Ten Environmental Issues to Keep an Eye On

global_warming_infographicToday is Tuesday, December 17, 2013.

Mother Earth is sick, no doubt about it.  There are a number of environmental issues facing the entire planet, even if some countries are guilty of contributing to them more than others.  Here are the issues we need to watch carefully.

1. Climate Change

If you don’t “get it” about climate change, nothing I write here will make much of an impact, but for those who are open to a new way of thinking, this issue is real, no matter what the “scientists” who are paid by Big Business say.  Scientists do tend toward caution and conservatism in their pronouncements, and they tend to avoid jumping to conclusions.  They also know – as should we all, that two people with differing views can look at the same set of data and interpret it to support their hypothesis.  As far as “the science is settled” is concerned, no, it will never be “settled” because we will continue to learn new things.  Right now, we are seeing father into the past than ever before, and we now know for a fact that human activity is having some impact on natural cycles.  We have polluted the planet past its natural ability to cleanse herself.   It’s not enough for one country or even only the major polluting countries to work on this issue.  It’s necessary now for everyone to pitch in.  Meanwhile, we will have photos of the damage caused by mega-storms and snow in the Middle East to remind us that things are going haywire.   The air may still be breathable where you live, the water drinkable and the soil still useable for cultivation, but

global_warmingFor those who don’t already know, the term “global warming” does not mean that we are all in for an endless summer.  It simply means that the average temperature of the entire earth is rising.  The average is found by monitoring the daily high and low temperatures in locations around the world – including the coldest and hottest places on earth – and averaging them out, not just on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis, but on the basis of a decade of temperature readings.  Over the decades, this average figure has risen.  And it doesn’t have to rise very much, either.  A rise in temperature of only 2˚C or less than 5˚F will have severe consequences.  And even if the average rises, there will still be some cold places on earth.   If you think the consequences won’t be that bad, think about this:  If your normal body temperature is 98.6˚F (37˚C) and you have a temperature of 100˚F or about 38˚C, you are sick.  This is an increase of only 1.4˚F or 1˚C.  Although there is a range of normal body temperatures, the human body generally only fluctuates by0.9°F or 0.5 °C.   Now apply that to the global mean temperature:  The scientists are saying that it will take only a rise of about 2˚C to cause problems.  If your body goes haywire with a rise of only about 1˚C, why do you suppose Mother Earth is any different?

fossil fuels2. Energy

When I was growing up, the concern was that we might use up all the fossil fuels someday.  We still have that problem.  Here is a neat chart that tells how many years worth of fossil fuels are left for each country that has fuel resources. The United States has only a little over 11 years’ worth left.  I’ll let you look at the chart to realize which countries we will have to be beholden to very soon if we don’t cut our use of fossil fuels now.  According to a website called ecotricity,“if we carry on at this rate without any increase for our growing population or aspirations, our known oil deposits will be gone by 2052.”  That’s not too many years down the road, folks. 

Our energy companies already know this, so some of them are trying to get people to approve mining of so-called “tar sands.”  This stuff is so thick – it has the consistency of peanut butter – that it has to be mixed with other chemicals, caustic, poisonous ones, in order to move it along a pipeline such as the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.  The mining of tar sands, itself, releases carbon into the air, and so does the transport of this “dilbit” stuff along the pipelines, both existing and proposed.  We already know that existing oil and tar sands pipelines have had a number of leaks and spills, many of them unreported until a farmer complains about it poisoning his land, or the gunk lands in someone’s backyard.  Or their water supply. This stuff needs to be left in the ground, and there is a growing movement nowadays to get individual investors and organizations to divest from the fossil fuel industry.  We no longer have a choice.  This stuff is killing our planet, and therefore, it is killing us.  Slowly.

Our dependence on electricity produced from fossil fuels and on forms of transportation that run on fossil fuels is what needs to change.  This will necessitate a lifestyle change for many of us.   Electricity produced by renewable resources is the only way out of this mess.

The recent meltdown issues at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan should be a wake-up call to all of us about the dangers of using nuclear energy on an ongoing basis.  Recently, a news story leaked information that has not made it to the mass media. 51 U.S. sailors serving on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, leukemia and brain tumors after the ship was assigned to assist Japan with rescue efforts at the Fukushima nuclear plant. If this is a true story, it’s extremely alarming.  The plant continues to leak radiation into the ocean, and the rescue of the spent fuel rods is going to be a time-consuming and very delicate process, during which anything could go wrong.

water-pollution43. Water

We have been poisoning our water for a long time, now.  Our modern agricultural practices include unsustainable irrigation methods and the use of fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides that are not only poisoning our land, but also poisoning our water resources.  In the United States, fewer than half our rivers are drinkable.  Only 500 years ago, when Europeans came to this continent, the rivers and lakes were pristine.  International corporations whose business is the sale of bottled water have now influenced the legal systems of many countries in such a way that water is no longer a “right” for the average person.  This means that the corporations can appropriate the best water for their products, leaving unclean water sources for the local poor people.  Then they have the gall to sell the water back to these same people.  So many of us are used to thinking of water as “free,” but it’s important to think about a day when the water that comes out of our faucets will be metered, and we will pay, probably through the nose, for every drop.

biodiversity4. Biodiversity and land use

Biodiversity means the degree of variation in plants and animals, or how many different species there are. Humans have spoiled many irreplaceable ecosystems.  In Australia, alone, over 1500 land species are now on the threatened species list, and more species continue to be lost.  Humans need the diverse ecosystems on earth to produce oxygen, filter water, keep nutrients flowing into the soil, and pollinate our plant species.  The graphic at right gives specific ways that the loss of biodiversity will harm all life on earth.

5. Toxic chemicals, and heavy metals

HeavyMetal-01While chemicals and toxic materials do exist in nature, there has been an exponential increase in man-made pollutants in the last 250 years, which have already caused evere environmental problems, especially in agricultural and heavy industrial areas. Once an ecosystem is contaminated with pollutants, it is almost impossible to remove them from the water and soil.  These toxic chemicals eventually find their way into our bodies through our drinking water and our food supply.  Heavy metals that can be very harmful to your health if found in your drinking water include lead, copper, mercury, arsenic and cadmium.  Effects of these metals include reduced growth and development, cancer, organ damage, nervous system damage, and in extreme cases, death. Exposure to some metals, such as mercury and lead, may also cause development of autoimmunity, in which a person’s immune system attacks its own cells. This can lead to joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and diseases of the kidneys, circulatory system, and nervous system.

We must seriously re-think our use of pesticides and fungicides on our crops, and our use of toxic chemicals in the manufacture of clothing, electronics, and other products. We must find ways to ensure that heavy metals do not get into our water supplies.   Not later. Now.

Severe smog in Beijing, China

Severe smog in Beijing, China

6. Air Pollution

As of November 2013, according to CO2 Now, there are 395.10 parts per million of CO2 in the air.  The level at which the earth is able to cleanse herself naturally of CO2 is no more than 360 parts per million.  We have already made it hard for the earth to cleanse herself naturally.  If we put much more CO2 in the air, we will make it impossible.

There are two other greenhouse gases that are toxic to life: sulfur and nitrogen are produced when we burn coal.  Acid rain caused by these two compounds can damage the man-made environment as well as the natural environment.  As with crude oil and tar sands, we need to re-think our use of coal.

Dumping ground in Kerala, India.

Dumping ground in Kerala, India.

7. Waste management

We produce an incredible amount of waste that continues to increase each year.  Moving it into someone else’s back yard is not the answer.  Governments must regulate waste within their borders and work together to find acceptable ways of disposing of waste materials. Consumers must demand that businesses produce less waste in the manufacture of products and packaging.  As well, they must demand that manufacturers use less packaging for products and that items be made to last.  Planned obsolescence is just plain unsustainable.

Our society need to look seriously at customs such as exchanging greeting cards, wrapping presents and hosting lavish parties in terms of the amount of waste they produce.  Christmas gift-giving, alone (even without all the wrapping) produces tons of waste.  It is estimated that half to three-quarters of the items that are given as Christmas gifts will end up in the trash within six months.   It’s find to celebrate Christmas, but do we have to waste tons of paper and food, and throw tons of items away because they are no longer useful or they don’t suit our lifestyle?

ozone8. Ozone layer depletion

Our ozone layer has been depleted by chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs in the upper atmosphere, where they cause ozone molecules to break apart, creating a whole in the atmosphere.  The ozone layer blocks many of the harmful UV rays from the sun that damage living tissue, resulting in cancer.  CFCs have already been banned in many manufacturing processes and products, but as of 2002, there were still about 5,791 kilotons of CFCs in existing products such as refrigerators, air conditioners, aerosol cans and other items.  These CFCs are still being emitted into the air, but some of them can be safely captured and destroyed.

i-ec94419ab7aab937c838f3e1ddd15dcf-sequential-collapse-of-marine-mammals-May-20119. Oceans and fisheries

The world’s oceans are over-fished, and a number of fish species are experiencing catastrophic population declines. The collapse of the Atlantic Cod Fishery is one example of how humans have exploited natural resources to the brink of extinction. Many other marine species are threatened by unsustainable fishing practices.  The chart at right illustrates the collapose of great whales, harbor seals, sea otters, sea lions, and fur seals.

Then there is the issue of the continuing leakage of nuclear radiation poisoning into the oceans from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant.   Although scientists don’t see anything to worry about right now, but the fact is that we just don’t know that much about future effects of the Fukushima disaster.  The main thing to do is not panic, but simply pay attention.  Very close attention.

Look at how forests disappeared in the lower 48 states of the United States 1620 and 1920.

Look at how forests disappeared in the lower 48 states of the United States 1620 and 1920.

10. Deforestation

Deforestation is permanent destruction of forests and woodlands.  Originally, almost half of the United States, three-quarters of Canada, almost all of Europe, the plains of the Levant, and much of the rest of the world were forested.  It is estimated that about one half of the original forests of the earth are gone.  Each year, another 16 million hectares disappear.  The World Resources Institute estimates that only about 22% of the world’s (old growth) original forest cover remains “intact” (undisturbed) in three areas: the Canadian and Alaskan boreal forest, the boreal forest of Russia, and the tropical forest of the northwestern Amazon Basin and the Guyana Shield (Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, and Columbia).   Forests now cover only about one-fourth of the land area of our earth.

The loss of forests in North and South America and in Australia can be directly linked to the arrival of Europeans on these continents.  In fact the Europeans are still responsible for much of the deforestation in the last couple of decades.  A report entitled The impact of EU consumption on deforestation, found that the EU was the biggest driver of global deforestation of all industrialised regions and China for the period 1990-2008.

Forests have been cut down for fuel, building materials and to clear land for farming. The clearing of the forests is probably humanity’s biggest contribution to global climate change and loss of biodiversity and degradation of important ecosystems.  :-/

Main information source: “10 Environmental Problems,” from csglobe.com


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