Be it at a local, regional, or global scale, all living organisms, their habitats, and diverse interactions have always been important features of nature and life on Earth. The importance of their role in ensuring the well-being, survival, and quality of life of individuals and ecosystems cannot be overstated. But when have humans ever known how to protect what gives them the most?
Our world has been collapsing for years, and it is only now that we became aware of it. The Earth has been neglected for so long that it is now hopeless for its fate. The ongoing careless human activities are dreadfully affecting the well-being and sustainability of life on Earth. Pollution and fire rates started taking up between 1939-1969, and humanity officially started ruining the Planet in 1965. The first list of endangered species was issued not long after, in 1967, just before the establishment of the first official Earth Day by Senator Gaylord Nelson, in 1970. Ensuing sections of this article will present different ways through which humans are putting an end to the Planet and will further discuss the impact of these activities on global health and the environment.
How humanity is ruining the Earth
Humans impact the ecosystems in many ways, and all these harmful activities led to the rise of many issues such as climate change, global warming, soil erosion, and air pollution, to name a few. Now, coming to the source of the problem and the reasons that triggered all these complications, three main causes will be approached in the scope of this article, cite: Pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation.
Pollution, contrary to what most people think, did not only start as a result of the industrial revolution and creation of vehicles and factories; it has been an accompanying phenomenon to civilization since man created the first fires, and it stands for the contamination of natural environments. In other words, it is the natural or artificial introduction of pollutants to an ecosystem. As pollutants can either be foreign or natural agents, these can include chemical substances/energies, light, noise, etc. Therefore, many forms of pollution can be found. We cite some major ones: air pollution, soil pollution, radioactive contamination, etc.
As a result of the involvement of contaminants (pollutants) into a natural environment, some adverse changes are caused; many of which affect human health and the environment to which it was introduced, or even worse, have an impact at the global scale by accumulation at regional levels.
In the health field, two major forms of pollution are at the top of the yearly death-causing contaminations’ list: Air and water pollution. Over 14,000 deaths are registered yearly to be caused by untreated water consumption and high rates of water contamination as most factories do not follow the necessary waste cleaning procedures before pouring it back into seas and oceans, fault of high costs. Additionally, according to a conducted analysis published by The New York Times, more than 1.2 million people are registered to die prematurely because of high air pollution rates in China; most of the deaths result from cardiovascular diseases, chest pains, and throat inflammation, mainly brought by the inhalation of increased escaped smog.
Regarding the environment, global warming would be one of the well-known world crises caused by high emissions of greenhouse gases (which trap heat in the atmosphere). Ocean acidification would also be another ongoing risk to marine living organisms, and this phenomenon results from increased CO2 emission. Moreover, haze and high smog levels decrease the amount of sunlight that reaches plants and therefore dreadfully impacts photosynthesis.
2-Burning fossil fuels:
Most people hear about burning fossil fuels and their harmful effects on the environment, especially in climate change, but most do not know how or what it is used for.
Fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas are made from decomposing organisms (plants or animals) extracted from Earth’s crust and are carbon and hydrogen-rich.
Burning these fossil fuels, so burning oil, coal, etc., in big stations and the presence of O2 generates large quantities of energy used for various purposes like providing electricity, heating, and transportation, to note a few.
Although it seems that this process has more pros for us than cons, people are only ignorant of its harmful effects because of their reliability on it and its very low costs. Besides the emission of greenhouse gases, burning some fossil fuels such as coal emits high levels of cancerogenic and toxic substances into the air, water, or even absorbed by lands. These gases and forms of pollution affect first-hand miners and workers, and of course, surrounding communities. However, last but not least, the worldwide use of this energy-generating method leads to an accumulation of all regional emissions, so a more harmful global state is affecting Earth’s climate.
Deforestation signals the decrease of forest areas across the world and consequently stands for the non-reversible (permanent) process of trees and plants’ removal in order to use all free swaths of land for other purposes (urbanization, agriculture, mining, etc.). Even though humanity has been executing deforestation activity since it had appeared in the history of earth, this activity was majorly accelerated in the late 1950s until 1960 with increased human activity. Nowadays, already more than half of the initially forest-covered areas are gone, and the only 1/5th of the 31% remaining scattered forests are left intact and undisturbed.
In the context of containing a wide array of living organisms (plants, trees, animals, bacteria, etc.), forests are not only home to more than 80% of terrestrial biodiversity but also the most important source of resources for many of these organisms. Deforestation not only removes vegetation, which is a great contributor to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions (as trees are great absorbers of CO2) but also refers to the loss of habitats. Many of which [habitats] include various living animals and bacteria, thus putting them more at the risk of predation and natural catastrophes. More species, consequently, keep adding to the extinction list.
According to a study published in 2019 by Ecohydrology journal, another way deforestation negatively impacts the world can be through drought as the removal of vegetation, especially in tropical areas as it affects the amount of produced vapor over the canopy (uppermost branches in trees) and ultimately leads to reduced rainfall.
All in all, there are many ways through which humanity is slowly but surely killing our planet, but overall, all the forms of destruction as mentioned above were more directly linked alterations that result from human activity; many more indirect ways exist that have gone unnoticed for decades now such as species extinctions and the impact of the loss of organisms on the global balance of ecosystems. Upcoming articles of this “Environment themed series” will also elaborate on how human activity indirectly harms the Earth.
Writer: Fatima Ezzahra Rekkass
Editor: Cengizhan Öztürk
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