The planet is faced with many environmental problems today; however there are a number of issues that are shared by all nations. The following ten environmental problems described in this article are generally considered to be the most significant issues currently faced by our planet.
Global warming is generally considered to be the most influential cause of climate change in recent times and the implications of a changing climate will become increasingly significant in the next one hundred years. Governments around the world have begun addressing the effects of climate change, but without addressing the causes simultaneously, climate change will continue to be a major environmental problem.
The generation of energy is a leading source of environmental damage, predominantly caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Coal, oil and gas fired power plants are the primary source of electricity across the planet and contribute to the majority of greenhouse gas released in to the atmosphere. Alternate sources of energy are available, such as solar, wind and hydro among others; however they are only providing a small percentage of all energy needs in the country. Increasing the amount of energy generated by renewable sources is the most important step in minimizing environmental degradation caused by the production of electricity.
As the world’s driest inhabited continent, Australia is especially vulnerable to water pollution. Many of our capital cities have also been faced with shortages to drinking water supplies, with many still enforcing restrictions on water use. Agriculture is the leading cause of degradation and pollution in Australian waterways. Unsustainable irrigation practices and the release of fertilizers and pesticides within this industry are the predominant causes of water pollution.
Biodiversity and land use
Unsustainable land use has led to the degradation of many valuable ecosystems and the loss of irreplaceable biodiversity. In Australia there are over 1500 land based species currently on the threatened species list and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. Many of the services we as humans need to survive are provided by our richly diverse ecosystems, such as oxygen production, water filtration, nutrient flow and pollination. Loss of biodiversity as a result of land degradation is jeopardizing many of services that we take for granted. For this reason the maintenance of biodiversity is important for all living organisms.
Chemicals, toxics, and heavy metal
While chemicals and toxics do exist in nature, the last 250 years has seen an explosion in man-made pollutants in the environment. They have come from a variety of sources and many have caused severe environmental problems, especially in agricultural and heavy industrial areas. Once an ecosystem becomes contaminated with pollutants, it is very difficult to remove them. Reducing the production of harmful compounds and minimizing their release to the environment is an important part of environmental conservation.
When considering air pollution, the release of greenhouse gases is the most commonly quoted source. However there are a number of other forms of pollution that affect our atmosphere. During the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, many other compounds besides carbon dioxide are produced. Sulfur and nitrogen are also by-products of the coal burning process and can cause considerable environmental problems. Acid rain, caused by these two compounds, can damage both living and man-made environments. Air pollution can also be caused by the release of dust or other substances into the air, affecting the health of animals and humans.
The improper management of waste has lead to a range of environmental problems throughout the planet. Modern societies have considerably increased the amount of waste they produce as a result of manufacturing and packaging processes and the sheer increase in population size. To reduce the amount of waste generated, governments, businesses and individuals are encouraged to recycle and reuse products. This minimizes the volume of waste that must be assimilated and reduces the need to extract minerals and other resources for the production of new products.
Ozone layer depletion
Depletion of our ozone layer has been mainly attributed to the release of chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs into the atmosphere. Once CFCs reach the upper atmosphere, they cause ozone molecules to break apart causing a hole to form, the largest of which is over the Antarctic. The atmosphere is very important as it blocks many of the harmful UV rays from the sun that can damage living tissue, such as cancer. In an effort to reduce this process, CFCs have been banned in many manufacturing processes and products.
Oceans and fisheries
Many of the world’s oceans are over-fished, with a number of previously valuable fish species experiencing catastrophic population declines. The collapse of the Atlantic Cod Fishery is one such example of how humans have exploited the planet’s natural resources to the brink of extinction. There are now many other species of fish and other marine organisms that are threatened by unsustainable fishing practices. Without better control of these important resources, many of the species which humans depend on for sustenance will become unviable as a food source.
The clearing of forests has occurred at frightening speeds since the arrival of British settlers in the 18th Century. Much of the Australian continent has now been cleared for agricultural and pastoral land use, as well as for our ever-expanding towns and cities. Deforestation removes vital habitat for the plants and animals that live there. This leads to a loss in biodiversity and the increasing degradation of important ecosystems.