Climate change and plastic pollution dominate the headlines, but there are other things to think about too!
Today’s action is to take a few moments to reflect on the other environmental disasters that are threatening our planet and eco-systems at a time when increasing attention (a good thing) is being given to climate change and plastic pollution.
It is quite understandable that our politicians and mainstream media are giving these two big problems plenty of coverage and attention, and we all know they are critical. However, it’s worth a few moments to remember that there are several other big issues that we need to get to grips with. In reality, many of the problems we face are intertwined, but here are a few to think about.
Industrial and chemical waste
At present, too many countries are dumping waste chemicals into the environment, be it at sea or in landfill. Ultimately these chemicals are leaching into the ecosystems, including into our own food chain.
Radioactive material is continuously accumulating and there are still question marks about its long term storage and ultimate disposal. Furthermore, as nuclear power plants are decommissioned in the coming years vast amounts of additional radioactive material will have to be managed. Serious costs and decisions are involved in doing this safely.
Our atmosphere is polluted by huge amounts of poisonous gases and particulates, from vehicles, factories, consumption and waste disposal all around the world.
About third of the food intended for human consumption is wasted or lost, enough to feed 3 billion people (source). Food waste and loss accounts for 4.4 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually and if it was a country, food waste would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the US.
In developing countries, 40% of food waste occurs at the post-harvest and processing levels. In developed countries, 40% of food waste occurs at the retail and consumer levels. At the retail level, a shocking amount of food is wasted simply for aesthetic reasons.
Food waste also contributes to food insecurity, which has the potential to lead to tensions and conflict.
Our plant and wildlife on land, in the air and at sea is threatened as human activity impacts massively on biodiversity. We are destroying and poisoning habitats all around the globe. Thousands of species are at risk and every one of them is part of one or more ecosystems that are normally maintained in perfect balance by mother nature.
Damming for water supplies and to generate hydroelectricity is having previously unforeseen impacts on countries, communities, wildlife and plant life further downstream. Humans need to get to grips with managing and distributing this precious resources fairly. Failure to do so is already leading to international tensions and will lead to war if these problems are not resolved.
Mining and minerals
Mining for fuel, metals and minerals is hugely damaging to the environment. Massive amounts of waste material are produced and invariably dumped. Processing minerals to produce the materials – especially metals – that we use is also energy intensive and highly polluting.
Swathes of green land including carbon sinks such as the Amazonian rainforests are being destroyed by human activity including mining, logging, and clearance to grow both food and fuel crops.
By overfishing many species using mass catch techniques we are depleting our oceans of fish that are part of important ecosystems and threatening our own future food supplies.
Ozone layer depletion
Ozone depletion is caused by the release of chemicals into the atmosphere. Ozone depletion results in more UVB radiation reaching the Earth’s surface which is linked to skin cancer and eye disease, plus it affects plant life and has been linked to a reduction of plankton in marine environments. We have made good progress in addressing this issue since the 1980s, but there is still a lot to do.
Ocean acidification is the term used to describe the continued lowering of the pH levels of the Earth’s oceans as a result of carbon dioxide emissions. This increase in acidification can have dire effect on calcifying species, such as shellfish, which cause issues throughout the food chain – including our own food chain.
Our growing population and increasing consumerism has led to a massive and still-increasing waste disposal problem. Currently we need to properly manage and dispose of billions of tons of the stuff each year. Much of this waste ends up in landfills, which generate enormous amounts of methane, one of the worst of the greenhouse gases because of its high global warming potential. Waste needs to be reduced and technologies need to be developed to manage it.
If all this is scary then that’s probably a good thing because we need to act on these problems sooner rather than later … and many more too. The purpose of this article was not to list every problem we face, but to encourage you to recognise that although focus on climate change and plastic pollution is a very good thing, we cannot afford to ignore the many other issues.
Please, take action. Reflect on the content of this article and do what you can to contribute to addressing them. We all have a role to play, primarily as consumers, by making the right choices when we buy goods and services and by doing our best to reduce, reuse and recycle.