Even if we were able to solve climate change right now, the world would still be in deep trouble. Here’s why.
Climate change may be the most important problem the world faces today but there are many other devastatingly important environmental problems besides climate change. Many of these issues are affected by climate change and some of them contribute to climate change. Many of them affect each other.
I’ve chosen five environmental problems besides climate change that I consider to be massively important. Here you will find all you need to know about these issues to see that they have the potential to affect humanity in serious ways.
Be sure to check out and share my infographic at the bottom of this post if you agree people should know more about these issues.
1. Biodiversity Loss
This isn’t just a problem in far-away places like the Amazon; species are going extinct all over the place.
What we are seeing is the sixth wave of mass extinctions the earth has ever seen; the last one was when the dinosaurs went extinct. Scientists estimate that species are going extinct up to 1,000 times the normal rate of extinction.
Species are going extinct all over the world for a variety of reasons. In many places, non-native and invasive species are dominating the new ecosystems where they have been introduced. In other places, development has destroyed habitats that species depended upon to survive.
Many species cannot adapt quickly enough to the abnormally quick changes in our climate and, in a feedback loop, losing these species also contributes to climate change.
Many species going extinct are at the microscopic level – bacteria. There is an unbelievable number of different species in a handful of good dirt (see #5) and they all get suffocated every time we put in a new road or strip mall.
At the rate we are cutting down trees, there will literally be no trees left by the year 2100.
No one can tell me that deforestation is not massively important.
Not only do trees sequester carbon and produce the life-giving, delicious oxygen that fills my lungs, they also harbor biodiversity (see point #1).
80% of terrestrial biodiversity lives in forests.
This biodiversity exists because forests are complicated ecosystems which have evolved over millions of years to be what they are…irreplaceable.
With growing deforestation, we will see an accelerated rate of climate change and climate change also contributes to deforestation, throwing us into a viscous cycle of environmental destruction.
3. Water Scarcity
Water scarcity can mean one of two things – no water or no clean water.
No Clean Water
Not having access to water suitable for drinking is a huge problem for an alarming number of people in the world.
About 2.4 billion people drink water with inadequate sanitation, exposing them to many kinds of diseases that can be transmitted through water.
More than 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with feces.
In other parts of the world, the water may be ok to drink but it is dependent on unpredictable rainy seasons, making it unreliable.
A huge number of people live in areas where there is sometimes very little water available – about 2.7 billion people. This means that for at least one month per year, these people find water to be scarce.
With our population growing and the climate changing, water scarcity issues are getting worse.
According to the World Health Organization, by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.
Pollution is literally everywhere.
Even if you travel to the most remote regions of this planet, you will find man-made, toxic chemicals (for example, PCBs) that don’t break down in the environment and get distributed throughout the earth.
But pollution is obviously more of a problem in some places than other places. And because people are the ones polluting, pollution tends to be more of a problem where there are a lot of people.
The WHO estimates that 92% of people live in areas that are above air quality guidelines for P.M. 2.5, a common air pollutant.
Ninety. Two. Percent.
That’s just about everyone.
About 7 million premature deaths (one in eight of total global deaths) in 2012 were linked to air pollution.
Water pollution is a massive problem as well.
Microbial pollution of water is perhaps the most troubling for many people around the world (see point #3).
But also right here in the U.S., natural waters might be more polluted than you think.
Runoff from roads carries with it soot and other micropollutants.
The majority of the pharmaceuticals that we take (for example, birth control or Tylenol) are not absorbed by our bodies. They pass right through us, get flushed down the toilet, and do not get removed during waste water treatment. They are then released into the environment.
Runoff from agricultural lands carries an excess of nitrogen and phosphorous which create poor conditions for aquatic life to thrive.
All these factors contribute to poor conditions practically everywhere, even when water looks crystal-clear and pure.
In 2012, the EPA estimated that more than half of the river and stream miles in the U.S. are in poor condition for aquatic life. At that time, the trend was heading in the wrong direction (up) so I wonder how bad the problem is now (they haven’t done another survey yet).
All this doesn’t even touch upon one of the biggest concerns about water pollution – plastic!
Plastic is a huge problem for two reasons:
- It takes so long to break down
- We use sooooooo much of it
We throw out about 8 million tons of plastic every year.
Read that last sentence again and let it sink in for a minute. Plastic is light material so – can you visualize what 8 million tons looks like??? I can’t.
Much of this plastic gets washed into waterways and eventually makes it’s way to the ocean. Along the way, larger bits of plastic get broken down into smaller bits but the smaller bits can last a very long time.
No one is quite sure how long plastic lasts in the ocean but some estimates range from 20-600 years, depending on the type of plastic.
5. Soil Degradation
We depend on soil to grow the food that feeds the world. Not only that, there are more microorganisms living in a handful of soil than there are people on the earth!
Intensive agriculture, paving, erosion, flooding, mining, etc. all contribute to the loss of fertile soil.
It’s important to understand that not all soil is fertile for growing food and we are destroying 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil every year.
That sounds like a lot but is it really?
Consider that half of all topsoil on earth has been lost in the past 150 years. So yes, I would say it’s a lot.
As soil is degraded, it not only threatens our food security but also contributes to several other environmental problems. Soil that erodes tends to wash downstream and can clog waterways and hurt fish populations.
Remember all those microorganisms in the soil? As they get paved over with new streets, they suffocate, causing an unknown amount of extinctions and contributing massively to biodiversity loss (see #1).
Our planet faces many serious environmental problems besides climate change. However, these problems are interlinked with climate change and with each other. For example, deforestation contributes to climate change as well as biodiversity loss and, in turn, climate change contributes back to deforestation and biodiversity loss. We cannot say one problem is more important than another because all these problems are all interlinked and each one poses a serious threat to health of the world.
Interested in a new perspective on nature and our modern world? Check out my take on Nature is everywhere – we just need to learn to see it
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