The Environment

Top 5 Global Environmental Issues 2019

It is sometimes hard to to establish which are the most pressing Global Environmental Issues. Some issues such as ocean plastics can be very emotive. Whilst others can be ignored as they make for unpleasant reading, or seem "unfixable". 

Most of the below problems relate to our obsession with growth. If a countries economy does not grow we say it is failing, and so we chase perpetual growth. Is this practical, possible and sensible?

1 - Population Growth

The growth rate of the human population on Planet Earth is very rapid. When viewed over the long term and presented on a graph the result is un-settling. If this graph were representative of virtualy any other data set, we would likely take action. By example imagine if this graph were representative of a hospital patient's blood pressure, or the population of rats on a ship then control measures would be implemented.

Human Populations growth is the route cause of all our planets ailments. Humans have the potential to fix most of the environmental issues we have created, but that will become more and more difficult as the population rises.

On a smaller scale overpopulation in nature soon results in Disease, Lack of Food and Damaged Eco-Systems. We regularly see all these symptoms in the Human Population yet we ignore the signals.

2 - Climate Change

I have placed Climate Change in second place because it is affecting a system which we all depend upon for life. It is being altered by human activity, to a point where we just do not know what will happen.

For hundreds of millions of years the CO2 levels in the atmosphere have stayed between a set range. We can assume that the planet as a system has regulated levels by means of natural systems. As well as burning millions of years worth of fossilised carbon, we are also quickly removing the ability of our planet to regulate CO2 by damaging the very life support system on which we depend.

Our rampant consumerism is not helpful, and the global nature of supply chains often masks domestic footprints. For example the UK has a reasonably low carbon footprint per capita if we consider emissions from our own cars and factories, but if you add on the emissions from all our imported goods from China & India we are one of the worst emitters in the world. 

3 - Ocean Acidification

As CO2 level rise the ocean absorbs more and more CO2. This lower the PH of the ocean, it becomes more acidic. The ocean is still alkaline, but it is more acidic than it should be. The acid of the ocean is balanced by a process called Ocean Calcium Carbonate Flux.

This process involves  Carbon Dioxide is dissolved from the air in to the ocean, and are "locked" in to Calcium Carbonate input by marine organisms. Many of these marine organisms use the Dissolve Carbon Dioxide to build their shells, which are made from Calcium Carbonate. When these organisms die there shells fall down to the ocean floor where they remains for 10,000s of years, removed from the carbon cycle. This is good because it helps to keep Carbon Dioxide levels stable.

As an example one of the small marine organisms that help trap CO2 in this way is a coccolithophores. These are tiny little things that build shells, and then dye drifting down to the sea floor. If you are familiar with chalk (the rock) you can thank coccolithophores for it, as it is largely composed of their shells.

As the oceans become more acidic it reduces the ability of coccolithophores to retain the Calcium Carbonate in their shells, and so we can expect them to do less and less carbon removal and the ocean acidify. This is not a good thing, as it is a system that has kept the planets climate in check for millions of years, and we are sticking a spanner in the works.

To explain this process the following information has been simplified, but a full explanation can be found on Wikipedia.

4 - Deforestation

As with the ocean the Forest and Jungles of Planet Earth are a key part of a system that regulates our climate. We are annihilating our forests on an industrial scale.

When a tree grows it locks carbon dioxide in to its structure as lignin or some other carbon based substance. It stays locked up for many years, unless we dynamite the trees to pieces, or smash them down with bulldozers. . . unfortunately they is a tree genocide going on globally.

5 - Contamination

Humans are contaminating the entire globe with our waste products. As we introduce more and more contaminants in to the environment the very substrates we depend upon for life (air, water and soil) become less and less useful too us. Many of the contamination we see that causes the big problem, is small dose and long term.

Ocean Plastics have made the news a great deal in the last year. But this is just one area where all of our dumped rubbish is messing with nature. We spill oil on to land. Oil in to the sea. Micro Plastics from or laundry pollute rivers and sea. In the Thames River (London) there are islands made from wet wipes discharged by sewer companies.

This contamination of our environment has been going on for thousands of years. There is still lead contaminating parts of the world, which was left there by the romans. And we are still inventing new ways to contaminate our environment, with industries such as Fracking smashing the rocks beneath our feet and injecting chemicals.

As one example we are slowly increasing the concentration of plastics in our environment, and they are tuning up in everything from sea salt, to fish fingers. Fish are eating these plastics and in some cases prefer eating them to their normal food. All kinds of marine organisms are filter feeders which sift masses of water for food, they eat the plastic which contaminates their bodies.

This contamination then works its way up the food chain, with large fish eating smaller fish, and sharks and dolphins eating larger fish. We humans are eating some of this fish. We are eating the plastic we are throwing in to the river and oceans.


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