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Environmental issues and human progress are intimately connected. The incredible progress from the Industrial Revolution gave humanity the best health, wealth and security in world history. It’s also caused irreparable damage to our natural environment. Each environmental issue is connected. Below are some of the most difficult environmental problems that need solutions.
Today emissions from coal plants, factories, forest fires, and cars that run on fossil fuels cause air pollution. 4.2 million people die from outdoor air pollution each year, mostly from pre-existing conditions like lung and heart disease according to the UN. About 70,000 people die prematurely in the United States from outdoor air pollution. 4 in 10 Americans live in places with unhealthy air according to the American Lung Association.
The Society for the Protection of Birds was one of the first environmental protection agencies. Emily Williamson started the organization in 1889 in response to birds being killed for their feathers and used as decoration in women’s hats. Since then writers, environmentalists, and non-profits have worked to protect animals from human cruelty. Today entrepreneurs are working on ways to give us the taste of meat minus the cruelty.
Biodiversity loss is the extinction and reduction of plant and animal species. Extreme weather, pesticides, and pollution cause desertification and land degradation, which leads to biodiversity loss.
Deforestation happens when forests are cut down to make space for growing food, raising cattle and building roads and cities. Deforestation leads to habitat and biodiversity loss. Trees hold carbon dioxide, and when they are cut down, the carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere contributing to climate change.
Climate change is caused by the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and methane block heat from leaving the atmosphere. When these gases are trapped they cause the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect keeps warm air trapped inside the earth’s atmosphere. Global warming is responsible for changes in weather patterns such as warmer summers, shorter winters, and extreme weather. Fossil fuels used for electricity and
About one billion people in developing countries still live without access to modern energy. Modern energy allows children greater access to an education and their families have better health and more financial opportunities. Every day for the last 24 years 262,600 people have gotten access to electricity according to Our World In Data. This is huge progress for humanity. Now we just need to get everyone on low carbon and renewable energy.
Coal, oil and natural gas formed from fossilized prehistoric plants and animals. Over the last two decades, three-quarters of emissions were caused by fossil fuels. Today 80% of energy in the US comes from fossil fuels, 11% from renewable energy and 9% nuclear energy.
In 2012 the United Nations Population Fund declared that access to family planning (contraception) is a human right. However, there are still over 200 million women who want birth control but cannot access it. About 800 women die each day in childbirth around the world. Family planning services could have saved most of these moms.
Families who expect their children to survive childhood are less likely to have more than two children, and they are better able to educate and nourish the children they have. A combination of family planning, equal access to education and financing are considered essential to sustainability initiatives according to the Global Goals.
Hunger and food insecurity
“Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45 percent) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year,” according to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.”
Hunger and food insecurity may increase with global warming.
Trees, soil, metals, fresh water and even fossil fuels are finite natural resources. Wasting natural resources damages the environment and economy. Today we have a linear economy that takes, makes and then wastes resources that eventually end up in landfills and the ocean. Finite resources can be managed more effectively in a circular economy. A circular economy uses waste to create new things rather than garbage.
Pesticides and chemicals
Rachel Carson, who wrote Silver Spring, is considered the mother of today’s environmental movement. It explained the health effects of the insecticide DDT on people and the environment. The book and resulting outrage led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Over a billion pounds of pesticide are used in the US each year. Natural and synthetic pesticides are used to protect crops against insects and weeds. However, pesticides may be harmful to children and farm workers chronically exposed to them.
In 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire from the toxic waste and oil spilled from industry. It wasn’t the first time it had happened, but it got a lot of attention from the media. Since then the general public has been aware of the hazards of industrial waste from factories. Today, pesticides and chemicals from agriculture, mines, fabric dyes, and oil refineries still pollute our water.
We are now in the Anthropocene era as human influence is the primary driver of the natural environment. Today there are soon to be eight billion people on earth compared to about one billion people at the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Population growth puts a strain on the environment as more land needs to be used for agriculture to grow food. Natural resources are strained to build homes and make consumer products for a growing middle class.
Food, water, and shelter are still the main concern for people living on about $1 per day. They need access to electricity, education, vaccines, birth control, proper sanitation, clean water, and healthy food. Poverty is connected to environmental issues through gender inequality, untreated sewage in water and burning bio-fuels like trees for heat and cooking.
Water pollution comes from agricultural runoff, oil and gas leaks from cars and factories, oil spills, raw sewage, and plastic pollution.
“Every year, more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war,” according to the United Nations. “The most significant sources of water pollution are lack of inadequate treatment of human wastes and inadequately managed and treated industrial and agricultural wastes.” These problems are common in countries where people live on less than $1 per day.
Plastic was invented in 1907 but did not become an integral part of our lives until the 1980s.
“In the early 2000s, our output of plastic waste rose more in a single decade than it had in the previous 40 years,” according to UN Environment. “If current trends continue, by 2050 the plastic industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption.”
Oil, natural gas, and coal are the main ingredient in most plastic. Plastic is in everything from cell phones to yogurt container. When plastic litter makes its way into rivers and oceans birds and marine life may eat it or get entangled in it. Micro-plastics make their way into our food supply when fish accidentally eat them.
The solution to environmental problems
One hundred years ago I doubt many people imagined the progress humanity has seen, or the environmental destruction. Today, we have the opportunity to create a world where people and planet thrive together. Support green innovation, nature conservation and take basic steps to prevent waste to minimize damage.