The 6 Most Pressing Environmental Issues—And What You Can Do to Help Solve Them

by , 04/22/15

Earth Day, environment, climate change
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While 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring and greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause, political will has not been strong enough so far to initiate a massive policy shift away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable forms of energy. Perhaps more extreme weather events such as droughts, wildfires, heat waves and flooding will convince the public to put more pressure on policymakers to act urgently to curb carbon emissions and address this issue before it’s too late.

Related: 14 Awe-Inspiring Aerial Photographs Capture the Beauty of the Earth

What You Can Do: Your home and transportation could be major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. A certified home energy audit can help make your home more energy efficient. If you commute via biking, walking or public transportation you are doing your part to fight global warming, but if you must own a motor vehicle, consider trading in your gas guzzler for a fuel efficient hybrid or better yet—go electric. When you fly, make sure to reduce your carbon footprint from air miles traveled with carbon offsets from a respected company such as

Earth Day, environment, pollution
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Air pollution and climate change are closely linked, as the same greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet are also creating smoggy conditions in major cities that endanger public health. If you’ve seen horrifying images of pollution-choked Chinese cities and think the smog is isolated to Beijing or Shanghai, think again. U.S. scientists are finding that Chinese pollution is intensifying storms over the Pacific Ocean and contributing to more erratic weather in the U.S.

Water and soil pollution might not get the media attention that air pollution does, but they are still important public health concerns. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, dirty water is the world’s biggest health risk. While the Clean Water Act did much to make American water safe from harmful pollutants, today there is a new threat to clean water coming from the shale gas fracking boom taking place across the country.

Soil contamination is a major issue across the world. In China, nearly 20 percent of arable land has been contaminated by toxic heavy metals. Soil pollution threatens food security and poses health risks to the local population. The use of pesticides and fertilizers are also major factors in soil pollution

Related: Nine Chinese Cities More Polluted Than Beijing

What You Can Do: Many of the solutions to air pollution are similar to those for climate change, though it’s important to either make a concerted effort to drive less, or switch to a lower-emissions vehicle. Switching over to green energy is also important, as that will cut back on fossil fuel emissions. If you aren’t able to install solar or wind power on your property or if your utility gets its electricity from dirty energy sources, consider signing up for a renewable energy producer like Ethical Electric that connects consumers to 100 percent renewable energy sources to power their homes.

Earth Day, environment, deforestation

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Forest are important to mitigating climate change because they serve as “carbon sinks,” meaning that they absorb CO2 that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere and worsen global warming. It is estimated that 15 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation. Cutting down trees also threatens animals and humans who rely on healthy forests to sustain themselves, and the loss of tropical rainforests is particularly concerning because around 80 percent of the world’s species reside in these areas. About 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been cut down in the past 50 years to make way for cattle ranching. That’s a double whammy for the climate because cattle flatulence is a major source of methane gas, which contributes more to short term climate change than carbon emissions.

Related: New Web App Uses Google Maps to Track Deforestation as it Happens

What You Can Do: You can support Rainforest Alliance and similar organizations, stop using paper towels and use washable cloths instead, use cloth shopping bags (instead of paper), and look at labels to make sure you only use FSC-certified wood and paper products. You can also boycott products made by palm oil companies that contribute to deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. 

Earth Day, environment, water scarcity
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As the population increases and climate change causes more droughts, water scarcity is becoming more of an issue. Only three percent of the world’s water is fresh water and 1.1 billion people lack access to clean, safe drinking water. As the current drought in California dramatically shows, access to water is not just an issue for developing countries but the United States as well. In fact, by the middle of this century more than a third of all counties in the lower 48 states will be at higher risk of water shortages with more than 400 of the 1,100 counties facing an extremely high risk.

Related: Could Solar-powered Desalination Solve California’s Water Supply Problem?

What You Can Do: Just as energy efficiency is considered an important solution to the issues of climate change and pollution, water efficiency can help us deal with water scarcity. Some ideas to be more water efficient include installing an ENERGY STAR-certified washer, using low-flow faucets, plugging up leaks, irrigating the lawn in the morning or evening when the cooler air causes less evaporation, taking shorter showers and not running sink water when brushing your teeth. Also, consider using non-toxic cleaning products and eco-friendly pesticides and herbicides that won’t contaminate groundwater. Seventh Generation uses plant-derived ingredients for their household cleaning products.

Earth Day, environment, biodiversity
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Increasing human encroachment on wildlife habitats is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity that threatens food security, population health and world stability. Climate change is also a major contributor to biodiversity loss, as some species aren’t able to adapt to changing temperatures. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Index, biodiversity has declined 27 percent in the last 35 years.

Related: Costa Rica is Closing its Zoos and Freeing All Captive Animals

What You Can Do: As consumers we can all help protect biodiversity by purchasing products that don’t harm the environment. Next time you are at the grocery store, check to see if food packaging contains any of the following eco-labels: USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, Marine Stewardship Council or Green Seal. Other product certifications include Forest Stewardship Council Certification, Rainforest Alliance Certification and Certified Wildlife Friendly. Also, reusing, recycling and composting are easy ways to protect biodiversity.

Earth Day, environment, soil erosion and degradation
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Unsustainable industrial agriculture practices have resulted in soil erosion and degradation that leads to less arable land, clogged and polluted waterways, increased flooding and desertification. According to the World Wildlife Fund, half of the earth’s topsoil has been lost in the last 150 years.

Related: Soil Erosion Could Cause Food Crisis, Expert Warns

What You Can Do: Support sustainable agriculture that puts people and the planet above profit. Show your support for sustainable agriculture by signing this Greenpeace campaign for “a global food system that feeds people, enables the small farmer to thrive, protects the soil, water and climate, and promotes biodiversity. This is a system free from genetic engineering and chemical-intensive agriculture.” On a smaller scale, you can make a difference in your backyard by switching to non-toxic green pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. The website sells natural lawn care products such as corn gluten organic fertilizer.

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  1. mrjazzitup April 25, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Tracking is a distract or and shouldn’t be on that list. There is no objective evidence linking water pollution with cracking at least not from the inherent nature of actual tracking process. It poses no more or less significant danger to environmental contamination comparedbto other industrial mining or refinery process.

    Oh and one of the commentators mentioned GMO, sorry but your thought process is muddled by your emotional incoherence.

    There is no causal or even a corallaory relationship between GMO food and doomsday health effects. Not a scintilla of objective and credible science supports your premises. In fact, humans have been GMOing ever since we figured out how to cultivate plants! Now, we’re just doing it in the lab which is faster and more targeted. I suspect the anti GMO crowd does not understand basic chemistry and biology and has some dillusional mind set. Sorry that you’re whimsical fantasies do not comport with reality.

  2. Jan Miller April 22, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Top 10 Notes on Monsanto and G.M.O.’s for Earth Day

    1. It is deeply flawed to have the company that was responsible for obliterating old growth forest in Vietnam in charge of our food supply.
    2. It is 2-3 times more expensive to buy food without chemicals on it.
    3. The chemical revolution of the 1970’s was popular. It kills germs in our homes and pests on food. It is not necessary at all times under every condition.
    4. Plants are porous. They have a living cellular structure that absorb all kinds of environmental elements, including pesticides.
    5. People are porous. People have a living cellular structure that absorb all kinds of environmental elements, including pesticides.
    6. People eat plants in order to survive. Plants provide nutrients for our bodies. We don’t know everything about this process yet.
    7. This video from Smithsonian Channel,, entitled ‘Do Plants Feel Pain’ highlights some plant properties that are shared by humans. Our health is dependent upon these properties and is key to cellular regeneration.
    8. It begs the question; Is there more to plant cell structure and it’s relationship to life and sustainability than Monsanto and other GMO’s, are willing to give credit for?
    9. Tongue in Cheek, Monsanto has identified and altered this genetic material: Grow Faster, Grow Bigger and Grow without natural protection from poisons like pesticides. It has been documented that this creates more pesticide resistance. How healthy are plants? Heh? I do not want to push my bodies resistance to pesticides, it is poison after all, and shows up as large tumors and cancers in lab rats.
    10. My favorite saying; Eat Organic Food or as your Grandmother said ‘Food’.

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