Gallery: The Top 5 Environmental Issues Humanity Should Be Thinking Abo...

 

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Like too many fruit flies in a bottle, there are now so many humans on this finite planet that we are changing our environment to be less favorable for a comfortable and enduring future. And, although we try not to alarm folks, any ecologist worth his salt knows that at some point density-dependent mortality factors eventually kick-in that keep populations from overshooting their environmental, or planetary, carrying-capacity. Certainly, our technology and cleverness have helped us elevate our species’ carrying-capacity, but our explosive population growth will soon outstrip these advantages as we exceed planetary boundaries. While there is much Earth-angst and hand-wringing over a long list of environmental issues, five green issues really and truly deserve serious attention and action by our species if we are to dodge excessive loss and adversity.


 
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The Hemorrhaging of Biodiversity

Our species’ activity within the last century is responsible for rapidly diminishing the diversity of life forms on this planet. Each species lost is a storehouse of environmental knowledge selected for over millions of years. The exploding sciences of biomimicry, bioengineering, and genetic manipulation highlight the enormous potential a single species may have in helping humanity create a healthier, more sustainable interaction with our environment through improvements to medicines, food production, nutrition, technologies, and resilient ecosystems.

A conservative estimate is that well over a hundred species a day are going extinct, with the rate of disappearing species accelerating as natural habitats shrink, fragment, and degrade and commercial exploitation of vulnerable species escalates. The loss of species is irreversible and the loss of old-growth natural habitats irretrievable within centuries. The fewer the species remaining on this planet, the more tenuous our own existence.

EO Wilson rightly warns that our destruction of the Earth’s biodiversity will be the thing that future generations will least forgive us for. What can we do? A good start is to fully shut down the international trade in wildlife, protect all remaining natural habitats, from rainforests to untrawled seafloors, and begin to restore watersheds by removing dams and protecting headwater and riverbank vegetation.

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Degrading the Ozone Layer

Without the protective ozone layer high above in the stratosphere we would literally fry from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Certain industrial compounds, such as organohalogens (the refrigerant Freon is an example), break down ozone in the stratosphere at very high rates for long periods of time and greatly reduce the ozone’s ability to protect surface life from UV radiation. The US and China recently agreed to work to diminish the production and use of these compounds, which is a great step forward in wise biosphere stewardship.

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Changing Climates

Humanity has released sufficient quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the last century that we are now starting to feel the effects of an inevitably warmer world. Pronounced droughts, floods, wildfires, and storms are expected more frequently, rising seas will inundate coastlines, and climate patterns will be reconfigured around the planet. Agricultural zones will shift and water may become scarce in many areas prompting mass migrations, great social upheaval, collapsing economies, and wars. Humanity is already committed to a great deal of change in our global climate, but reducing greenhouse gas production and creating more efficient technologies and production systems now will benefit future generations and help us back away from thresholds of irreversibly harsh conditions. We can help other species adapt locally to changing climates by protecting blocks of natural habitat that extend up mountains and pockets of habitat that will retain cooler and moister conditions, such as shady slopes and riverside habitats.

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Toxins

Radioactive materials, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, nematocides―all of these man-made products kill or harm life. Dangerous radioactive materials last for millennia and warrant great wisdom in their production, use, storage, and disposal. All nuclear reactors should immediately be retrofitted with safer fuel pellets and gravity-fed cooling systems. Similarly, the heavy use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other toxins will continue to have highly deleterious effects on the health and well-being of people and ecosystems. What can one do? At least buy organic bananas, rice, and cotton―three of the most toxin-producing crops―and advocate for reducing the use of toxins throughout industry and agriculture.

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Our Dying Oceans

Overfishing has decimated most fisheries and the oceans are now devoid of over 95% of its larger predatory fish, such as sharks, Bluefin tuna, and billfish. Coral reefs are degrading almost everywhere they occur due to warming and acidifying (caused by more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) seas, overfishing, and sediment- and toxin-laden runoff from the land. And the tons and tons of discarded plastic that ends up in the ocean kills and sickens marine life up and down the food chain. As this plastic breaks down the resulting micropellets will continue to cause lasting harm in ecosystems.

What can be done? Humanity needs an international effort to regulate and enforce sustainable fisheries, as well as a system of coastal and offshore marine protected areas that protect at least a quarter of the ocean. Sources of ocean plastic, from plastic shopping bags and flip flops in river runoff to industrial pellets and toothbrushes dumped offshore, need to be cut off, and truly biodegradable plastics (not just ones that break into smaller pieces) need to be widely adopted.

To paraphrase the Inhabitat mission statement, the imperative of ‘good design’ today is not only about color, style or trends – but instead about thoughtfully considering the user, the experience, the social context and the impact of a designed object, system, or interaction on the surrounding environment, and, increasingly, biosphere stewardship.

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5 Comments

  1. derekk April 28, 2015 at 8:37 pm

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  2. sophiaiscool December 17, 2013 at 10:23 am

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  3. maryamkhan November 7, 2013 at 10:21 am

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  4. hearthstone July 10, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    There are too many bad things to be *against* in this world.
    There is *no* commonly held vision/idea about what this world should be like in order to be considered to be the optimal home for all those who share this world.
    It is the highest time to start to be *for* what this world should be at its optimum.
    Thanks, Hearthstone – http://www.ModelEarth.Org .

  5. Carol Brooks July 6, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    I would only like to add that “other” beings, species, and all of creation have ultimate value whether or NOT they are of value to human beings, don’t you think? Their value is simply innate!

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