In the recent past, human beings have been facing the several problems on the environment they live in. These environmental problems have been brought about by various factors, with the major factor being the increase in population on earth. Environmental problems can therefore, be defined as the issues that result to the degradation of the environment because of the negative actions of human beings on the biophysical environment.
The environmental problems experienced are diversified, ranging from pollution, global warming, resource depletion, floods, desertification, acid deposition to climate change just to mention a few. This paper will therefore explore the various environmental problems experienced on the earth while looking at the solutions to the problems as well as the implementation of the solutions.
The Environmental Problems
To begin with, climate change is the variation that takes place in the world’s climate, which could last either for a short period, decade or longer. Climate change comes about when the composition of the planet’s atmosphere is altered by the natural environment or anthropogenic sources.
It is mostly depicted through changes in weather patterns or extreme weather conditions (UNEP 8). Research has shown that climate change could be limited to a particular region or spread across the. Concisely, climate change emanates from changes in the global energy balance. This balance is brought about by equilibrium temperature and earth climate, which are determined by the speed at which energy is received and the speed at which it is lost to space.
Global warming is another environmental problem, which entails the persistent increase in the usual temperature of the atmospheric and oceanic regions of the earth. It is normally depicted by changes in weather conditions to the extreme. For instance, excess solar being experienced on earth is a sign of global warming.
Just like climate change, global warming could be limited to a particular region or spread across the planet. It has been noted that global warming is largely attributable to human actions such as deforestation and burning of fossil fuels, which accelerate the level of greenhouse gases found in the earth’s space (atmosphere) (UNEP 8). The aforementioned human activities are responsible for the increase in the concentration of the atmospheric greenhouse gases.
When the temperatures on earth go to high levels, the precipitation cycle is affected thus, leading to the formation of subtropical desserts. Additionally, global warming is the cause of the ongoing retreat of glaciers, sea ice, and permafrost. “It also causes extreme weather patterns such as drought, heat waves, extinction of certain species, change in agricultural yields as well as heavy rainfall events” (UNEP 8).
Pollution on the other hand, is an environmental problem that comes about due to the exposure of contaminants into a natural environment leading to instability, damage, disorder, or distress to the ecosystem whether on the physical environment or living creatures. Pollution takes many forms such as air, water, soil, light, noise among others. Chemical substances, heat, noise, and light form the main agents of pollution.
However, human activities such as burning, agriculture, mining, war, and construction contribute largely to pollution (Negev et.al, 104). Research has indicated that most of the developed countries experience the worst air pollution because of nuclear chemicals, PVC factories, coal-powered plants, chemical plants among other chemical producing industries. Soil pollution could be because of chlorinated hydrocarbons, heavy metals, aviation fuels, lead paints, and zinc, which deplete the soil (Negev, et.al, 104).
Most pollutants do not only affect air, light, and soil, but also, worsen the greenhouse effect leading to global warming. Continued bioaccumulation of particular organic pollutants can cause serious health problems or even death with serious impacts on water sources and the environment. In addition to this, most industries release their chemical wastes in water, polluting it and making it unfit for aquatic life and human consumption.
The concept of ecosystem services is one of the concepts concerning the environment that have been poorly perceived and understood by humanity. As a result, ecosystems as well as their services have been noted to be diminishing. By definition, ecosystem services refer to the transformation of a group of natural resources such as water, air, soil, plants, and animals to benefit humanity. This is caused by the different relationships experienced by species in a given ecosystem.
For instance, bacteria, fungi, and other worms convert raw materials such as carbon, nitrogen, and sunlight into organic matter in the soil making it fertile. Other examples of ecosystem services include breakdown and decomposition of waste, pollination, dispersal, primary production, and detoxification among other services. Ecosystem services can be categorized into four categories namely: provisioning, supporting, regulating, and cultural services (Carpenter).
The ecosystem services have resulted into a great link between the environment and population. It is understood that the population relies on the environment to survive. As such, a high population leads to strain on the environmental sources because of the increasing demand of resources such as food.
The strain is depicted to be the main cause of environmental exploitation leading to problems such as pollution, soils erosion, vanishing fish sticks and melting glaciers just to mention a few. However, it has been noticed that the environmental problems are more rampant in the poor underdeveloped countries where the population is normally high (Carpenter).
According to an economist Thomas Malthus, the famous proponent of the Malthusian school of thought argued that population was growing exponentially while food production grew arithmetically. From his study, he proposed that by 21st century there would be no enough food to feed the population. This far, his prepositions are somehow true since the population is headed to 8 billion people and growing by 80 million people yearly (Camp).
This could be the epitome of the population considering that much awareness has been instilled on population. Nevertheless, the trend may be heading to 10 billion by 2050 considering that most of the women are in the childbearing bracket. There is a probability that population is going to increase even though each woman will be giving birth to lesser number of children. However, increased use of contraceptives gives hope for a diminishing population in the near future (Camp).
An increase in population will translate to increased demand for food and all other necessities that come from the environment. This has been evident in the recent global food crisis between 2005 and 2008. Prices of basic wheat and corn tripled while that of rice scaled fivefold instigating food riots and poverty to 75 million people. Ironically, the shortage was not because of low harvest; actually, there was a record of grain harvest.
This is a clear indication that the world is consuming more than it can produce as depicted by the high prices (demand is exceeding supply). Agricultural productivity growth is just between one and two percent annually, which is evidently too low compared to the increasing demand and population. The food shortage situation is worsened by climate change marked by hotter seasons and water scarcity. Scientists have noted that there is a likelihood of perpetual food crisis if harvests go down globally (Dawson 122).
The impact of culture on food systems
Globalization has brought with it an increase in the rate of urbanization in flooded cities. Increased global change and urbanization have affected food security and the nutritional status of urban residents. This has in turn affected the accessibility and availability of food, through adjustment of food production, security and distribution schemes, food trade environment, and largely, food culture. Cultures that advocate for subsistence agriculture might pose a challenge to food security as well.
However, due to globalization and the need for mass production is essential to retain organic foods and favorable techniques to the environment. Other cultures especially in developing countries have continued to retain practices that do not contribute to enhancing food security (Dawson 121). For instance, with the climate change, pastoralism is not practiced as it was in the ancient times because doing this would downgrade the environment even further.
The impacts of fossil fuel driven agricultural system on ecosystem services
One of the main sources of food is agriculture, and today there is pressure to produce more food to feed the budding population. This has led to extensive use of chemicals and fertilizers to boost production.
The fertilizers contain harmful chemicals that are driven to the environment particularly the aquatic ecosystem. Many of these chemicals released to the environment contain Nitrogen (N) and Phosphates (P) leading to eutrophication. This concept has endangered most of the aquatic life especially fish, plants, and other organisms.
Other types of pesticides in form of sprays contain high levels of chlorofluorocarbons that are instrumental in depletion of ozone layer (UNEP, 6). Large-scale agriculture does not only affect the environment through chemicals, but also, with the use of heavy machineries. In modern agriculture, especially in developed countries, powerful electrochemical combined harvesters, balers, rippers, cultivators, dickers and other forms of intricate tractors are used every day on the soil through the process of compaction (UNEP 10).
Most of the best soil, for instance, the Midwestern topsoil consists of slack, heterogeneous clumps with a lot of air pockets in-between. Through this process of compaction, the machines crush wet soil into an undifferentiated, dense, and nigh slab (Dawson, 119). The process of compaction also makes the roots not able to penetrate the ground, thus letting the soil loose hence soil erosion. Although the machines have huge tires that aid in spreading out the impact, compaction still is a serious problem.
Human beings get shelter from the environment, and with the increased population, ecosystems have been depleted to accommodate population. Additionally, in areas of wildlife there has been competition for resources such as vegetation and water between animals and humanity. In the end, the wildlife is threatened.
In underdeveloped countries, people reside near riverbanks or cut down forests for shelter. The poor urban slum dwellers have degraded the environment further by congestion, overutilization of ecosystem services, and waste dumping. The impact of population living in poverty is far much worse on the ecosystem (Dawson, 121).
Several policies have been put forward to overcome the biting environmental problems. Among them are three concepts central to solving environmental problems, which are bioregionalism, sustainable development, and triple bottom line. The problem is that they have not been implemented yet, they could be just what the world needs to solve its environmental issues.
Sustainable development looks at how the environment is in a position to meet the future needs of the population as well as the current ones. This encompasses two basic doctrines of “intra-generational and inter-generational” equity and two main ideas of “needs and limits” (Kates et.al 8). The idea of needs requires that, main concern be set to the indispensable wants of the world’s poor people.
Uneven distribution of resources and poverty are recognized as the main reasons for environmental degradation. Sustainable development advocates for meeting the needs of everyone and broadening opportunities to everyone to meet the quest for a better life. These aspirations can only be attained if rich countries readapt their consumption patterns (Kates et.al 10). As such, human strain on the natural environment should be restrained.
Bioregionalism entails subdividing the regions of the earth into bioregions and viewing them as political and cultural systems of the environment (Thayer 2). Bioregions are geographical areas with distinctive composition of plants, animals, geology, weather, and watersheds.
A bioregion is distinguished by its natural borders and existing communities. It includes both geographical and conscious topography on the place and the ideas on how to live in that particular area (McGinnis). It involves attentiveness to local environment, community goals, and history leading to a sustainable future (McGinnis).
It is simply the call to become conscious and informed custodians of the environment we live in. It alerts people on their local water and land, weather and atmosphere, local flora and fauna, and local community. It advocates for joint hearts, hands and minds to the past, present and future existence of the place. Bioregionalism is a call to get to know our land, water, weather, plants, animals, and communities (Thayer 7).
Triple bottom line mostly abbreviated as TBL or 3BL is also popularly referred to as “people, planet, profit or the three pillars” (Camp). It refers to the incorporation of ecological and social results to the conventional reporting framework.
This concept encompasses an extended scale for measuring community and organizational success in terms of economic, ecological, and social success (Carter). It is also used in the measure of Eco Budget reporting standard of “ecological footprint.” The “people, planet, and profit” concept represents its aim of sustainability (Carter).
People represents fair labor practices of the corporate befitting the society and the region. Planet represents the environmental practices that are sustainable. A company using TBL approach tries as much as possible to benefit nature or do no harm to curtail it. They avoid activities that destroy ecological systems or deplete resources to reduce its ecological footprints. On this note, the company cautiously handles its manufacturing waste and safe disposal along with energy and non-renewables use (Camp).
The pros and cons of alternatives to large-scale fossil fuel dependent agriculture
The use of agricultural methods that use fossil fuels is the biggest challenge facing the fight on environment conversation and climate. There are however, other sources of energy that are available to produce the energy in equal amounts but environmentally safe. One of the alternatives to fossil fuels is the production of biomass fuels.
This involves production of sources of energy through natural processes for example, ethanol, biomass briquettes, bio-diesel, and woody body mass. Biomass use in the production of bio-fuels involves a type of bio-fuel life cycle. The life cycle comprises sowing, growing, reaping and conversion of the biomass to bio-fuel. This is contrary to the life cycle of fossil fuel, which involves acquisition of energy by mining, drilling, extracting, transporting, and processing of material.
The use of biomass for fuel and generation of electricity compared to fossil fuels connects with drawbacks of using petroleum fuels. Bioenergy production and release significantly lowers amounts of greenhouse gases than fossil fuel production. The process also assists in reusing the carbon dioxide released during the process. However, in the production of woody biomass, a lot of wood is utilized which does not contribute to flora and fauna conversation.
Another viable alternative source of energy is the solar energy, which is obtained by tapping it from the sun special equipment. It is viable because it helps in conserving energy that would otherwise go to waste and the fact that it is renewable.
It is also environmentally safe and the system can be resized making it flexible and modular. The problem with this energy source is that it is not feasible in cloudy areas since it only works in sunny environments. Similarly, electricity produced is expensive and energy must be stored in batteries, water, hydrogen, or any other matter.
Wind energy is yet another alternative energy source that is friendlier to the environment. It is obtained using windmills by harnessing wind to produce power. This energy can be converted to mechanical energy to carry out activities such as grinding grain, plumbing water or milling lumber.
Wind energy is renewable, clean, and non-polluting to the environment. It is also preferred for its convenience to be used as the mainstream power supply or as a backup to other sources of power. The biggest drawback lies in its appearance and noise, which turns out to be aesthetically disturbing. Wind behavior makes it unreliable while the windmills scare away birds because of the turbines and thus not enhancing ecosystem services.
The notable benefits of alternative energy sources are the positive impact they have on the population and human health through the provision of clean source of energy. They save the population many diseases that are brought about by air or land pollution.
They are also suitable in eliminating the effects of greenhouse gases that bring about global warming. They also have a positive impact on the ecosystem services since their mode of production ensures that most of the organisms either in the soil or in atmosphere are not adversely affected (FAO 2).
On the other hand, they involve a lot of human labor thus making sure that the population becomes more productive. They are very natural and subsequently form a chain that tends to re-use resources as it eliminates the negative impact of others. Additionally, they are quite similar methods that can be well used in enhancing food security.
They can be carried out in small scale even in remote and rural areas without a lot of technical knowhow. For instance, tapping sun in dry remote areas to produce energy for irrigation or replacing charcoal burning with biomass fuel. Finally, these alternative energy sources enhance environment and food security while safeguarding the health and employment of the people.
The implementation of these energy sources have started in most parts of the world especially in the UK and the US. The process of implementing is not easy since people will argue that they do not have the ability to produce enough energy among other complaints.
The proposed alternatives will have different impacts on the ecosystem services. For instance, the use of organic farming will ensure a flow of the services through its techniques. Biomass fuel production will see production of equal energy but with the preservation of ecosystem and the atmosphere.
These methods help us benefit from the nature like wind, sun, and soil while at the same time addressing their possible negative effects they could have on the environment. They do not involve a lot of energy and chemical use, therefore not affecting biodiversity nature. It is also fit for well-being since it does not have chemicals to pollute the environment.
Even with the increasing population, it offers a balance because it is labor intensive and can act on the workforce. GMOs are crucial especially to impact on the ecosystem especially through pollination. Otherwise, it is well fitted to spare the environment while yielding produce to the population (Whitman 5).
Implementing these alternatives is going to benefit the population through increased food supply in safe and clean environment. First, the population will no longer be at risk of contracting diseases brought about by pollution hence remaining healthy.
To implement organic farming, there is a need to train farmers on how to go about the methods by following a proper module. In the end, organic farming is going to maintain the ecosystem services as everything will be where it should be and benefiting each other for the sake of production (FAO 3).
However, the challenge will be the cost of organic foods and marketing them. Electrical energy alternative might be very costly to implement especially in developing countries. However, it can be complimented by other means such as windmills and solar energy. Finally yet important, the best possible way of implementing these alternative energy sources is through creation of awareness through public campaigns, documentaries, and incorporating it in the education curriculum among other ways.
To sum up, environmental problems are affecting the planet in a severe way than predicted. It is therefore necessary to come up with sustainable solutions to address these problems inclusively. For this to be achieved there is a need to base the solutions on sustainable development, bioregionalism, and triple bottom line. The solutions should be a balance of sustaining the huge population by feeding it sufficiently in a safe environment and safeguarding of the ecosystem services.
Agriculture is a central issue to environmental problems due to its ability to generate food for the population as well as its use of chemicals and machines. The planet should move towards adopting agricultural alternatives that do not heavily rely on fossil fuels and toxic chemicals. Additionally, the agricultural systems should enhance ecosystem services and biodiversity instead of harming it. Most importantly, issues of poverty especially in the rural areas must be dealt with to ensure sustainable development.
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