Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes to biophysical environments and ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming,environmental degradation (such as ocean acidification), mass extinction and biodiversity loss,ecological crises, and ecological collapse. Modifying the environment to fit the needs of society is causing bad effects, which become worse as the problem of human overpopulation continues. Some human activities that cause damage (either directly or indirectly) to the environment on a global scale include human reproduction,overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation, to name but a few. Some of the problems, including global warming and biodiversity loss pose an existential risk to the human race, and overpopulation causes those problems.
The term anthropogenic designates an effect or object resulting from human activity. The term was first used in the technical sense by Russian geologist Alexey Pavlov, and it was first used in English by British ecologist Arthur Tansley in reference to human influences on climax plant communities. The atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen introduced the term "Anthropocene" in the mid-1970s. The term is sometimes used in the context of pollution emissions that are produced as a result of human activities but applies broadly to all major human impacts on the environment.
Main article: Human overpopulation § Effects of human overpopulation
David Attenborough described the level of human population on the planet as a multiplier of all other environmental problems. In 2013, he described humanity as "a plague on the Earth" that needs to be controlled by limiting population growth.
Some deep ecologists, such as the radical thinker and polemicist Pentti Linkola, see human overpopulation as a threat to the entire biosphere. In 2017, over 15,000 scientists around the world issued a second warning to humanity which asserted that rapid human population growth is the "primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats."
Main article: Overconsumption
Overconsumption is a situation where resource use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem. A prolonged pattern of overconsumption leads to environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases.
Humanity's overall impact on the planet is affected by many factors besides the raw number of people. Their lifestyle (including overall affluence and resource utilization) and the pollution they generate (including carbon footprint) are equally important. In 2008, The New York Times stated that the inhabitants of the developed nations of the world consume resources like oil and metals at a rate almost 32 times greater than those of the developing world, who make up the majority of the human population.
The effects of overpopulation are compounded by overconsumption. According to Paul R. Ehrlich:
Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event ... A world population of around a billion would have an overall pro-life effect. This could be supported for many millennia and sustain many more human lives in the long term compared with our current uncontrolled growth and prospect of sudden collapse ... If everyone consumed resources at the US level – which is what the world aspires to – you will need another four or five Earths. We are wrecking our planet’s life support systems.
The applications of technology often result in unavoidable and unexpected environmental impacts, which according to the I = PAT equation is measured as resource use or pollution generated per unit GDP. Environmental impacts caused by the application of technology are often perceived as unavoidable for several reasons. First, given that the purpose of many technologies is to exploit, control, or otherwise “improve” upon nature for the perceived benefit of humanity while at the same time the myriad of processes in nature have been optimized and are continually adjusted by evolution, any disturbance of these natural processes by technology is likely to result in negative environmental consequences. Second, the conservation of mass principle and the first law of thermodynamics (i.e., conservation of energy) dictate that whenever material resources or energy are moved around or manipulated by technology, environmental consequences are inescapable. Third, according to the second law of thermodynamics, order can be increased within a system (such as the human economy) only by increasing disorder or entropy outside the system (i.e., the environment). Thus, technologies can create “order” in the human economy (i.e., order as manifested in buildings, factories, transportation networks, communication systems, etc.) only at the expense of increasing “disorder” in the environment. According to a number of studies, increased entropy is likely to be correlated to negative environmental impacts.
Main article: Environmental impact of agriculture
The environmental impact of agriculture varies based on the wide variety of agricultural practices employed around the world. Ultimately, the environmental impact depends on the production practices of the system used by farmers. The connection between emissions into the environment and the farming system is indirect, as it also depends on other climate variables such as rainfall and temperature.
There are two types of indicators of environmental impact: "means-based", which is based on the farmer's production methods, and "effect-based", which is the impact that farming methods have on the farming system or on emissions to the environment. An example of a means-based indicator would be the quality of groundwater that is affected by the amount of nitrogen applied to the soil. An indicator reflecting the loss of nitrate to groundwater would be effect-based.
The environmental impact of agriculture involves a variety of factors from the soil, to water, the air, animal and soil diversity, plants, and the food itself. Some of the environmental issues that are related to agriculture are climate change, deforestation, genetic engineering, irrigation problems, pollutants, soil degradation, and waste.
Main article: Environmental impact of fishing
The environmental impact of fishing can be divided into issues that involve the availability of fish to be caught, such as overfishing, sustainable fisheries, and fisheries management; and issues that involve the impact of fishing on other elements of the environment, such as by-catch and destruction of habitat such as coral reefs.
These conservation issues are part of marine conservation, and are addressed in fisheries science programs. There is a growing gap between how many fish are available to be caught and humanity’s desire to catch them, a problem that gets worse as the world population grows.
Similar to other environmental issues, there can be conflict between the fishermen who depend on fishing for their livelihoods and fishery scientists who realize that if future fish populations are to be sustainable then some fisheries must reduce or even close.
The journal Science published a four-year study in November 2006, which predicted that, at prevailing trends, the world would run out of wild-caught seafood in 2048. The scientists stated that the decline was a result of overfishing, pollution and other environmental factors that were reducing the population of fisheries at the same time as their ecosystems were being degraded. Yet again the analysis has met criticism as being fundamentally flawed, and many fishery management officials, industry representatives and scientists challenge the findings, although the debate continues. Many countries, such as Tonga, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and international management bodies have taken steps to appropriately manage marine resources.
Main article: Environmental impact of irrigation
The environmental impact of irrigation includes the changes in quantity and quality of soil and water as a result of irrigation and the ensuing effects on natural and social conditions at the tail-end and downstream of the irrigation scheme.
The impacts stem from the changed hydrological conditions owing to the installation and operation of the scheme.
An irrigation scheme often draws water from the river and distributes it over the irrigated area. As a hydrological result it is found that:
These may be called direct effects.
Effects on soil and water quality are indirect and complex, and subsequent impacts on natural, ecological and socio-economic conditions are intricate. In some, but not all instances, water logging and soil salinization can result. However, irrigation can also be used, together with soil drainage, to overcome soil salinization by leaching excess salts from the vicinity of the root zone.
Irrigation can also be done extracting groundwater by (tube)wells. As a hydrological result it is found that the level of the water descends. The effects may be water mining, land/soil subsidence, and, along the coast, saltwater intrusion.
Irrigation projects can have large benefits, but the negative side effects are often overlooked. Agricultural irrigation technologies such as high powered water pumps, dams, and pipelines are responsible for the large-scale depletion of fresh water resources such as aquifers, lakes, and rivers. As a result of this massive diversion of freshwater, lakes, rivers, and creeks are running dry, severely altering or stressing surrounding ecosystems, and contributing to the extinction of many aquatic species.
Agricultural land loss and soil erosion
Lal and Stewart estimated global loss of agricultural land by degradation and abandonment at 12 million hectares per year. In contrast, according to Scherr, GLASOD (Global Assessment of Human-Induced Soil Degradation, under the UN Environment Programme) estimated that 6 million hectares of agricultural land per year had been lost to soil degradation since the mid-1940s, and she noted that this magnitude is similar to earlier estimates by Dudal and by Rozanov et al. Such losses are attributable not only to soil erosion, but also to salinization, loss of nutrients and organic matter, acidification, compaction, water logging and subsidence. Human-induced land degradation tends to be particularly serious in dry regions. Focusing on soil properties, Oldeman estimated that about 19 million square kilometers of global land area had been degraded; Dregne and Chou, who included degradation of vegetation cover as well as soil, estimated about 36 million square kilometers degraded in the world’s dry regions. Despite estimated losses of agricultural land, the amount of arable land used in crop production globally increased by about 9% from 1961 to 2012, and is estimated to have been 1.396 billion hectares in 2012.
Global average soil erosion rates are thought to be high, and erosion rates on conventional cropland generally exceed estimates of soil production rates, usually by more than an order of magnitude. In the US, sampling for erosion estimates by the US NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) is statistically based, and estimation uses the Universal Soil Loss Equation and Wind Erosion Equation. For 2010, annual average soil loss by sheet, rill and wind erosion on non-federal US land was estimated to be 10.7 t/ha on cropland and 1.9 t/ha on pasture land; the average soil erosion rate on US cropland had been reduced by about 34% since 1982. No-till and low-till practices have become increasingly common on North American cropland used for production of grains such as wheat and barley. On uncultivated cropland, the recent average total soil loss has been 2.2 t/ha per year. In comparison with agriculture using conventional cultivation, it has been suggested that, because no-till agriculture produces erosion rates much closer to soil production rates, it could provide a foundation for sustainable agriculture.
Main article: Environmental impact of meat production
Environmental impacts associated with meat production include use of fossil energy, water and land resources, greenhouse gas emissions, and in some instances, rainforest clearing, water pollution and species endangerment, among other adverse effects. Steinfeld et al. of the FAO estimated that 18% of global anthropogenic GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions (estimated as 100-year carbon dioxide equivalents) are associated in some way with livestock production. A more recent FAO analysis estimated that all agriculture, including the livestock sector, in 2011 accounted for 12% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions expressed as 100-year carbon dioxide equivalents. Similarly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that about 10 to 12% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions (expressed as 100-year carbon dioxide equivalents) were assignable to all of agriculture, including the livestock sector, in 2005 and again in 2010. The percentage assignable to livestock would be some fraction of the percentage for agriculture. The amount assignable to meat production would be some fraction of that assigned to livestock. FAO data indicate that meat accounted for 26% of global livestock product tonnage in 2011. However, many estimates use different sectoral assignment of some emissions. Environmental specialists Jeff Anhang and Robert Goodland with the IFC and World Bank, have put the GHG associated with livestock at 51%, pointing out the FAO report failed to account for the 8,769 metric tons of respiratory CO2 produced each year, undercounted methane production and land use associated with livestock, and failed to properly categorize emissions related to the slaughtering, processing, packaging, storing and transporting of animals and animal products.
Globally, enteric fermentation (mostly in ruminant livestock) accounts for about 27% of anthropogenic methane emissions, Despite methane’s 100-year global warming potential, recently estimated at 28 without and 34 with climate carbon feedbacks, methane emission is currently contributing relatively little to global warming. Over the decade 2000 through 2009, atmospheric methane content increased by an average of only 6 Tg per year (because nearly all natural and anthropogenic methane emission was offset by degradation), while atmospheric carbon dioxide increased by nearly 15,000 Tg per year. At the currently estimated rate of methane degradation, slight reduction of anthropogenic methane emissions, to about 98% of that decade’s average, would be expected to result in no further increase of atmospheric methane content. Although reduction of methane emissions would have a rapid effect on warming, the expected effect would be small. Other anthropogenic GHG emissions associated with livestock production include carbon dioxide from fossil fuel consumption (mostly for production, harvesting and transport of feed), and nitrous oxide emissions associated with use of nitrogenous fertilizers, growing of nitrogen-fixing legume vegetation and manure management. Management practices that can mitigate GHG emissions from production of livestock and feed have been identified.
Livestock production, including feed production and grazing, uses about 30% of the earth’s ice-free terrestrial surface: about 26% for grazing and about 4% for other feed production. The intensity and duration of grazing use vary greatly and these, together with terrain, vegetation and climate, influence the nature and importance of grazing’s environmental impact, which can range from severe to negligible, and in some cases (as noted below) beneficial. Excessive use of vegetation by grazing can be especially conducive to land degradation in dry areas.
Considerable water use is associated with meat production, mostly because of water used in production of vegetation that provides feed. There are several published estimates of water use associated with livestock and meat production, but the amount of water use assignable to such production is seldom estimated. For example, “green water” use is evapotranspirational use of soil water that has been provided directly by precipitation; and “green water” has been estimated to account for 94% of global beef cattle production’s “water footprint”, and on rangeland, as much as 99.5% of the water use associated with beef production is “green water”. However, it would be misleading simply to assign that associated rangeland green water use to beef production, partly because that evapotranspirational use occurs even in the absence of cattle. Even when cattle are present, most of that associated water use can be considered assignable to production of terrestrial environmental values, because it produces root and residue biomass important for erosion control, stabilization of soil structure, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, support of numerous primary consumers, many of which support higher trophic levels, etc. Withdrawn water (from surface and groundwater sources) is used for livestock watering, and in some cases is also used for irrigation of forage and feed crops. Whereas all irrigation in the US (including loss in conveyance) is estimated to account for about 38% of US withdrawn freshwater use, irrigation water for production of livestock feed and forage has been estimated to account for about 9%; other withdrawn freshwater use for the livestock sector (for drinking, washdown of facilities, etc.) is estimated at about 0.7%. Because of the preponderance of non-meat products from the livestock sector only some fraction of this water use is assignable to meat production.
Impairment of water quality by manure and other substances in runoff and infiltrating water is a concern, especially where intensive livestock production is carried out. In the US, in a comparison of 32 industries, the livestock industry was found to have a relatively good record of compliance with environmental regulations pursuant to the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, but pollution issues from large livestock operations can sometimes be serious where violations occur. Various measures have been suggested by the US Environmental Protection Agency, among others, which can help reduce livestock damage to streamwater quality and riparian environments.
Data of a USDA study indicate that, in 2002, about 0.6% of non-solar energy use in the United States was accounted for by production of meat-producing livestock and poultry. This estimate included embodied energy used in production, such as energy used in manufacture and transport of fertilizer for feed production. (Non-solar energy is specified, because solar energy is used in such processes as photosynthesis and hay-drying.)
Changes in livestock production practices influence the environmental impact of meat production, as illustrated by some beef data. In the US beef production system, practices prevailing in 2007 are estimated to have involved 8.6% less fossil fuel use, 16.3% less greenhouse gas emissions (estimated as 100-year carbon dioxide equivalents), 12.1% less withdrawn water use and 33.0% less land use, per unit mass of beef produced, than in 1977. From 1980 to 2012 in the US, while population increased by 38%, the small ruminant inventory decreased by 42%, the cattle-and-calves inventory decreased by 17%, and methane emissions from livestock decreased by 18%; yet despite the reduction in cattle numbers, US beef production increased over that period.
Some impacts of meat-producing livestock may be considered environmentally beneficial. These include waste reduction by conversion of human-inedible crop residues to food, use of livestock as an alternative to herbicides for control of invasive and noxious weeds and other vegetation management, use of animal manure as fertilizer as a substitute for those synthetic fertilizers that require considerable fossil fuel use for manufacture, grazing use for wildlife habitat enhancement, and carbon sequestration in response to grazing practices, among others. Conversely, according to some studies appearing in peer-reviewed journals the growing demand for meat is contributing to significant biodiversity loss as it is a significant driver of deforestation and habitat destruction.
Main article: Social and environmental impact of palm oil
Palm oil, produced from the oil palm, is a basic source of income for many farmers in Southeast Asia, Central and West Africa, and Central America. It is locally used as a cooking oil, exported for use in many commercial food and personal care products and is converted into biofuel. It produces up to 10 times more oil per unit area as soyabeans, rapeseed or sunflowers. Oil palms produce 38% of vegetable oil output on 5% of the world’s vegetable-oil farmland. Palm oil is under increasing scrutiny in relation to its effects on the environment.
Introductions and invasive species
Introductions of species, particularly plants into new areas, by whatever means and for whatever reasons have brought about major and permanent changes to the environment over large areas. Examples include the introduction of Caulerpa taxifolia into the Mediterranean, the introduction of oat species into the California grasslands, and the introduction of privet, kudzu, and purple loosestrife to North America. Rats, cats, and goats have radically altered biodiversity in many islands. Additionally, introductions have resulted in genetic changes to native fauna where interbreeding has taken place, as with buffalo with domestic cattle, and wolves with domestic dogs.
Main article: Environmental impact of the energy industry
The environmental impact of energy harvesting and consumption is diverse. In recent years there has been a trend towards the increased commercialization of various renewable energy sources.
In the real world, consumption of fossil fuel resources leads to global warming and climate change. However, little change is being made in many parts of the world. If the peak oil theory proves true, more explorations of viable alternative energy sources, could be more friendly to the environment.
Rapidly advancing technologies can achieve a transition of energy generation, water and waste management, and food production towards better environmental and energy usage practices using methods of systems ecology and industrial ecology.
Main article: Environmental impact of biodiesel
The environmental impact of biodiesel includes energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and some other kinds of pollution. A joint life cycle analysis by the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Energy found that substituting 100% biodiesel for petroleum diesel in buses reduced life cycle consumption of petroleum by 95%. Biodiesel reduced net emissions of carbon dioxide by 78.45%, compared with petroleum diesel. In urban buses, biodiesel reduced particulate emissions 32 percent, carbon monoxide emissions 35 percent, and emissions of sulfur oxides 8%, relative to life cycle emissions associated with use of petroleum diesel. Life cycle emissions of hydrocarbons were 35% higher and emission of various nitrogen oxides (NOx) were 13.5% higher with biodiesel. Life cycle analyses by the Argonne National Laboratory have indicated reduced fossil energy use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions with biodiesel, compared with petroleum diesel use. Biodiesel derived from various vegetable oils (e.g. canola or soybean oil), is readily biodegradable in the environment compared with petroleum diesel.
Coal mining and burning
Main article: Environmental impact of coal mining and burning
The environmental impact of coal mining and -burning is diverse. Legislation passed by the US Congress in 1990 required the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a plan to alleviate toxicair pollution from coal-fired power plants. After delay and litigation, the EPA now has a court-imposed deadline of March 16, 2011, to issue its report.
Main article: Environmental impact of electricity generation
The environmental impact of electricity generation is significant because modern society uses large amounts of electrical power. This power is normally generated at power plants that convert some other kind of energy into electricity. Each such system has advantages and disadvantages, but many of them pose environmental concerns.
Main article: Environmental impact of nuclear power
The environmental impact of nuclear power results from the nuclear fuel cycle processes including mining, processing, transporting and storing fuel and radioactive fuel waste. Released radioisotopes pose a health danger to human populations, animals and plants as radioactive particles enter organisms through various transmission routes.
Radiation is a carcinogen and causes numerous effects on living organisms and systems. The environmental impacts of nuclear power plant disasters such as the Chernobyl disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the Three Mile Island accident, among others, persist indefinitely, though several other factors contributed to these events including improper management of fail safe systems and natural disasters putting uncommon stress on the generators. The radioactive decay rate of particles varies greatly, dependent upon the nuclear properties of a particular isotope. Radioactive Plutonium-244 has a half-life of 80.8 million years, which indicates the time duration required for half of a given sample to decay, though very little plutonium-244 is produced in the nuclear fuel cycle and lower half-life materials have lower activity thus giving off less dangerous radiation.
Oil shale industry
Main article: Environmental impact of the oil shale industry
The environmental impact of the oil shale industry includes the consideration of issues such as land use, waste management, and water and air pollution caused by the extraction and processing of oil shale. Surface mining of oil shale deposits causes the usual environmental impacts of open-pit mining. In addition, the combustion and thermal processing generate waste material, which must be disposed of, and harmful atmospheric emissions, including carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. Experimental in-situ conversion processes and carbon capture and storage technologies may reduce some of these concerns in future, but may raise others, such as the pollution of groundwater.
Main article: Environmental impact of petroleum
The environmental impact of petroleum is often negative because it is toxic to almost all forms of life. Climate change exists. Petroleum, commonly referred to as oil, is closely linked to virtually all aspects of present society, especially for transportation and heating for both homes and for commercial activities.
Main article: Environmental impact of reservoirs
The environmental impact of reservoirs is coming under ever increasing scrutiny as the world demand for water and energy increases and the number and size of reservoirs increases.
Dams and the reservoirs can be used to supply drinking water, generate hydroelectric power, increasing the water supply for irrigation, provide recreational opportunities and flood control. However, adverse environmental and sociological impacts have also been identified during and after many reservoir constructions. Although the impact varies greatly between different dams and reservoirs, common criticisms include preventing sea-run fish from reaching their historical mating grounds, less access to water downstream, and a smaller catch for fishing communities in the area. Advances in technology have provided solutions to many negative impacts of dams but these advances are often not viewed as worth investing in if not required by law or under the threat of fines. Whether reservoir projects are ultimately beneficial or detrimental—to both the environment and surrounding human populations— has been debated since the 1960s and probably long before that. In 1960 the construction of Llyn Celyn and the flooding of Capel Celyn provoked political uproar which continues to this day. More recently, the construction of Three Gorges Dam and other similar projects throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America have generated considerable environmental and political debate.
Main article: Environmental impact of wind power
Compared to the environmental impact of traditional energy sources, the environmental impact of wind power is relatively minor. Wind powered electricity generation consumes no fuel, and emits no air pollution, unlike fossil fuel power sources. The energy consumed to manufacture and transport the materials used to build a wind power plant is equal to the new energy produced by the plant within a few months. While a wind farm may cover a large area of land, many land uses such as agriculture are compatible, with only small areas of turbine foundations and infrastructure made unavailable for use.
There are reports of bird and bat mortality at wind turbines, as there are around other artificial structures. The scale of the ecological impact may or may not be significant, depending on specific circumstances. Prevention and mitigation of wildlife fatalities, and protection of peat bogs, affect the siting and operation of wind turbines.
There are conflicting reports about the effects of noise on people who live very close to a wind turbine.
Main article: Ecological light pollution
Artificial light at night is one of the most obvious physical changes that humans have made to the biosphere, and is the easiest form of pollution to observe from space. The main environmental impacts of artificial light are due to light's use as an information source (rather than an energy source). The hunting efficiency of visual predators generally increases under artificial light, changing predator prey interactions. Artificial light also affects dispersal, orientation, migration, and hormone levels, resulting in disrupted circadian rhythms.
Main article: Environmental impact of cleaning agents
The environmental impact of cleaning agents is diverse. In recent years, measures have been taken to reduce these effects.
Main article: Environmental impact of nanotechnology
Nanotechnology's environmental impact can be split into two aspects: the potential for nanotechnological innovations to help improve the environment, and the possibly novel type of pollution that nanotechnological materials might cause if released into the environment. As nanotechnology is an emerging field, there is great debate regarding to what extent industrial and commercial use of nanomaterials will affect organisms and ecosystems.
Main article: Environmental impact of leather
Main article: Environmental impact of paint
The environmental impact of paint is diverse. Traditional painting materials and processes can have harmful effects on the environment, including those from the use of lead and other additives. Measures can be taken to reduce environmental impact, including accurately estimating paint quantities so that wastage is minimized, use of paints, coatings, painting accessories and techniques that are environmentally preferred. The United States Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and Green Star ratings are some of the standards that can be applied.
Main article: Environmental impact of paper
The environmental impact of paper is significant, which has led to changes in industry and behaviour at both business and personal levels. With the use of modern technology such as the printing press and the highly mechanised harvesting of wood, paper has become a cheap commodity. This has led to a high level of consumption and waste. With the rise in environmental awareness due to the lobbying by environmental organizations and with increased government regulation there is now a trend towards sustainability in the pulp and paper industry.
Further information: Plastic § Environmental effects
Some scientists suggest that by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans.
Main article: Environmental impact of pesticides
The environmental impact of pesticides is often greater than what is intended by those who use them. Over 98% of sprayed insecticides and 95% of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species, including nontarget species, air, water, bottom sediments, and food. Pesticide contaminates land and water when it escapes from production sites and storage tanks, when it runs off from fields, when it is discarded, when it is sprayed aerially, and when it is sprayed into water to kill algae.
The amount of pesticide that migrates from the intended application area is influenced by the particular chemical's properties: its propensity for binding to soil, its vapor pressure, its water solubility, and its resistance to being broken down over time. Factors in the soil, such as its texture, its ability to retain water, and the amount of organic matter contained in it, also affect the amount of pesticide that will leave the area. Some pesticides contribute to global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer.
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products
Main article: Environmental impact of pharmaceuticals and personal care products
The environmental impact of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) is largely speculative. PPCPs are substances used by individuals for personal health or cosmetic reasons and the products used by agribusiness to boost growth or health of livestock. PPCPs have been detected in water bodies throughout the world. The effects of these chemicals on humans and the environment are not yet known, but to date there is no scientific evidence that they affect human health.
Main article: Environmental impact of mining
The environmental impact of mining includes erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. In some cases, additional forest logging is done in the vicinity of mines to increase the available room for the storage of the created debris and soil. Besides creating environmental damage, the contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals also affect the health of the local population. Mining companies in some countries are required to follow environmental and rehabilitation codes, ensuring the area mined is returned to close to its original state. Some mining methods may have significant environmental and public health effects.
Main article: Environmental impact of transport
The environmental impact of transport is significant because it is a major user of energy, and burns most of the world's petroleum. This creates air pollution, including nitrous oxides and particulates, and is a significant contributor to global warming through emission of carbon dioxide, for which transport is the fastest-growing emission sector. By subsector, road transport is the largest contributor to global warming.
Environmental regulations in developed countries have reduced the individual vehicles emission; however, this has been offset by an increase in the number of vehicles, and more use of each vehicle. Some pathways to reduce the carbon emissions of road vehicles considerably have been studied. Energy use and emissions vary largely between modes, causing environmentalists to call for a transition from air and road to rail and human-powered transport, and increase transport electrification and energy efficiency.
Other environmental impacts of transport systems include traffic congestion and automobile-oriented urban sprawl, which can consume natural habitat and agricultural lands. By reducing transportation emissions globally, it is predicted that there will be significant positive effects on Earth's air quality, acid rain, smog and climate change.
The health impact of transport emissions is also of concern. A recent survey of the studies on the effect of traffic emissions on pregnancy outcomes has linked exposure to emissions to adverse effects on gestational duration and possibly also intrauterine growth.
Main article: Environmental impact of aviation
The environmental impact of aviation occurs because aircraft engines emit noise, particulates, and gases which contribute to climate change and global dimming. Despite emission reductions from automobiles and more fuel-efficient and less polluting turbofan and turboprop engines, the rapid growth of air travel in recent years contributes to an increase in total pollution attributable to aviation. In the EU, greenhouse gas emissions from aviation increased by 87% between 1990 and 2006. Among other factors
We as humans have become dependent on luxuries such as cars, houses, and even our cell phones. But what does our love for manufactured metallic and plastic goods do to the environment? Human activity can be directly attributed to the cause of hundreds of extinctions in the last two centuries, versus the millions of years that extinctions naturally occur. As we progress through the 21st century, humans have changed the world in unprecedented ways.
Human impact on the environment has become one of the main topics for university staff all over the world. While they search for the answer, the public needs to do its part. At least, you need to be aware of all the factors that contribute to this state and share the knowledge.
Here are 10 ways that humans have impacted the environment, and what that could mean for the future.
Survival used to mean repopulating. That, however, is quickly becoming true for the opposite as we reach the maximum carrying capacity that our planet can sustain. Overpopulation has grown into an epidemic since mortality rates have decreased, medicine has improved, and methods of industrial farming were introduced, thus keeping humans alive for much longer and increasing the total population. The effects of overpopulation are quite severe, with one of the most severe being the degradation of the environment. Humans require space, and lots of it whether it is for farmland, or industries which also takes up tons of space. An increased population results in more clear-cutting, resulting in severely damaged ecosystems. Without enough trees to filter the air, CO₂ levels increase which carries the potential to damage every single organism on Earth. Another issue is our dependency on coal and fossil fuels for energy, the larger the population, the more fossil fuels will be used. The use of fossil fuels (such as oil and coal) results in copious amounts of carbon dioxide into the air- threatening the extinction of thousands of species which adds to the effect that forest depletion already has. Humanity continuously requires more space, which devastates ecosystems and increases CO₂ levels, further devastating the delicate environment. Although processed materials are necessary to power the cities, the previous assessment tells us that the planet can only sustain so much damage until it will begin to damage us.
[Image Source: Phil Hendley]
Pollution is everywhere. From the trash thrown out on the freeway, to the millions of metric tons of pollution pumped into the atmosphere every year- it's obvious, pollution and waste are inescapable. Pollution is so bad that to date, 2.4 billion people do not have access to clean water sources. Humanity is continuously polluting indispensable resources like air, water, and soil which requires millions of years to replenish. Air is arguably the most polluted with the US producing 147 million metric tons of air pollution each year alone. In 1950, smog was so bad in LA that the ground level ozone (atmospheric gas that is great in the atmosphere, not so much on the ground) surpassed 500 parts per billion volume (ppbv)- well above the National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 75 ppbv (6.6 times more to be precise). People thought they were under foreign attack as the smog burned their eyes and left an odor of bleach in the air. That is when the devastating effect of aerosols was discovered. While air quality in the US has slightly improved, the quality in developing countries continues to plummet as smog continuously blocks out the sun in a dense shroud of pollution. This is just one of the issues we have to tackle in near future.
[Image Source: Isengardt]
3. Global Warming
Global warming is arguably the greatest cause of impact to the environment. The largest of causes emanating through CO₂ levels from respiration to more detrimental causes like burning fossil fuels and deforestation. At any rate, humans are consistently increasing CO₂ levels globally- every year. The highest level of CO₂ in recorded history before 1950 was about 300 parts per million. However, current measurements of CO₂ levels have exceeded above 400 PPM, abolishing every record dating back 400,000 years. The increase of CO₂ emissions has contributed to the planet's average temperature increasing almost a whole degree. As the Temperature increases, arctic land ice and glaciers melt which causes the ocean levels to rise at a rate of 3.42mm per year, allowing more water to absorb more heat, which melts more ice, creating a positive feedback loop which will cause the oceans to rise 1-4 feet by 2100.
So what's the big deal?
[Image Source: Rodrigo R. N.]
4. Climate Change
Climate change is closely connected to historical developement of industry and technology. As global temperatures increase, Earth's weather patterns will drastically change. While some areas will experience longer growing seasons, others will become barren wastelands as water will deplete in vast areas, turning once floral regions into deserts. The increase will impact weather patterns, promising more intense hurricanes in both size and frequency, as well as intensifying and prolonging droughts and heat waves. But air pollution does not just affect the environment. The evidence is mounting that poor air quality and rising temperatures are ruining delicate ecosystems, even leading to increased asthma and cancer rates in humans.
5. Genetic Modification
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been a major contributor to the survival and prosperity of humans. GMO's are selected bred crops or crops that have had DNA directly implanted into it in order to give an advantage to the crop, whether that be to sustain colder temperatures, require less water, or yield more product. But GMO's are not always intentional. For years humans have used glyphosate, a herbicide designed to eliminate weeds - the biggest threat to any plant. However, just as humans have a learning immune system, certain weeds have developed a resistance to 22 of 25 known herbicides, with 249 species of weeds completely immune according to the latest scientific report.
"Super weeds" threaten farming lands by chocking outcrops. One of the only solutions is to till the land, turning over the soil to kill the weeds and give an early advantage to the planted crops. The disadvantage of tilling, however, is that it causes the soil to dry faster and kills off good bacteria, making its fertile lifespan significantly shorter. To replenish the depleted soil, fertilizer is used, which introduces a whole new set of problems to the environment and can be disastrous for local agriculture in the long run.
[Image Source: Lara]
6. Ocean Acidification
Ocean acidification is caused when CO₂ dissolves into the ocean bonding with sea water creating carbonic acid. The acid reduces the pH levels in the water, essentially changing the Ocean acidity by 30% in the last 200 years according to analysis - a level that the ocean has not been at in over 20 million years. The acidity depletes the calcium concentrations, making it difficult for crustaceans to build their shell, leaving them vulnerable without their armor. Between the global temperature rise of one degree and the ocean acidification, scientists say a quarter of all coral reefs are considered damaged beyond repair, with two-thirds under serious threat. Coral reefs are home to 25% of aquatic life, many of which are responsible for the natural filtration of the ocean and production of necessary nutrients that are vital for life under the sea. However, acidification is not the only watery threat as there are other human activities causing severe changes.
7. Water Pollution
Every year over 8 millions tons of garbage dumped into the ocean. Not only is garbage introduced into the oceans, but also the excessive amounts of fertilizer that finds its way into the ocean through rains, floods, winds, or dumped in excess right into the largest producer of oxygen we have. Fertilizer contains nitrogen, an element essential for the growth of plants- but that does not limit it to what it was intended for.
[Image Source: MrThomson]
Phytoplankton and algae thrive off of nitrogen, causing excessive growth in what is known as "red tides" or "brown tides" in areas with high concentrations of nitrogen. The brown tide is caused by the rapid growth of billions of algae, which deplete water bodies of oxygen and cause poison to accumulate in all life that consumes it, including fish and birds. But water pollution does not end there.
[Image Source: Steven Guerrisi]
Year after year, millions of tons of garbage is dumped into the ocean. Since the garbage mainly consists of plastics, it is largely indissoluble. The garbage accumulates in large vortexes across the ocean. Marine life, including the loggerhead sea turtles, are tricked into thinking they are eating food when really it is only a floating plastic bag or other poisonous plastic that will cause starvation or suffocation to any unfortunate animal that mistakenly ingests it. Pollution is the number one threat to all aquatic life and is lead cause of reduced biodiversity. This is really sad given that water and water life-forms are some of the most important natural resources at our disposal.
With an exponential expansion in human beings, more food, materials, and shelter are being manufactured at stupendous rates, mostly stemming from forestry. Forests are cleared to make way for new humans, which in turn, makes more humans, you can see the problem. According to international data, an estimated 18 million acres of trees are clear-cut each year to make way for new development and wood products- that is just under half of all the trees on the planet since the industrial revolution began. With trees being one of the largest producers of oxygen, clearly that is not a good thing for humans- and especially not for the animals that call the forest home. With millions of different species that live in forests, deforestation is a major threat to their survival and a big conservation issue. It also increases the greenhouse gases within the atmosphere which leads to further global warming. Such human activities need to stop if we wish to survive.
[Image Source: Crustmania]
9. Acid Rain
When humans burn coal, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere where they rise up and accumulate in the clouds until the clouds become saturated and rain acid, causing havoc on the ground beneath. When the rain falls, it accumulates in water bodies which is especially harmful for lakes and small bodies of water. The ground surrounding the water soaks up the acid, depleting the soil of essential nutrients. Trees that absorb the acid accumulate toxins that damage leaves and slowly kills large areas of forest. Acid rain has also been known to completely eliminate entire species of fish, causing a snowball effect of damage to the ecosystem that relies on diverse organisms to sustain the environment.
[Image Source: David Merwin]
10. Ozone Depletion
The ozone layer is renowned for its ability to absorb harmful UV rays that would otherwise be detrimental to the health of all walks of life. Without an ozone layer, walking outside would be unbearable. Ozone is made up of three bonded oxygen's that float up to the stratosphere where they absorb a substantial amount of UV radiation, protecting all life down below. However "ozone-depleting substances" (or ODS) primarily made up of chlorine and bromine find their way up to the stratosphere where they strip the O3 of an oxygen, destroying its capabilities of absorbing UV light. The human impact is devastating for plants that are extremely sensitive to UV light including wheat and barley, two indispensable crops to humans. Although most chemicals that deplete the ozone layer have been banned, the chemicals that have already been released can take upwards of 80 years to reach the upper atmosphere, so it will be some time before our protective boundary will be fully functional again. Until then, slap on that sunscreen and be safe out there.
[Image Source: Clara Don]
It is imperative that we support the earth that we live on, but no matter what, the earth will live on. Human impacts the natural habitat in so many ways and we need to be aware of our personal environmental input. Whether we live with it or not solely depends on the decisions and actions we make next. Mother nature is an unrelenting, unforgiving force, so it is probably best if we treat her well, and maybe, just maybe we can make up for the damage that has already been dealt. The best time to act, was yesterday, the best we can do is today, but if we wait for tomorrow, it may just be too late. Society needs to help itself in order to survive.
Written by Maverick Baker