Importance of environment
The environment is everything (living and non-living things) that makes up all our surroundings and consist of a network of relationships, interconnections and interactions that occur to provide environmental goods and services needed to support life on earth. Living things depend on these goods and services, also known as ecological goods and services (resulting from processes and interactions of natural systems), for continuous existence and survival. For example, #photosynthesis is an ecological good while #decomposition is considered an ecological service. Some of these goods and services are: ecological goods (fresh water, clean air, food, timber, soil, etc.) and ecological services (purification of air and water, #detoxification and decomposition of wastes, maintenance of #biodiversity, protection from the sun’s harmful #ultraviolet rays, among others).
Despite the arrays of functions and benefits we derive from the environment; human activities have been destructive and damaging. Severe cases of air and water pollution, land contamination, and damage to biodiversity is considered environmental damage, which leads to degradation. Substantial amount of forest and species have been lost. Resource degradation and depletion, mainly caused by #anthropogenic activities far exceeds the earth’s ability to cope, causing deterioration globally. According to a UN study, without radical action, the present level of prosperity being enjoyed by people in developed countries will be impossible to maintain or extend to poorer countries. Environmental degradation is one of the world’s largest threats that are being looked at today. The following are the major causes of environmental degradation.
Over population and over-exploitation of natural resources
Population growth and increasing consumption pattern have resulted in over-exploitation of natural resources. According to UNEP Global Environment Outlook, excessive human consumption of the naturally occurring non-renewable resources can outstrip available resources soon and remarkably destroy the environment during extraction and utilization.
Environmental pollution occurs when the earth’s physical and biological components are contaminated to levels beyond normal coping capacities. Pollution occurs in different forms; air, soil, water, heat, chemical, radioactive, plastic, noise and light; and has become the leading risk factor for death in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The WHO calculated that exposures to polluted air, water and soil resulted in 8.4 million death in 2012.
Deforestation and forest degradation
Felling trees for farming, settlement, construction, and other economic activities are responsible for deforestation and forest degradation, leading to devastating consequences such as flooding, more frequent and violent winds, species migration and extinction, biodiversity loss, soil erosion and global warming.
Improper land use planning and development
The poorly planned conversion of lands for road construction, mining and oil exploration, industrial and other economic centres lead to environmental pollution and degradation of natural lands and ecosystem.
#Landfills discharge various types of chemicals and gases on lands adjacent to forests, various natural habitats and water systems such as underground and surface water, thereby causing visual and health impacts, biodiversity impacts, air and water pollution as well as soil fertility effects.
Natural causes are also contributors to environmental degradation. Events such as #earthquakes, #hurricanes and #tsunamis can significantly lower the survival grade of local animal communities and plant life in the region; destroy the nature of the landscape and render it unable to support life forms.
Effects of environmental degradation:
Human and animal health is heavily impacted by environmental degradation. Reduction in air and water quality is responsible for more than 2.3M deaths and billions of illness, like pneumonia, asthma, cholera and dysentery annually across the globe.
Loss of biodiversity
Biodiversity maintains balance of the ecosystem by combating pollution, restoring nutrients, protecting water sources and stabilizing climate. Deforestation, #global-warming, overpopulation and pollution are few of the major causes for loss of biodiversity.
Ozone layer depletion
Ozone layer protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays. #Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other halogenated #ozone-depleting-substances (ODS) are mainly responsible for ozone depletion. As the ozone becomes depleted, it emits harmful #radiations back to the earth.
Effects ranging from poverty due to loss of livelihoods, famine, sickness and diseases, costs of environmental (land, sea and air) purification, loss of tourism potentials all impact the economy of the affected area negatively.
Agriculture is a major cause- and a victim of environmental degradation. In 2009, droughts in grain-producing countries were a major contributor to a global food crisis that caused prices to spike and populations to riot (Source: Global Policy Forum).
The increasing frequency and intensity of tropical storms, and the increasing intensity and duration of droughts, has been attributed to #climate change. These weather extremes increase soil erosion, affect food production, result in flooding and can have devastating effects on cities and towns.
Many species have already gone extinct due to continuous habitat alteration and destruction, and many others are now endangered.
Recent environmental challenges like climate change are man-induced and have caused unquantifiable damages to the environment – biotic and abiotic. For the environment to keep supporting life forms, we need to limit global warming to less than 1.50 rise, by reducing fossil fuel use, promoting responsible resource consumption and eliminating all forms of waste.