There are many factors that contribute to the acceleration of the current climate crisis. Environmental degradation is a major contributor to climate change, with significant and lasting effects on the environment and its inhabitants.
What is Environmental Degradation?
When the depletion of natural resources such as air, water, and soil leads to the deterioration of the environment, it is defined as environmental degradation.
Overconsumption is often the riding cause; deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution are the most influential factors, which all drain natural resources and disturb the essential balance of ecosystems. This deficiency results in the environment being unable to meet social and ecological needs.
Types of Environmental Degradation
Land and soil degradation
Poor farming practices, uncontrolled use of fertilizers, and landfill leakages can be catalysts for the degradation of soil quality.
Water pollution is often caused by waste from trash and industrial waste being dumped into rivers and oceans.
Poor air quality, particle pollution, and the depletion of the ozone layer all contribute to atmospheric degradation.
Other kinds of pollution
Other kinds of pollution such as noise and light pollution are also causes of environmental degradation.
Causes of Environmental Degradation
There are a number of social and economic influences that are responsible for the depletion of the Earth’s resources. A key factor is economic growth, which has led to unsustainable demands and the overconsumption of energy, freshwater, land, clean air, and rich soil.
Cutting down a significant number of trees that usually absorb and store carbon dioxide results in more being released back into the atmosphere, directly contributing to climate change.
Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of deforestation, as well as logging and a growing human population.
Animal farming not only contributes largely to deforestation but is responsible for 60% of the overall emissions from agriculture.
Animal farming uses harmful artificial fertilizers that pollute soil and water, and cow farming produces dangerous levels of methane that are released into the atmosphere.
Soil erosion is primarily a natural occurrence when the upper layer of soil (topsoil) gradually moves, by water, wind, or animal movement, eventually causing it to deteriorate.
Human activity now contributes significantly to soil erosion, making the topsoil less resilient and more susceptible to erosion. Overgrazing, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, and deforestation are all decisive factors in human-induced soil erosion.
Water is vital for the environment to thrive, so any alteration to it can have drastic consequences.
Water pollution is a result of polluting substances being discharged into bodies of water, negatively altering their natural state. The contaminated water then affects the entire ecosystem which it serves, disrupting the natural balance of the environment.
The Effects of Environmental Degradation
Impact on human health
Air pollution has a serious and lasting effect on human health. Toxic air pollutants cause serious respiratory problems, and it is estimated that around seven million people die worldwide every year as a direct result of air pollution.
Environmental degradation can have an immense economic impact. Increased poverty, overcrowding, famine, chronic illnesses, and loss of tourism are just some of the effects.
These effects also drive inequality, as poorer and rural areas generally suffer more from environmental issues. Overconsumption of natural resources generally benefits those that drive it, while those that see minimal, or no benefits take on the burden of the negative consequences.
Degradation of ecosystems lowers the effectiveness of essential services, such as the reduction of floods, putting the environment at risk of natural hazards that would have otherwise been controlled.
This increased risk of natural disasters degrades the environment further, creating a domino effect.
Ozone layer depletion
The damage caused to the ozone layer by harmful pollutants reduces its efficiency of protecting the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays. This radiation is a direct danger to human health, causing serious health problems such as skin diseases, cancers, cataracts, and a weakened immune system.
These harmful rays are also a risk to plant species, which can have serious consequences on the global food supply.
Loss of biodiversity
Biodiversity is vital for the balanced and smooth running of ecosystems. A loss of biodiversity disrupts the environment and prevents it from running effectively. This is especially problematic in a changing climate, as biodiversity typically supports nature’s resilience to change.
As with climate change, there are many seemingly simple solutions to tackling environmental degradation. Unfortunately, in practice, it is difficult to fully implement these solutions when the institutions that govern the abuse of the environment benefit greatly from it. However, there are measures that can be taken in an attempt to encourage change.
Understanding the link between poverty and unsustainable development is necessary to fight environmental inequality. Often poorer communities unintentionally degrade the environment as a short-term solution – for example selling wood to compensate for a failed harvest.
Investing in more sustainable development would help to reduce poverty and therefore reduce the actions that lead to environmental degradation.
To deal with environmental degradation, it is imperative to have policies in place that focus directly on managing climate change. Having tools in places such as coastal zone management, integrated water resources, fossil fuel removal, renewable energy, and biodiversity conservation all put environmental degradation at the forefront of climate issues.
Tackling the climate crisis can only be done successfully if environmental degradation is prioritized as an undeniable leading cause of climate change. Changes can be made on an individual level, but ultimately it lies with governments and institutions to understand and empathize fully with the severity of their actions and make immediate and drastic changes. At the Tomorrow Foundation, we believe America’s forests, grasslands, wetlands, and farms are all a part of the solution to climate change. By protecting and educating, we can address the global crisis of deforestation, and the fate of millions of plants and animal species.