Environmental Degradation: The Causes and Effects

Environmental degradation is the destruction of the environment which leads to the exhaustion of resources: water, land, soil, etc. It deteriorates the earth and also leads to the extinction of species. It also reduces biodiversity and the overall health of the environment.

In simple words, the environment is the nature around us that needs to be respected and taken care of.

The earth is inhabited by more than 8.7 million species. Only one among them pollutes, degrades and destroys the earth or anything in their path of greed, not survival. It is said that environmental degradation is the exhibition of nature’s fury against mankind.

Nature provides for everyone’s need, not greed

environmental degradation

The causes of Environmental Degradation

Deforestation

The indiscriminate massacres of forests have raged the earth. Deforestation contributes to global warming and the water cycle also gets affected by it. The destruction of forests for roads, agriculture, mining, grazing, industries, etc has lead to a major decline in bio-diversity. Removal of green cover and forest degradation threats are depleting the majority of biodiversity here on earth.



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In fact, it has lead to the extinction of species as many groups of animals and birds are displaced from their natural habitat. Deforestation is one of the major causes of environmental degradation. So, if we want to live on the earth, trees must be planted. Let’s complete the goal of planting 20 million trees by 2020 for the sustainable living of humanity. (click here to donate trees and to complete one of the greatest missions of humankind!)

Conservation of forests must be given enough importance. Trees have good water holding capacity and many life-saving advantages or uses.

Overpopulation

‘Without change in production patterns, population growth will continue to increase environmental pressure’

Pierre Boileau (Head of the Global Environment Outlook programme at UN Environment)

The earth has sufficient resources just to support the life of 10 billion human-kind which is currently 7.7 billion. The UN predicts that by 2050, the earth will have 9.8 billion inhabitants of humankind living in it. If it reached more than this level, nature would find a way to tackle the problem.

If we don’t solve the problem ourselves nature will take responsibility in a harsh way either by war or any natural disaster. So, it is better that we respect the natural resources and head towards sustainable living. This can be achieved by changing our consumption patterns.

Over-exploitation of resources

Over-exploitation of resources by humans can lead to increased risks of natural disasters. It is caused by excessive forestry, fishing, hunting and exhaustion of non-renewable resources. As countries become wealthier they consume more resources.

Due to high inevitable demands, resources are exploited indiscriminately. As a result, it leads to a major decline in biodiversity and ultimately environmental degradation.

Increasing waste production

This is a serious issue that needs to be looked into. Every year we dump 2.02 billion tons of only solid waste to the earth. According to the world bank, global waste generation could increase by 70% by 2050. Less than one-quarter of it is recycled and others incinerated or buried in landfills.

Treating hazardous and radioactive waste before releasing it to water bodies is very necessary.

The production has increased in all three sectors of the economy. As a result, waste generated also increases. Increasing waste production causes the production of harmful substances when incinerated. Likewise, if they are buried, it causes land degradation.

There is a need for more innovations or inventions for waste management. The present option left is to reduce, reuse and recycle which is possible.

Proper waste management is necessary for cities to be green, clean, neat and sustainable.

Pollution

Pollution is the introduction of undesirable elements into the natural environment that causes unfortunate changes. Also, it causes incalculable damage to the environment. There are many forms of pollutions.

1: Air pollution

Contamination by harmful substances that leads to the pollution of the atmosphere is called air pollution. It causes much harm to aerobic animals, plants and other living beings on earth.

It is caused by the release of harmful gaseous substances into the atmosphere mainly due to human activities. Because of the excessive release of gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2), etc, the air temperatures rise up and more water vapor evaporates into the atmosphere. This causes the greenhouse effect.

It is known to humanity that greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation which is harmful. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Carbon dioxide (CO2), Water vapor, Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4) and Nitrous oxide (N2O) are some of the greenhouse gases. Some of these occur naturally but some emissions are driven by polluting human activities.

While natural causes are so confined, man-made causes are everlasting. The burning of fossil fuels, the release of untreated smoke to the atmosphere by various industrial activities, mining, agricultural and various other human activities lead to air pollution.

The increased air pollution results in depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, unforgiving smog, acid rain and can have negative impacts on human beings, plants, and animals.

Did you know that inhaling polluted air takes away 1-2 years of a person’s lifespan?

2: Water pollution

Water pollution is the spoliation of water bodies such as streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans. It degrades water quality and aquatic ecosystems.

Water pollution has contributed significantly to the global freshwater crisis. The amount of freshwater present on the earth has been the same since the period of dinosaurs. But the amount of freshwater has not been able to cope up with the demands of the rising population on earth.

Water pollution is caused by various human activities such as
  • Oil spills over the ocean
  • Construction of concrete jungles on available water bodies
  • Increased waste dumps into the oceans and other water bodies.
  • Discharge of plastics and other inorganic substances into water bodies
  • Release of untreated sewage and other hazardous substances into water bodies from various industries and factories
  • Damming of rivers which exhausts the nutrients present in water bodies affecting aquatic life
  • Destruction of wetlands which can also be called as the destruction of natural dams

This suffocates the life of aquatic animals which also disturbs their natural way of living. Furthermore, it disrupts their natural way of living and also causes many diseases to humans.

Today, many rivers are endangered and some are extinct or expired to make it to human knowledge. Therefore, the conservation of rivers is very important for sustainable living on the planet earth.

70% of the earth is covered with water out of which only 2.5% is fresh water. And this freshwater is mostly inaccessible to us as they are found as glaciers and ice caps on the polar regions. It has been known that only 0.3% is available for consumption. Did you know that two-thirds of the world’s population can face water scarcity by 2025?

3: Soil pollution

Soil pollution is the contamination of the soil by toxic compounds which has adverse effects on the soil ecosystem and the environment.

The major causes of soil pollution are
  • Over-fertilization and the excessive use of pesticides
  • The dumping of by-products into the soil by industrial and manufacturing activities
  • Increased household waste production from urban and rural areas
  • Waste by-products of mining activities
  • Criminal activity of littering

Due to these causes, it has a number of effects. It causes harmful effects on the biotic resources of the earth. It increases health risks and also decreases the quality of crops and plants.

The soil is at the bottom of the food chain and degrading it will lead to life-ending circumstances. Did you know that it takes at least 500 years to produce just under an inch of topsoil which is the most productive layer?

Therefore we need to minimize waste production and not dump any inorganic waste directly into the soil. It contributes to the degradation of the soil and also takes away the cleanliness of cities which makes it unsustainable to live under these unhealthy conditions.

4: Plastic pollution

Although plastic has shown its advantages in various industries due to its eminent qualities of corrosion-resistibility, high strength and reusability it can also be very hazardous for the environment if they are thrown out as a waste. Plastics have also shown its uses in the aerospace industry as it can be used to make rockets, satellites, spacecraft, etc.

Look around you, something or the other is made of plastic. In fact, plastic was a revolutionary material until it was overused. We have produced 8.7 billion metric tons of plastic until the invention of this revolutionary material. More than 6.33 billion metric tons of plastic has turned into waste. Only 9% of this is recycled. 12% is believed to be incinerated. The rest 79% is either buried or lying on the ground or thrown into the oceans.

Plastics take at least thousands of years to decompose. Plastics do a lot of things in their lifespan. After their service as an asset to humanity for a very short period, they turn into a very harmful liability for the environment. Consequently, it results to affect human life.

According to a report, over 1 million marine animals are killed each year due to the accumulation of plastic debris in the ocean. In addition to this, plastics are said to pollute groundwater, cause floods, breed mosquitoes, choke terrestrial and aquatic life, contaminate the soil and take away the elegance of a place.

Industrialization

The industrialization that had begun in the 1700s had a major negative impact on the environment. The burning of fossil fuels led to air pollution and increased demands for coal led to overexploitation.

Deforestation for setting up industries led to a major decline in the habitat and disturbed the balance of nature. Radiation from thermal and radioactive industries dropped the population of birds significantly. Therefore industrialization had its negative impacts on the environment and became a cause for environmental degradation.

Urbanization

Another main cause of environmental degradation is urbanization. Less than half of the population fled to cities in search of better livelihood and jobs. This increased the density of the population in urban areas and lead to a rise in the demand for resources.

There were wide variations in the distribution of resources among people. This factor leads to increasing consumption and eventually increasing waste production. The rising demands in urban areas lead to excessive environmental degradation.

All of the above causes are degrading the environment and making the earth less habitable for all species living in it. If necessary actions and steps aren’t taken these causes could lead to mass extinctions. Therefore we must develop sustainably without destructing the environment and not compromising the needs of future generations. Now, let’s see what will be the effects of these causes.

The effects of environmental degradation

1: Climate change and extreme weather conditions

We are now experiencing an adverse change in the natural climatic conditions of the earth. Mother earth is watching and enduring extreme climatic conditions majorly caused by the puny human-kind.

The world is facing climate change. The sea levels are rising at an alarming rate. The oceans are expanding and global temperatures rising. Overconsumption of exhaustible resources and increased greenhouse emissions are accelerating global warming.

We now have warmer winters, blazing summers, and relentless rains. Some places experience floods and some places fight droughts. The economy, the country, lifestyle, and health also get negatively impacted along with environmental effects. In fact, all earthlings are the victims of climate change even though only humans have a major hand in its activation.

2: Biodiversity loss

Extinction is a phenomenon which is until now proved to be irreversible. Other species or in some circumstances even humans cannot sustain if certain species are extinct as all of earth’s inhabitants live in coexistence.

A major loss in biodiversity can affect the food chain which finally devastates us. It also poses a huge threat to food security. The biodiversity loss is estimated to be 100 to 1000 times higher than the normal extinction rate.

Biodiversity is very necessary for the balance of the ecosystem of the earth. It maintains the water cycle, regulates climate change, and prevents major loss of nutrients. Therefore, biodiversity is very important for the earth.

3: Ozone-layer depletion

The release of greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting chemicals especially chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere were thinning the ozone layer. The ozone layer protects us from the harmful rays and radiation of the sun such as the ultra-violet rays and the infra-red rays. These rays are harmful to human beings and also various other species on the earth.

In humans, they are believed to cause skin cancer, burns, etc. There was a 20% decrease in ozone depletion from 2005 to 2016. Scientists believe that it will probably recover by the middle of the 21st century.

4: Human health gets negatively impacted

Environmental degradation could cause acute and also chronic diseases on human beings. Due to changing weather conditions, there has been an increase in vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue. Extreme weather conditions are killing people.

About 2.7 million people die of zoonotic diseases every year. Deforestation and destruction of forests are the main reasons or this.

Another killing agent is air pollution as it causes many chronic diseases such as lung cancer, respiratory infections, ischemic heart disease, asthma, pneumonia, etc. According to the WHO, air pollution is responsible for 10,000 to 30,000 annual deaths in Delhi.

5: Economic impact

Environmental degradation has a high impact on the economy. Over-consumption and over-exploitation deplete resources on the earth which rises the demand for it. Eventually, the prices of these resources increase and can become unaffordable to some sections of society.

A country might end up in a situation where resources are scarce and should import it from other countries to meet its demands.

Environmental degradation has also the power to invent new epidemic diseases. It is a huge loss to bear its impact economically. It is also a loss for the tourism industry as pollution takes the beauty of a place.

The groundwater gets declined due to environmental degradation. This groundwater decline and depletion adversely affect the soil ecosystem causing water scarcity.

Conclusion

We have taken time for the realization of the fate we had brought to ourselves in the irreversible past. Yet, the generation is not making satisfiable progress and changes for the sustainability of life. Environmental degradation can destroy the earth up to a level that life could cease to exist. What least we can do is to produce and consume as little as possible and in controlled quantities. The future of humanity is at stake.

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