As the impact of human activity on the planet becomes ever clearer, it is no surprise that an increasing number of us are concerned about the environment. But with so many different, complex issues affecting our world, we can struggle to know what to do to help.
Global issues require global solutions. But each one of us has a part to play. In this post, we’re looking at the five most pressing environmental problems currently facing the world and introducing some of the possible solutions.
1: Climate Change
With rising temperatures and extreme weather events becoming more common, it is increasingly clear that climate change is no longer a future threat. It is already affecting us today.
Average global temperatures have already risen by over 2˚ Fahrenheit (1˚ Celsius) since 1880, with the vast majority of the warming happening since 1975.
Global temperatures do fluctuate over time. But 97% of scientists now agree that the current rise in temperatures is caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and intensive meat farming.
Solutions: Slowing global warming and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is a goal that requires input at every level, from governments and organizations to individuals and communities. We urgently need to transition to cleaner energy sources, overhaul our infrastructure, and embrace sustainable agriculture.
As individuals and communities, we can address our personal carbon footprint in many ways. Examples include eating less red meat, choosing locally grown produce, and supporting organizations that are working to offer sustainable alternatives.
We can also use our vote to elect leaders and politicians who pledge to take action on global warming.
2: Water Pollution
Water is essential to life. But our waterways and oceans are at risk. Toxic runoff from agriculture, pollution from factories, and the increase in plastic waste threaten the safety of the water we all rely on.
These pollutants also impact marine and aquatic life. Plastic is a particular concern. As well as larger items that are washed or dumped into our seas, scientists have raised an alarm bell over microplastics. These tiny pieces of plastic can travel many miles, impacting even remote waters far from human habitation.
Solutions: Reducing our plastic use and recycling what we do use whenever possible are good first steps to address the issue of plastic waste in our oceans.
As communities, we can also come together to care for our local waterways. Beach clean-up days and other litter picking events can make a real difference. They also prompt us to be more mindful about how we dispose of our waste.
Often described as “the lungs of our planet”, the loss of our rainforests and other ancient forests is a major cause for concern.
These ecosystems are vital to maintaining biodiversity. Over three-quarters of terrestrial life lives in and relies on forests. And they are also essential carbon sinks. Old-growth forests absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.
But we’re losing them at an overwhelming rate. An estimated 30 soccer pitches worth of tropical forest disappears every minute.
The majority of that loss is down to human activities. Forests are cleared to make way for agriculture and infrastructure or harvested for timber.
Solutions: As individuals, conscious consumption is one of the best ways to support organizations that seek alternatives to cutting down ancient forests. We can purchase recycled products or items made from fast-growing sources, such as bamboo, and only buy timber from sustainably managed forests.
We can also reduce our meat consumption. Much deforestation is driven by the need for land to grow animal feed, so eating less meat means less land is required.
4: Loss of Biodiversity
Plant and animal species are disappearing at an alarming rate, prompting scientists to warn that we are entering a sixth major mass extinction event.
This loss of biodiversity is an urgent issue. Firstly, plants and animals have a right to exist and should be valued and respected for that alone. But we also need a diverse range of species in each habitat to maintain a healthy and resilient ecosystem.
The complex interplay between different species is what makes ecosystems as a whole capable of adapting to change. As we lose more species, our ecosystems become more vulnerable.
For example, the decrease in pollinators, such as bees, has a knock-on effect on the plants that rely on them to reproduce. Ultimately, this could lead to food scarcity for both humans and other animals.
Scientists are clear that the current rate of biodiversity loss is down to human activity. A combination of habitat loss, environmental pollution, over-exploitation, and the impact of climate change is putting many species at risk.
Solutions: Protecting our remaining habitats and creating new places for nature to thrive can help to slow the loss of biodiversity.
As communities and individuals, we can create wild spaces and plant a wide range of pollinator-friendly flowers in our own gardens. We can also support food producers who champion biodiversity.
5: Soil Degradation
We need healthy soil to grow the plants that humans and animals depend on. But intensive farming, environmental pollution, climate change, and erosion are affecting the health and fertility of our soils.
In turn, soil degradation has a significant impact on biodiversity and food availability, especially in the global south.
As well as a reduction in plant life, soil degradation contributes to catastrophic events, such as flooding and landslides.
And healthy soil is also essential in the fight against climate change. As the biggest terrestrial carbon sink, our soil helps to offset the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. But when the soil degrades, that carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
Solutions: Changing our agricultural practices to prioritize soil health is vital to preventing further degradation.
As individuals, our food choices can play a role in encouraging more sustainable agriculture. Those with space might choose to grow some of their own food at home. Communities can come together to create community growing spaces. And all of us can support local growers who choose to farm organically and with respect for the soil.