In the US alone we've made the Gulf of Mexico toxic with oil, we've caused earthquakes in the midwest while fracking for natural gas, and we've blasted through mountains in Virginia looking for coal. In the course of turning non-renewable resources into energy we're releasing all manner of toxic gases into the atmosphere, driving climate change and creating a hazardous environment for all living beings.
The fact that we're destroying the planet for a short term quick-fix of energy resources that will run out is a pretty good reason to give pause and change course. Yet massive corporations wielding immense political strength continue to drive increased, fundamentally experimental and ill-regulated fossil fuel sourcing missions. Deepwater drilling off the Cuban coast, anyone?
Steps to regulate drilling, fracking, mining and their ozone depleting emissions are certainly a great thing, but it's time, if not well past the time, that we move wholeheartedly into renewable resources. This year has seen incredible progress in both policy, innovation and adoption of renewable resources, largely solar and wind power. But there's still a long long way to go. The Great Lakes of the US and Canada have the potential to provide power for 210,000,000 homes, and as the US seeks to expedite the approval process for wind farms, we still have to design better turbines to adequately protect wildlife.
There's a lot we can still do on an individual level to reduce our energy usage, and corresponding responsibility for fossil fuel usage and the generated emissions. Simply switching to LED lightbulbs can cut energy usage of lighting a home by a third. It might not sound like much, but — as with so many easy, individually adopted earth-saving measures — when replicated across a large area is starts to make a very significant impact. Plus, the bulbs are getting cheaper!
Water; we can’t live without it, and thankfully much of the Earth is made up of it. Yet we face major problems where the life-sustaining liquid is concerned. While there is technically enough freshwater available for all 6.8 billion of us, one-fifth of the world’s population live in areas of physical water scarcity. Vast improvements in infrastructure are required in order provide freshwater to areas which remain without, but also to ensure continued access in the face of widespread pollution, wastage and drought.
The degradation of water quality not only poses supply problems for our population, but also has a huge, inevitable impact on marine life. Whether it’s through storm water runoff from cities or farms, dumping from industry, or ill-regulated efforts to drill for yet more oil (more on that later), we’re increasingly filling our rivers, seas and oceans with toxic pollutants. From dolphins to coral, life in our seas is suffering tremendously. The Pacific Ocean is famously home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, while the Gulf of Mexico has a sizable patch of nothing at all — a dead zone resulting from the travels of farmland fertilizers down the Mississippi River. And what happens at sea doesn’t stay at sea. With pollutants entering oceanic ecosystems, they invariably pollute our food.
Deforestation has long posed a threat to our Earth. Forests cover 30 percent of the planet’s land, and provide vital protection from sandstorms and flooding as well as the substantive natural habitat for wildlife. They are one of our greatest resources for offsetting some of our outrageous carbon emissions and without the canopy we leave areas vulnerable to intense heat, further driving climate change. Yet every single year we lose an area the size of Panama.
We’ve all heard it before, but really, we need to stop destroying and start replanting. There are incredible instances of ambitious efforts to replant our woodland areas, from a man in India, Jadav Payeng, who single-handedly planted a 1,360 acre forest, to the South Korean founder of Future Forest, Kwon Byong Hyon, who has led desert tree-planting efforts throughout Mongolia and China.
With forests often cleared to make way for farmland, and worldwide consumption of food expected to increase sharply by 2050, both sides of that particular coin desperately need to be addressed, which leads us to…