As a growing population, we have a lot of stuff. From consumer electronics to clothing to diapers, a worrying proportion of our 'stuff' is made using finite resources, with environmentally destructive practices only to be used for a relatively short amount of time before being tossed into landfill. And if you're reading Inhabitat, chances are you've thought about this at least once or twice in your purchasing practices.
The use of reusable and recyclable coffee cups, shopping bags and other ubiquitous items is increasing with widespread awareness of wastage and availability of alternatives. But there are always ways we can do more to use less, use better, reuse and recycle. Mining for metals commonplace in items from consumer electronics to jewelry causes widespread environmental destruction, polluting water and releasing greenhouse gases into the environment. And many of these metals, when used in consumer electronics, still often find their way into landfill, allowing lead, cadmium and mercury to seep into ground water.
In the instance of consumer electronics, 17 states have taken steps to mandate recycling, but where recycling is not municipally provided, it becomes of even greater importance to take the initiative within our own communities. And for items which don't need to be new, or disposable, we can keep on recycling, upcycling, salvaging and transforming.
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…