combined responsibility on the part of governments to mandate policies that limit indiscriminate resource utilization and extraction. Similarly, a lot depends on how communities and individuals perceive their responsibilities to be in the environment as a resource consumer and waste generator. Once that realization seeps in responses will dramatically improve governance mechanisms.
Ocean acidification is an emerging global problem. It is expected that ocean acidification can directly or indirectly impact the ocean species. Around a third to a half of the CO2 released by human activities is absorbed into the oceans.
The ocean water is slightly basic in nature, and increasing ocean acidity is adversely affecting the delicate ecosystem that may affect the food chain, starting from coral reef formation to planktons. The ocean acidity has increased by the last 250 years, but by 2100, it may shoot up by 150%. The main impact is on aquatic animals and on human beings since we have a high degree of dependence on our seas and oceans.
Natural Resource Depletion
Although we have depended on natural resources for food and shelter throughout history, our resource-hungriness took a drastic turn at the dawn of the nineteenth century. In the face of rapid industrialization and catering to the growing needs of the world’s billions, nature was relegated to the background.
The use was so rapid that nature did not have time to replenish itself of the rich deposits that it had. The only way forward is to think of alternatives to fossil fuel and minerals that form the Earth as we know it. Globally, people are introducing many technologically advanced renewable sources of energy like wind, solar, hydro, biogas, and geothermal energy.
Excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, monoculture, and irrigation leads to loss of soil fertility and an increase in carbon emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Similarly, cattle rearing in industrial farming relies on antibiotics that pose a health risk for people.
WWF points out that in many parts of the world, cattle rearing causes overgrazing, forest destruction and degradation, and methane emissions. Every day more and more forest coverings and grasslands are being cleared to make way for agriculture and food production for the growing world population.
As these farmlands increase, we are eating into precious habitats of wildlife that have nowhere else to go. We are also destroying the balance of the ecosystem of the soil, and trees, and the atmosphere.
Our mineral-rich Earth has been the source of many products that we use in our daily lives. However, these resources are finite, and over-exploitation not only increases the time to replenish but also impacts soil quality and fertility, besides the harmful effects of mining.
Mining has negatively impacted natural forests and wildlife, harmed the living environment and human beings as well. It leads to the leaking of toxic pollutants and heavy metals that pollute water, land, and air. Acid mine drainage has also threatened water resources and, therefore, human and animal health.
Fishing and its Effect on Marine Ecosystems
Fishing has been practiced by us for thousands of years and is one of the more important sources of food for millions around the world. Fishing is also an important economic activity and communities around the world survive around fishing. However, the modern fishing methods such as blast fishing, cyanide fishing, bottom trawling, whaling, have contributed to a phenomenon known as overfishing, that is continuing to have a devastating impact on aquatic life. According to MNN (Mother Nature Network), there has been a decrease in populations of 36% of species, from sardines to baleen whales, due to over-harvesting.
Dams and their Impact on the Environment
The World Wide Fund (WWF) reports there are 48,000 dams in the world that were built to provide water for drinking and irrigation and energy. However, they led to habitat destruction, species loss, and displaced millions of people. Dams put a forced stop to the natural flow of rivers and streams and displace and possibly leads to the demise of species that are dependent on the water system for food and survival.
Besides, communities that have tilled the lands for generations are suddenly displaced and thrust into lives that are not used in urban settlements. Therefore, dams have a double impact on the environment and human life.
Loss of Tropical Rainforests
According to Mongabay, rain forests cover only 2% of the land but support 50% of its species. Yet among tropical forests, the area of rainforests cleared is the maximum, and most of it is export-driven. In 2019, summer fires ravaged the Brazilian Amazon and set the world ablaze with outcries.
According to the new University of Maryland and World Resources Institute (WRI) analysis, 2017 marked the world’s second-worst year of tropical deforestation, with 39.8 million acres of tropical forests lost. Every day, football-pitch sized tracts of forest area are being depleted in the Amazon rainforests in the name of clearing land for irrigation and exporting wood resources for making into consumables for people around the world.
Polar Ice Caps
The concern of the melting of polar ice caps is a contentious one. While National Aeronautics and Space (NASA) reports showing that the amount of ice in Antarctica is increasing, there is growing evidence that sea levels are rising, with the Arctic ice caps melting.
Sea level rise can have unimaginable impacts on low-lying island countries and cities and can lead to a large human exodus. Over time, this could lead to extensive flooding, contamination of drinking water, and dramatic changes in ecosystems.
An ever-growing population needs transportation, much of which is fueled by the natural resources that emit greenhouse gases, such as petroleum. In 2014, vehicles accounted for 26% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation also contributes to a range of other environmental issues, such as the destruction of natural habitats and an increase in air pollution.
Phys.org reported a 2019 study conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) that found diesel vehicles cause 47% of exhaust emissions death. Exhaust emissions deaths from diesel emissions in Italy, Germany, France, and India were 66%.
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Nanotechnology is a recent development that studies the extent to which commercial and industrial use of nanomaterials will affect the ecosystems and organisms. Nano pollution refers to all the waste matter that occurs during the manufacture or use of nanoscopic materials. Most of these waste ends up in landfills, mixed in the water sources, and exposed to the open air and soil.
Nanoparticles could pollute soil and groundwater and eventually get into the food chain, where they can be a health risk. However, the health risks they pose are unknown since research in this area has been deemed irresponsible and therefore unfeasible, according to the American Chemical Society.
Most of the toxic chemicals are used in industry, agriculture, laboratories, hospitals, and are generated from waste management systems, and even residential homes. They include chlorofluorocarbons, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, toxic waste, PCB, DDT, and many more.
These can also arise from poorly implemented hazardous waste management. The toxic can be solid, liquid, or gaseous and can pollute the air, water, and soil. When they enter the food chain, they pose a health risk, especially for children and elderly people.
Genetic Modification of Crops
Plants do not damage the environment simply because they are genetically modified. There are many claims and counterclaims that cloud this arena, and many of them are motivated by profit margins. The overuse of herbicides results in excessive eradication of wild plants from farmland, which directly harms the environment.
There is also research that genetically-modified plants may leak chemical compounds into the soil through their roots, possibly affecting communities of microorganisms. It could affect ecology, changes in soil quality, water quality, and loss of biodiversity. However, many crops that we consume on an everyday basis are the result of genetic modification of some sort.
Over-consumption affects the planet. Natural resources are finite and are getting destroyed from the high consumption patterns of an ever-increasing population that now have more purchasing power. And, consumerism is not an only purchase – but it also affects unseen facets of life where the product originates, through to the supply chain, and to the final purchase platform.
A 2017 scientific study says global supply chains are threatening species in many biodiversity hotspots. Moreover, 50-80% of resource use is dictated by household consumption, according to another 2015 study.
No doubt that human activities have created numerous environmental issues every year. From global warming to nano pollution, some of the major threats facing human and ecosystem existence pertain to the environment. It is important that we as consumers of natural resources be conscious of the effects that our consumption patterns can have on the environment.
This is critical for the well-being of the planet upon which we ultimately depend upon. It is time that we take actionable steps to ensure that the damage is controlled in the best way possible to ensure sustainable continuity of the planet and its ecosystems.
Table of Contents
- Climate Change
- Air Pollution
- Water Pollution
- Loss of Biodiversity
- Waste Disposal
- Land Management & Urban Sprawl
- Soil Degradation
- Natural Disasters
- Ozone Depletion
- Nuclear Issues
- Agricultural Pollution
- Littering and Landfills
- Water Crisis
- Acid Rain
- Public Health Issues
- Ocean Acidification
- Natural Resource Depletion
- Intensive Farming
- Fishing and its Effect on Marine Ecosystems
- Dams and their Impact on the Environment
- Loss of Tropical Rainforests
- Polar Ice Caps
- Nano Pollution/Nanotoxicology
- Genetic Modification of Crops