It is no news that our planet is struggling with many environmental issues. We have all heard about global warming, climate change, deforestation, and so on. But do we also know what these issues entail? In order to be able to tackle a threat, you first have to get to know it better. That is why we’ve decided to create this guide to the Earth’s most severe environmental issues. We are going to find out what they are, what is causing them, and how they affect our planet. Let’s get to it!
Severe Environmental Issues
You’ve probably already heard of global warming, as it is one of the most serious environmental issues facing our planet. Global warming is the increase in temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere, surface, and oceans. It is why our climate is changing so much. Scientists already have grim predictions in what concerns the rise in temperature in the future.
Human activities are what mainly cause global warming. And here is how this works. Human activities such as burning fuel release a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is what is called a greenhouse gas, which means that it captures energy and heat from the Sun, and keeps it in the atmosphere, heating up the surface of the Earth more than normal.
Deforestation also contributes to such environmental issues, as trees normally capture part of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. But as we are cutting many trees nowadays, the excess carbon dioxide lingers in the air.
Scientists have provided us with a lot of proof that global warming is something we should fear and try to prevent. Some of the most well-known clues that let us know the Earth is struggling with this environmental issue are:
- Increased Earth temperature.
- Rising sea levels.
- Warming up of oceans.
- Melting of ice sheets and snow covers.
- Retreating of glaciers.
- Extreme weather.
We are facing varied, yet equally scary consequences due to global warming. We are looking first of all at intense heat waves, followed by droughts. Because the temperature is increasing so much, heat waves will become more frequent, they will last longer, and be more intense. As a consequence, the soil will lose moisture, which will lead to droughts.
Extreme droughts and high temperatures can also lead to more wildfires. Since the trees will be extremely dry and store a lot of heat, the environment is perfect for the spread of wildfires. At the same time, precipitations will also increase in other areas, with heavier downpours than usually. Those areas risk to get flooded more often and lose settlements and even human lives.
Weather events are also changing due to global warming. They become more intense and frequent, and more extreme events such as hurricanes start to become common. On top of that, global warming will also affect our health, since heat waves can lead to heat strokes and exhaustion. The carbon dioxide which causes global warming also pollutes the air, which pollutes our bodies as well. Allergy seasons will last longer, and we also face the threat of a spread in insect-borne diseases.
Deforestation is somehow linked to global warming, but it is also one of the most troublesome environmental issues facing our planet by itself. It happens when people remove entire forests or strands of trees in order to clear up the land, to use it for other purposes. Such purposes include the building of new apartment buildings or farms.
Here are some of the most common causes of deforestation:
- Planting crops on that land.
- Harvesting timber to use for furniture, paper, etc.
- Using the trees as fuel.
- Urbanizing the area.
- Building cattle ranches.
- Obtaining palm tree oil and selling it.
- Using the land for coal or oil mining.
As we have stated above, one of the most severe effects of cutting down trees is that this contributes to global warming. This happens because the lack of trees means that there is nothing that can absorb some of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Deforestation can also lead to wildlife extinction. There are millions of animals whose habitat is a tree. If we cut down said tree, the animal faces endangerment, and even extinction. But animals are not the only ones who have to suffer because of environmental issues such as deforestation. Water sources can be polluted with silt from soil erosion. If humans consume that water daily, they severely endanger their health.
The other two effects of deforestation are soil erosion in some parts of the world, and floods in others. Some areas are facing soil erosion because the soil has nothing to protect it from the heat of the Sun anymore. This is why all the moisture disappears, and the soil dries out. While soil erosion is a concern in some parts of the world, other face the opposite problem: floods. Again, the lack of trees proves to be devastating. The tree’s roots used to absorb a lot of the water coming from a heavy downpour, which is not such a common occurrence nowadays.
Pollution can be of many types, and this is what puts it at the top of the list of environmental issues facing our planet. It is defined as a contamination of the natural environment, that radically changes it. It can happen to land, water, air, light, noise, etc. However, the most well-known types of pollution are land, water, and air, and these are the ones we are going to be looking at today.
To pollute the land means to destruct or degrade its surface, either directly or indirectly. Usually, this pollution is due to different human activities, and it makes the land unfit to use it as a building place, agricultural area, and so on.
- Agriculture: There is nothing fundamentally wrong with agriculture, but when farmers use toxic fertilizers, pesticides, and other such chemicals, they can contaminate the soil easily.
- Industrialization: We produce a lot of goods daily. But these goods also produce a lot of waste. As industries are developing, we are cutting down more forests, discovering new types of chemicals and fertilizers, and poisoning the soil.
- Mining: In order to create mines, people have to dig up land. Unfortunately, a lot of the times, land caves in an attempt to fill up the spaces created by mining.
- Deforestation: The land that remains barren after deforestation will never be fertile again.
- Landfills: We see landfills in every city, and the garbage that humans cannot recycle causes land pollution.
- Urbanization: This process leaves behind metal, wood, and plastic pieces that also add to the pollution of the land.
One of the most severe effects of land pollution is how it can affect human health. If the land is full of chemicals, pesticides, and so on, they can also easily be transmitted to us through food that has been grown on that soil. This can lead to all sorts of diseases, from respiratory issues to skin cancer. Animals also suffer tremendously because of land pollution. They have lost their natural habitat in search of a place that is not polluted. As a result, many of them died, leading to entire species being extinct.
Some other effects of land pollution are changes in the climate pattern, which can lead to loss of ecosystems. This disturbes the rain cycles as well. Moreover, land pollution can lead to air pollution when people burn the unrecycled garbage.
Air pollution is the contamination of air caused by a chemical, biological, or a physical alteration of the air we breathe. This type of pollution can be visible or invisible. But let’s see some of the causes of air pollution:
- Burning fossil fuels: This emits sulfur dioxide, which together with carbon monoxide coming from vehicles, are the two most dangerous gases polluting the air nowadays.
- Agriculture: Some farmers use ammonia which is a harmful gas that pollutes the air. Moreover, pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture have the same effect.
- Mining: This releases dust and chemicals into the air.
- Factories: They release chemicals, organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons.
- Household products: Cleaning products, painting supplies, and so on, can also contribute to air pollution.
The effects of air pollution are once more most severe when it comes to our health. It is no wonder that air pollution can lead to respiratory issues. But it can also lead to heart problems. All these harmful gases released into the atmosphere can lead to acid rain. Combining water with pollutants makes the water become acidic, which can hurt people, animals, and land.
Air pollution also forces the animals to change their habitat, and the Ozone layer that usually protects people from the ultraviolet (UV) rays is getting depleted because of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere. This means that harmful UV rays can affect us more than usual, causing skin and eye problems.
Water pollution affects humans, wildlife, and marine ecosystems, and it is one of the most well-known types of pollution that our Earth faces. Here are some of its causes:
- Dumping waste in the Earth’s oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes. Any type of solid waste that people throw into the water heavily pollutes it.
- Factories contaminate water with industrial waste and pollutants such as lead or mercury.
- Sewage coming from houses, factories, and buildings.
- Oil spills coming from travel ships and tankers.
- Acid rain which mixes with the water in our oceans, rivers, and so on.
Now that we are fully aware of the causes of water pollution, let’s see what are its most devastating effects. First of all, pesticides in the water can severely damage the ecosystem, which can lead to species having reproductive issues. Fertilizers and sewage thrown into the water cause the algae to grow faster, which blocks oxygen for wildlife. Even solid waste that humans throw into the water can affect animals, as many of them get caught in the waste and die. Oil spills are another threat for animals. When they ingest it, they instantly die.
Water pollution can also affect humans. If you drink contaminated water or you swim in it, you risk developing rashes and other more severe health problems, such as cancer or typhoid fever. Moreover, if chemicals such as lead or mercury poison fish, and people catch them and eat them, they will also risk getting poisoned.
Since we have already mentioned oil spills when discussing water pollution, we though a more in-depth look at this environmental issue would prove useful. An oil spill is a release of liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into marine areas, which pollutes the water and has many negative outcomes.
- Oil tankers: When oil tankers have issues, they sometimes might get stuck on shallow land. When you try to move such tanker, you might make a hole in it. This will release oil into the water and pollute it.
- Water vehicles: They can leak fuel which will affect the quality of the water.
- Drilling activities in the sea: They require oil and petroleum, which humans later release into the water.
- Activities on land: Such activities that require oil and petroleum can affect the water even if they are conducted on land. Water can later wash off the substances.
Oil spills severely affect the fauna in the sea. For instance, sea birds covered in oil are unable to fly. The oil is also poisonous and it can ultimately kill them. Oil covered plants in the sea are not able to photosynthesise. This will cause them to die, which in turn will affect animals as well.
Environmental Issues Summed up
The subject of environmental issues is unfortunately a truly lengthy one. Environmental issues are actively affecting our planet, and the more we know about them, the better prepared we are to face them. We hope that this crash course that we provided has enlightened you in what concerns the topic of environmental issues, and that it has also determined you to become more active in preventing further damage to our planet.