As the years go by, environmental issues keep climbing our global list of priorities, dwarfing all other concerns. And each year, new problems and worries emerge. As a result, we constantly have to triage, to decide which environmental crisis takes precedence over which other environmental crisis.
So, where do we stand as we move towards 2023? Certainly, we’re at a historic advantage over previous years, equipped with unprecedented political will and regulatory infrastructure. For example, the UN plans ‘historic’ regulation of the plastics industry by 2024, a regulation that the Executive of the United Nations Environment Programme has called ‘the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris Accords.’ Clearly, then, the tide, strewn with plastic waste as it may be, is turning.
Now, it’s only a question of dealing with our most pressing environmental concerns – or, at least, deciding what those are.
Biodiversity is, at once, both the most complexly precarious and the most vital feature of our global ecosystem, supplying ecologies with both specialisation and diversification, productive fragility and reproductive robustness. Although it may seem a facile, over-inclusive definition, biodiversity is essentially every living thing and every ecosystem that makes up what we commonly term ‘the environment. From the tallest giraffe to the smallest microorganism, everything plays an important role in the maintenance of our world.
Clearly, then, any reduction in biodiversity can have widespread consequences, threatening the very existence of crucial ecosystems. Global warming, pollution, deforestation, intensive agriculture – all of these developments are slashing biodiversity down to worrying dimensions. Billions of species are going or have gone extinct all over the world. Some scientists, in fact, are going so far as to suggest that we are experiencing a sixth mass extinction, endangering the robustness of our environment and, as a result, the robustness of societies.
Reducing our meat intake, particularly red meat, as well as making sustainable choices can help to keep our planet running smoothly.
Water pollution is, of course, a significant concern, as our dependence on water forms one of our most crucial interactions with the natural environment. Not only does the pollution of our water sources exert a tremendous financial strain upon businesses and governments, but it is killing both humans and marine life, too. From oil spills to the leaking of toxic chemicals to an abundance of plastic waste entering our waterways, we’re damaging the most valuable resource our planet has to offer.
The solution is education. Once we understand the causes and effects of water pollution, we can work together to undo the damage humans have caused. Similarly, establishing a robust infrastructure for regulation is required to take effective action across national borders.
It’s a truism that, nevertheless, remains under-appreciated: humans need plants to survive, especially trees. Most obviously, plants supply humans with food, but they purify water, furnish medicine and produce oxygen, too.
At the moment, we are placing trees under the most stress. Warnings have emerged from all quarters that if deforestation races along at its present pace, we won’t have much of the valuable forestry left. For instance, as global climates alter, natural wildfires occur in unusual locations and at unprecedented scales, wiping out significant areas of woodland. Similarly, illegal logging enterprises and the massive amount of timber being harvested for commercial use mean that forests are decreasing at an alarming rate. As well as reducing our supply of oxygen, the destruction of forests upsets the carbon cycle, such that deforestation can be said to contribute around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
If you’d like to help, you can buy more recycled and organic products, as well as limit the amount of paper and cardboard you use.
Now, we’ve already put a spotlight on water pollution, but what of the other forms of pollution besetting the natural environment?
The tricky thing is that pollution causes other environmental concerns, including those that we’ve already mentioned, like climate change and biodiversity. All seven key types of pollution – air, water, soil, noise, radioactive, light and thermal – are all having a negative impact on our environment.
All types of pollution, and environmental concerns, are interlinked and influence one another. So, to tackle one is to tackle them all. That’s why we need to work together, as a community, to reduce the impact that pollution is having on our environment.
If you'd like to find out more about how action on climate could affect air pollution in particular, follow the link.
5. Climate Change
As pointed out by a recent UN report, without ‘unprecedented changes
in our actions and behaviour, our planet will suffer drastically from global warming in just 12 years. Greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change, trapping in the sun’s heat and warming the surface of the earth.
One of the often-neglected impacts of climate change can only be seen beneath the waves, as an increased sub-surface temperature can have rather drastic consequences for marine life and ecosystems. What’s more: the rise in global sea levels is shrinking our land, causing mass floods and freak-weather incidents across the world. If we continue as we are, the world will suffer, perhaps irreversibly.
Swapping out a drive for a walk or a ride on public transport can reduce your carbon footprint, as will switching off your electricals when they’re not in use. More importantly, we’re going to need to educate the world on the severity of global warming – before it’s too late.