Although the top 10 environmental issues that face the planet can be at best “subjective”, we have attempted to aggregate and prioritize the list in order to put things into perspective.
Without a doubt, the biggest issue facing the environment is over population of humans. All other major environmental issues flow from the very fact that we are over populating the planet. The world’s population has tripled in the last 60 years, placing stress on every aspect of the environment. More land is developed every day to accommodate the urban spread. In 1950 the population stood at 2,555,982,611 compared to over 7,382,200,400 this 2015. The actual math is that the world’s population has increased by almost 3 times. That is staggering when you think about it. That figure is increasing even as we speak!
2. Climate Change
The most controversial and political of the top 10 environmental issues is climate change. Recently, an overwhelming majority of climate scientists believe that human activities are currently affecting the climate and that the tipping point has already been passed. In other words, it is too late to undo the damage that climate change has done to the environment. At this stage the best we can do is regulate the further impact upon the environment by developing more environmentally friendly methods of energy production by reducing the mining and burning of fossil fuels.
3. Loss of Biodiversity
The loss of biodiversity on the planet can be directly related to the behaviors of human beings. Humans have destroyed and continue to destroy the habitats of species on a daily basis. When we exterminate one species, it has a knock on effect in the food chain which in turn upsets the ecosystems interdependent on one another. The catastrophic impact of loss of biodiversity is likely to affect the planet for millions of years to come. The current loss of biodiversity is also being named “The Sixth Extinction”.
4. Phosphorous and Nitrogen Cycles
Although the effect of human activities on the carbon cycle is better known, the lesser known effect on the cycle of Nitrogen actually has a greater impact on the environment. The human race’s use and abuse of nitrogen has been one of the most beneficial technologies for our own species for decades. Every year, humans convert an estimated 120 million tons of nitrogen from the atmosphere into reactive forms such as nitrates, mainly in the production of nitrogen-based fertilizer for crops and in the use of food additives. The run off from crops into our oceans has a negative effect upon phytoplankton which is responsible for the production of most of the oxygen in our air.
5. Water Supply
Many experts believe that in the near future water will become a commodity just like gold and oil. Some experts’ say that wars will be fought over who owns the water supply. Currently, one third of humans have inadequate access to clean, fresh water. The number is expected to increase by to up to two thirds by 2050. That is, that two thirds of the world’s population will not have access to clean water! Over population, demand and pollution from industry is to blame.
6. Ocean Acidification
This is a direct effect of excessive CO2 production. The oceans absorb as much as 25% of all human carbon dioxide emissions. The gas then combines with other elements to form compounds such as carbolic acid. Over the last 250 years, surface acidity of the ocean has increased by an estimated 30%. The acidity is expected to increase by 150% by year 2100. The effect of over acidification of the oceans on sea creatures such as shellfish and plankton is similar to osteoporosis in humans. The acid is effectively dissolving the skeletons of the creatures. The effect of ocean acidification may soon challenge marine life on a scale that the planet has not seen for millions of years.
Pollution of air, water and soil by chemical compounds take many years to break down. Most of these chemicals are the bi-products of our modern lifestyle, and are created by industry and motor vehicle exhaust. Pollution isn’t just limited to the air. Soil is another place where pollution is starting to take hold. Common toxic substances include heavy metals, nitrates and plastic. A lot of the plastics that are discarded by humans end up in the ocean. These plastics tend to go unseen by humans, as the pollution is usually blown out to sea by prevailing winds.
8. Ozone Layer Depletion
Depletion of our ozone layer has been mainly attributed to the release of chemical pollution containing the chemicals Chlorine and Bromide. Once the chemicals reach the upper atmosphere, they cause ozone molecules to break apart causing a hole to form, the largest of which is over the Antarctic. The atmosphere blocks many of the harmful UV rays from the sun that can damage living tissue. In an effort to reduce this process, CFCs have been banned in many manufacturing processes and products. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one atom of chlorine can break down more than 100, 000 ozone molecules.
It is estimated that by 2050 there will be no fish left in the sea. The extinction of many fish species is due to humans over fishing the oceans to supply an ever increasing population’s demand for seafood. The collapse of the Atlantic Cod Fishery is one such example of how humans have exploited the planet’s natural resources to the brink of extinction.
Since 1990, half of the world’s rain forests have been destroyed. The clearing of forests continue at an alarming rate. To add to the worry, a recent phenomenon has been added to the list. Trees are now dying globally at a rate never before seen.
Let’s do our part today rather than tomorrow, otherwise, we will almost certainly face an environmental meltdown.