The "environment" refers to the surroundings or conditions in which an organism resides. This includes the climate, the land, natural resources, flora and fauna. Over the past few decades, we have heard the term environmental degradation used over and over again: something that was not really talked about in the last century.
The current era--also known as Anthropocene--is a geological period in the history of the earth when mankind has had the most significant impact on the environment. Scientists believe that in the last 50 years alone, the stress on the environment has doubled, while the amount of resources required for human survival have declined by more than 30%.
The environment that we live in has a natural uninterrupted climate and resource cycle that has been operating for millenniums without halting. Recently though, man-kind has interrupted and disrupted this natural cycle in a big way. Research shows that many hydrologic, geologic, atmospheric, and biospheric systems of the earth have been altered by humans. The collapse of the natural balance of the environment due to man-made activities is what we know today as environmental degradation.
What Is Environmental Degradation
Disintegration of Natural Assets
The earth is a vast store of natural resources like land, water, air, fossil fuels, and plants that serve many purposes. These resources have been around for years and regenerate themselves from time to time. Every natural resource has its own place, temperature, area and path of movement, be it rain water, polar ice, desert sand, minerals, or animal species.
Extensive interference by man in the natural cycle of these resources has put a spoke in the wheel of the planet’s recurring systems, leading to climate changes and problems like soil erosion, a rise in sea levels, pollution, and the extinction of various plant and animal species.
Environmental degradation does not occur in an isolated system but across all spheres on the earth. Water bodies are dirty and marine life is affected due to garbage dumping, fishing trawlers, oil spills, and soil erosion. This in turn renders all water reserves unhealthy and reduces the volume of potable water. The various modes of transport on land, sea and air pollute every layer of the atmosphere. Excessive agricultural practices spoil the land, resulting in poisonous crops. Environmental degradation ultimately causes more and more health problems for people everywhere.
A Serious Threat
The environment is a complex cluster of different ecosystems that are inter-dependent. When one ecosystem fails, there is a ripple effect all across the systems, resulting in the breakdown of other ecosystems as well. Environmental degradation is considered one of the gravest issues for the world today. Every country is trying its best to control the harm being caused to the environment and reverse some of the negative effects of it.
Scientists believe that human overpopulation and overconsumption has led to the extinction of numerous animal species, a phenomenon they are calling ‘the 6th extinction’ and which may very well result in a worldwide biological annihilation.
Is There a Need To Understand Environmental Degradation?
Deteriorating Living Conditions
The habitat in which we live is no longer healthy. The air, water, and soil are polluted due to industrial effluents and inadequate sewage treatment. To produce crops in large quantities, pesticides and artificial fertilizers are used, which decreases the volume of arable land over time and also renders food unhealthy. These fertilizers and pesticides get into the water system of a region and pollute it. This in turn contaminates the drinking water. Large-scale deforestation and land clearing has led to silting of rivers and extinction of many animal species that were an indispensable part of the food chain.
In order to reverse the pernicious effects on climate, it is necessary to understand what environmental degradation is and what causes it. Only when there is large-scale awareness of the causes and consequences of climate deterioration to mankind, will different agencies be able to find solutions to combat it.
Small Actions Have a Large Impact
Another reason why it is extremely important to understand environmental degradation and its causes is to so we can reduce acts of pollution that go unnoticed but have a great impact on the climate. There are numerous daily activities we believe don’t make a big difference. But when one family adds to pollution with this belief in mind, we cannot forget that there will be millions of families who feel the same way and go about destroying the environment one day at a time.
If everyone is aware of the waste they leave on the planet and the resources they expend, it will be easier to reduce the same and build a better habitat. Large scale afforestation, promoting the use of solar energy, recycling, the segregation of garbage, and a ban on plastic uses are some global measures climate agencies are harping on to slow down environmental degradation. But all of these measures must be put into place at the local household level in order to bring about results on a massive scale.
Information On Environmental Degradation
The planet we live on provides us with resources that help sustain human and animal life on earth. It has taken many years for these resources to form in quantities enough for a particular size of population. Unless population explosion is brought under control, the resources that have already taken years to get replenished will deplete at an alarming rate and no conservation measures will suffice.
International Organizations for Climate Conservation
Various groups at governmental and non-governmental level are working to find sustainable solutions to climate change, scarcity of resources, and deterioration of living conditions across cities. The United Nations Environment Program addresses serious climate issues of different countries through its key bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).
Environmental organizations like Greenpeace, Worldwide Fund for Nature, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency also actively take part in conservation and awareness programs to counter environmental degradation.
Environmental degradation is largely caused by economic development. The mechanization of work, industrialization across sectors, new modes of transport and sprawling urbanization is causing more stress on the environment in the form of increased pollution, felling of tress, or exploitation of ground water. Courses of rivers are erratic and soil erosion is increasing, causing roadblocks in irrigation projects. Oil spills are extremely tough to clean and cause a lot of damage to marine life.
At the same time, more economic resources are required to deal with the consequences of climate change. Natural calamities induced by man-made activities, like floods and fires, are increasing in number. In such emergencies, large amounts of capital are needed for rescue and relief efforts, rehabilitation of affected people, and rebuilding of infrastructure. Hence, a progressive economy is causing environmental degradation as well as bearing the brunt of it.
Environmental degradation greatly affects the lives of people. Many places face untimely rains, cyclones, or drought conditions and ruined crops or harvest which in turn affects the income of the people. Rising pollution and smog levels cause grave health conditions and respiratory illnesses, especially in children and senior citizens. Increased smog levels are often a major cause for accidents.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a global convention with the aim of limiting greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. The Paris Agreement (one of the most significant agreements in recent times) under the UNFCCC was adopted in December 2015 and is to date ratified by 181 parties out of the 197 parties to the convention. The main aim of this agreement is for all countries to ensure that the increase in global temperature is restricted to below 2 degrees in the current century. This should be accompanied by conservation and enhancement of GHG (greenhouse gas) sinks and reservoirs everywhere.
Many agencies have taken up the task of searching for earthly resources on other planets or sustainable options on earth. This is an expensive endeavor in itself. But even if alternatives are found, no environment can stand up to the excessive exploitation of natural assets. Human activities have ruffled natural climate systems so much that we now need artificially created cycles like cloud seeding to bring rainfall.
Unsustainable practices and abuse of renewable resources costs a lot. The global economy, health, as well as community living is under threat and can come to an end if viable ecological solutions are not put into place. And because climate change has been set in motion a while back, it will take some time before it comes to a halt or even reduces considerably.
Even if all unwanted emissions stop completely today, the effects of the same will continue for centuries due to the cumulative impact of all the emissions that are already present in the atmosphere for so many years. It is late, but slowing down the environmental degradation that is affecting every organism across the various ecosystems is crucial for a healthy, sustainable habitat for the coming generations.
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