As inhabitants and protectors of this planet, it is our task to care for and safeguard the environment. Sadly, corporate profiteering and political power play often come before environmental conservation.
While steps have been taken to address other issues such as the expansion of solar energy, there are still numerous environmental concerns where drastic changes need to happen if we want to leave a habitable Earth to succeeding generations.
These are the 10 most pressing environmental issues that should concern us.
1. Climate change
No matter how badly politicians and traditional industrialists try to deny the fact of this environmental issue, current conditions around the globe serve as reminders of the severity of global climate change. Take for example the snow that blanketed the pyramids for the first time in over a century and the spate of extreme weather disturbances (such as Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan) in recent years. Though there are world leaders who have already taken a stand against climate change, there is still a need for urgent and collective action to resolve this important issue.
2. Air, land, and water pollution
In southeast Chicago, thick, black smoke from an oil waste called petcoke (short for “petroleum coke”) drifts into residential areas from a nearby site where a BP oil refinery dumps its toxic wastes. The noxious fumes create a nuisance in residential areas, cover homes, force parents to keep their children indoors with the windows closed, and cause numerous health concerns. This is just one example of a disturbing scenario echoed in many other places around the globe.
Groundwater contamination is at an all-time high, with chemicals, oil, gasoline, and biological contaminants from landfills, septic tanks, pesticides, fertilizers, and hazardous waste seeping into our water sources. Surface water contamination is a similarly troubling global issue.
The world’s soil is polluted by chemical compounds and toxic substances such as heavy metals, nitrates, pathogens, and plastics that take many years to break down. Most of these are by-products of our current lifestyles and the industries that sustain these lifestyles.
3. Carbon emissions
Thanks to the commitment of President Obama to take on the climate change dilemma, this environmental issue has gotten a leg up in recent years. There has been an initiative to curb carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, as well as other carbon-reducing laws and protocols. However, carbon emission is still a serious problem and the ozone layer is still rapidly depleting, and the governments of many developed and developing nations will need to take a stand as well.
4. Oil leaks
In recent years, pipelines bursting and spewing oil filled news broadcasts and newspaper headlines. In 2013, the worst pipeline catastrophe occurred in Mayflower, Arkansas, where the 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline owned by ExxonMobil burst, plaguing the town with floods of oil. Train-loaded oil was no safer. In June 2013, a train derailed in Quebec, causing major explosions and resulting in the deaths of 47 people.
With the extreme cold and prolonged winter occurring this season, experts and residents fear that oil pipelines under the Great Lakes will burst or spring a leak. Two sunken pipes laid in 1953 carry 23 million gallons of crude oil daily under the Straits of Mackinac. The straits freeze over in winter. Concerned citizens question what responders could do if the pipes burst while the straits are frozen. An oil spill here will undoubtedly be a catastrophe with massive and irreversible consequences.
Another major oil pipeline issue is that of the Keystone XL pipeline that will transport up to 83,000 barrels of oil every day from Canada across the United States. Millions of people in North America and elsewhere in the planet are trying to put a stop to its construction.
No other environmental disaster has created panic and riled environmentalists up in recent years than the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown and the resulting radioactive spill. The radioactive water spewing from the site has already reached the western shores of Canada and could reach the Pacific coast of the United States by April. Experts report that this radioactive water could have dire consequences for human health and the environment for decades to come.
6. Biodiversity loss
More than a hundred species go extinct every day. These losses are not only irreversible; they also make our own tenuous foothold on this planet all the more fragile. Our own species is responsible for the hemorrhaging of biodiversity on the planet. Take for example the case of the wolves. In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the stripping of the Endangered Species Act protection on wolves, prompting concerned citizens and conservation groups to state their opposition. The wolf population is already drastically low. They may seem like nuisances, but they are in fact an important part of the balance of nature that sustains our own existence.
In 1950, the Earth’s human population was somewhere over 2.5 billion. Today, it is more than 7.2 billion. In half a century, the number of humans on this planet increased almost threefold. That is an alarming rate that, as many experts argue, is the single biggest cause for every other environmental issue on this list.
UN experts report that the world’s oceans could be devoid of fish by the year 2050. This is a frightening scenario for everyone, but especially for the approximately one billion people who rely on fish as their main protein source. Overfishing is rampant practically all over the globe. Without a complete restructuring of the fishing industry, there will be virtually no viable catches for the next generation.
More than half of the world’s rain forests have been destroyed since 1990. Forests are disappearing at a disturbing rate, hastened by the clearing of timberland to make way for real estate developments, megafarms, roads, and infrastructure. Add to this the string of wildfires in the United States, Canada, and Australia, one of which was California’s Rim Fire that burned more than 257,000 acres. It was one of 17 major brushfires in the United States in 2013. This amazing time lapse really helps to put things into perspective:
The extinction of the western black rhino was a staggering blow to the conservation efforts of many concerned citizens and groups who had worked hard for decades to put an end to the poaching of the species. In South Africa and in neighboring countries, the rhinoceros is prized for its horn. Local authorities have been unable to stop the illegal wildlife trade and poachers are now well-armed and equipped with high-tech gadgets and assault vehicles for tracking prey. The Javan rhino and the northern white rhino are now also at risk. It is said that the rate at which rhinos are being slaughtered are greater than the rate at which they are being born.