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Plastic pollution is rampant in oceans

19 Major Environmental Concerns of our World Today

By David Okul

The world faces various environmental concerns that threaten our very existence on the planet. Most of the issues arise from our unsustainable use of natural resources. We have compiled a list of 19 problems that we think should concern any human.

Table of Contents

1. Climate Change is making earth less inhabitable.

The effects of climate change arise from human-induced global warming. Scientists explain that climate change is already affecting the planet as we are experiencing the warmest recorded years. Climate change is also affecting the earth in:

  • Unpredictable and extreme weather patterns such as prolonged and irregular droughts and heatwaves. The ice in the polar regions is also melting, leading to sea-level rise.
  • Spread of diseases as a warmer climate causes the formation of ground-level ozone that irritates the lungs and causes asthma. Also, warmer freshwater makes it easier for disease-causing bacteria to grow.
  • Reduced agricultural production because of unpredictable weather
  • The risk to transportation and infrastructure

As a significant environmental concern, climate change will have unprecedented implications on where humans will settle, build cities, and grow food.

2. Waste pollution is a major environmental concern of our times

Waste pollution is a primary environmental concern that causes severe health and environmental problems.  The average human being produces an estimated 4.5 pounds (2 kilograms) of waste daily. Although some of the disposed waste can rot, not all waste is susceptible to rotting.  Some of the trash disposed of in landfills generates vast amounts of methane. Methane gas is not only explosive but also contributes to carbon emissions. 

Another problem with waste pollution is plastics. While plastics may be convenient for our daily lives, they have a devastating impact on the environment. Since the 1950s, industries have produced over 8.3 billion tons of plastic. And 60% of that plastic is in landfills since plastic takes approximately a thousand years to disintegrate-nobody knows. It is truly the bad boy of pollution as most of it ends up in our oceans, killing fishes and other organisms there. 

3. Deforestation has impacts on species and climate

Deforestation involves permanent eradication of forest cover and the process of eradicating natural forests for infrastructure, agriculture, and other uses. Deforestation contributes to various major environmental concerns, including:

  • Loss of habitat, which in return leads to loss of animal and plant species (biodiversity loss).
  • The rise in greenhouse gases causing global warming and climate change
  • Cause of flooding and soil erosion
  • Not to mention its role in the destruction of homelands for the indigenous people.

We should not only work at saving the significant forests of the world but also smaller and lesser-known forests and trees.

deforestation is a major global concern
The demand for wood products mean that huge areas of deforestation occur daily (Image by Robert Jones from Pixabay)

4. Urbanization presents a unique threat to animals and plants.

Urbanization has significant impacts on both animals and humans. About two-thirds of the global population is expected to live in cities by 2050. In comparison, only 2% of the population lived in urban areas in 1800.  The availability of jobs is among the factors luring people to cities. Massive urban growth has various environmental concerns, such as:

  • Water, air, noise and other pollution which have serious implications for human health.
  • Automobile exhaust in cities leads to increased levels of lead in urban air.
  • Huge volumes of waste in cities lead to myriads of health hazards.
  • Biodiversity loss

5. Overpopulation is probably the root cause of environmental issues.

As technology improves, overpopulation remains a pressing environmental issue with adverse impacts on human life and the environment. Overpopulation gradually aggravates the causes of global warming, habitat loss, and environmental pollution. More people in the earth lead to the overconsumption of natural resources, including fossil fuels, freshwater, and arable land.

6. Overfishing threatens marine ecosystems.

The growing population needs food, and fish is a significant source of protein in the world. Fishing is inherently not bad, but the problem arises when more fish than stocks can replenish.

Overfishing attributed to commercial fishing and a massive demand for feeding people. Overfishing is the leading driver of the plummeting marine wildlife populations.  The adverse impacts associated with overfishing exceed the marine environment.

Many of the problems of overfishing arise from increased capacities, illegal fishing, and subsidies. It encourages the harvesting of endangered marine species, not to mention the adverse effects on marine diversity.

7. Modern agriculture is a pertinent environmental concern.

A more significant portion of the world’s food supply is from agriculture. Farming is vital in poverty eradication and feeding the ever-growing human population. Regardless, there is a high ecological cost of the practice.

Agricultural activities have negative environmental impacts, including soil degradation and pollution.  Agriculture is also linked with multiple ecological issues such as climate change, dead zones, deforestation, irrigation problems, waste, and dead zones. In the course of providing the planet with food, agriculture puts a considerable strain on the environment. For example, it is the world’s largest user of freshwater. Additionally, it remains responsible for most human encroachment on natural forests and grasslands.

8. Water pollution is closer than you think.

The principal causes of water pollution include industrial waste, oil leakages, plastic waste, and sewage.  Water pollution drowns rivers, seas, lakes, and reservoirs with chemicals, plastic waste, and other pollutants.

The widespread environmental problem caused by water pollution jeopardizes human and ecological health.  Unsafe water kills more people per year than war.  Chemical and toxic waste gets into the waterways due to water pollution, causing illnesses and poisoning marine life.

Do not be fooled that water pollution does not affect you. In America, analyzed tap water contained significant amounts of contaminants ranging from arsenic to lead to nitrites.

9. Acid rain has impacts on biodiversity and the soil

The release of chemical compounds such as nitrogen and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere causes acid rain. It is prevalent in highly industrialized countries where production and consumption are high.

While flowing through the soil, acid rain leaches aluminum from soil particles, eventually directing the aluminum into lakes, streams, and oceans. 

The adverse effects of acid rain are apparent in aquatic environments like lakes, streams, and marshes. In such situations, acid rain is harmful to marine life and other forms of wildlife. At PH of 5 or lower, most fish are unable to breed, and species may be lost as water acidifies.

Dead or dying plants, including trees, are a common sight in areas with acid rain.

10. The potential threat of ozone layer depletion

The ozone layer occurs in the earth’s stratosphere. It has the significant role of preventing ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the earth’s surface. However, some chemicals containing gaseous chlorine or bromine cause the thinning of the layer. Scientists have identified over 100 ozone-depleting substances (ODS) used by humans in their industry. 

Ozone layer depletion is a critical environmental concern since it increases UV radiation on the earth’s surface. The more the amount of UV radiation that hits the earth’s surface, the higher the risk of world populations getting skin cancer, immune system damage, and eye cataracts. The impact of UV radiation on ozone layer depletion affects human life, plants, air quality, and animal species.  Epidemiological and laboratory studies show that ozone layer depletion causes malignant melanoma development and non-melanoma skin cancer.

The good news is that the Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987, has significantly reduced the ozone layer depletion rate. The Montreal Protocol has successfully removed over 98% of ozone-depleting substances (ODS). This achievement makes it among the most successful multilateral environmental agreements.

Despite the good news, the thinning of the ozone layer is still significant in the polar region. That is why we have put ozone layer depletion as a concern because of its potential negative impacts

11. Air pollution has devastating impacts on health.

Air Pollution is rated as the most substantial environmental health concern in the world. It causes and exacerbates myriads of ailments ranging from cancer to asthma, not to mention heart disease and pulmonary illnesses. Moreover, particulate matter and outdoor air pollution have been termed as carcinogenic to both humans and animals. 

In industrialized nations of Europe and Asia, 90% of the population is exposed directly to air pollution. Apart from affecting animal lives and human health, air pollution impacts the human-made environment and natural ecosystems adversely.

Air pollution from tire wear is getting little attention. Regardless, air pollution from tire wear is 1000 times more harmful than what gets out of the exhaust.

Greenhouse gases also arise from air pollution. The gases trap earth’s heat in the atmosphere leading to global warming and climate change.

12. Reducing biodiversity is bad for livelihoods and health.

The planet has been experiencing reduced biodiversity for over five decades. The main drivers for the dwindling biodiversity are associated with surging consumption levels and demographic pressures. In general, biodiversity loss implies the loss of ecosystem services as well.

Biodiversity loss has also been identified as an impediment to future development. It suppresses ecosystems, hence making them vulnerable to perturbations. The environmental impacts linked to reduced biodiversity are more severe to the poor, rural communities. Such communities depend on the ecosystem for their livelihoods. Poor people will directly depend on wild animals and plants for food, shelter, and even clothing. The emerging trend of ecotourism means that communities depend on natural areas for tourism income.

Biodiversity also has a devastating impact on health. The Covid-19 pandemic is an illustration of the importance of biodiversity to health. As humans reduce biodiversity, we become more prone to deadly zoonotic diseases in two ways. Firstly, the number of diseases-carrying animals in the local population increase. Secondly, humans get closer contact with disease-carrying species.

13. Our transportation is causing pollutions of all kinds.

Modern forms of transportation, including air, water, and road transport, are increasing. Within the transport sector, roads are the most significant contributors to global warming. The impacts are enormous; In America, nearly 50% of people live in areas that don’t meet the federal air quality standards.

Transportation is a crucial consumer of energy, hence impacting heavily on the environment. As a result, transportation is to blame for surging air pollution and carbon emissions. Transportation activities cause adverse environmental impacts such as outdoor air pollution, which kills millions of people throughout the world. Gases emanating from transportation such as nitrous oxides also contribute heavily to global warming.  

Transport train road air cause various pollution

14. Soil degradation is a serious environmental concern in natural resource management.

Soil is the anchor of life on earth, as is one of the most precious resources for man. Regardless, the world has lost almost half of the world’s topsoil last 150 years.

Soil degradation is the reduction in soil quality, primarily due to the inappropriate use of soil and its poor management. Soil degradation is attributed to increased agricultural and industrial use. Soil degradation is a crucial environmental concern, considering that it ruins the soil.

Soil erosion is one of the most prevalent types of soil degradation, and it takes different forms. It can either entail water erosion, salinity, wind erosion, or soil contamination.

15. Shipping is polluting waters.

The key environmental impacts of shipping are water pollution, oil pollution, acoustic, and air pollution.  Water vessels such as ships cause 18% of global air pollution. Shipping is further associated with increased greenhouse gas emissions. The sulfur dioxide emanating from water vessels oxidizes in the air, forming nitrogen and sulfate compounds. These compounds lead to acid rain. Oil spillages from ships is a threat to marine life. 

16. Environmental concerns of conflict and wars

Natural resources are sometimes the cause of conflict and war. However, environmental-related stresses and natural resources mismanagement can be implicated in all stages of any war. Conflict and wars create a myriad of environmental hazards such as:

  • Unexploded ordnance that could hurt biodiversity and humans
  • Use of harmful chemicals, such as Agent Orange and Strontium-90
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Intentional flooding
  • Poaching wildlife for food and trade

Modern warfare that includes biological weaponry, chemical, and nuclear weapons could have devastating impacts on the ecosystem 

17. Technology including the internet is also an emerging environmental concern

Technology definition is the ‘application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, and the machinery and devices developed as a result’ In the last century or so, technological revolutions have rapidly changed our way of life as a species. Given that technology can also be useful in solving some environmental concerns, it is a cause of environmental problems such as:

  • Pollution of air, water, soil, and sound
  • Over extraction of natural resources for the manufacture of the technological devices

The internet technology is also not as clean as you think. Of course, a few grams of carbon dioxide were used in the manufacture and operation of the devices we use for internet. Even more intensive is the greenhouse gases emitted from the vast servers and data centers used for supporting the internet. The energy needed to send an email is minute, but considering that over 4 billion people use the internet, it is quickly emerging as a pertinent environmental concern. Some scientists estimate that the internet accounts for 3.7% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

Ecological impacts of technology
Most technologies use mineral resources. Moreover, servers that run the internet also emit significant GHGs

18. Ocean acidification-the 'twin of climate change.'

Over 30% of all carbon dioxide produced ends up in our oceans. Once it is absorbed by the seawater, a chemical reaction occurs resulting in the reduction of seawater PH. In other words, the water becomes acidic.

The oceans’ PH has reduced by 0.1 PH units since the start of the industrial revolution. The change appears small, but it has significant implications on the biodiversity of the oceans. Some of which include:

  • Reduce the ability of fish like pollock and clownfish to detect predators putting the entire ecosystem at risk
  • Reduction of carbonate ions for calcifying organisms to build their shells. Affected species include pteropods, oysters and corals
  • Some species, such as algae and seagrass, benefit from ocean acidification. Just like plants on land, they require carbon dioxide for photosynthesis.

Climate change mitigation measures will also halt ocean acidification.

19. Poverty as an environmental issue

It is hard to convince a poor person that the destruction of the environment is a bad thing. Poverty negatively affects the environment in several ways. For example

  • Poor people tend to have more children because of high death rates and security in old age
  • Overexploitation of natural resources in deforestation, bushmeat poaching overfishing, and poor agriculture. Poor people tend to rely almost entirely on the environment for sustenance
  • Poor hygiene practices because of limited sanitation
  • Energy poverty is synonymous with poverty. It occurs when people lack modern energy services. Over 3 billion people are affected by energy poverty implying that they rely on traditional fuel sources such as firewood, which is terrible for their health and destructive to the environment

However, solving the poverty problem does not necessarily mean that environment would be better off. After all, wealthy people tend to overconsume and produce lots of wastes. Poverty and wealth influence to the environment is complicated.

Parting Shot: The Environmental concerns need urgent attention

I think that environmental concerns can be solved when we address the issue of population and consumption simultaneously. If we reduce our population growth and consumption rate, we can give the earth a much-needed breather. The coronavirus pandemic illustrates how environmental issues reduce when we reduce our modern (some unnecessary) activities.

And it starts with you. Every small action can be a step towards improving the environment. 

Unless you think that there is a second habitable planet, you should be concerned about the various issues. The good thing is that you can implement your nature-based solutions in attempts to heal the earth. If we are not careful,  one or a combination of the 19 major environmental threats may exterminate our planet sooner than we think 

David Okul is an environmental management professional with over 10 years experience on donor projects, conservation, forestry, ecotourism, and community-based natural resources management. When not working on  active environmental management projects, I spend my time writing for Silvica on a variety of topics. The views on this blog post are personal.