It is not easy to make a list over the top environmental issues. Not only does it change all the time, but it is pretty depressing to remind yourself how many forces that work together every day to destroy the earth. Many of the environmental issues we are seeing today are coming directly from human impact.
Table of Contents
- How can we measure which environmental issues that are most urgent?
- The list – top 5 environmental issues
- Environmental issues that did not quite “make it to the list”
- Commercial agriculture – “the beef industry”
How can we measure which environmental issues that are most urgent?
There are also some challenges when we will create a list over the worst issues. Is it the ones that are currently harming most people? That would probably be the increasing sea levels. Or is it the ones that will be a big problem in the next 40-50 years? Then we would have to look at and calculate a wide range of different factors and problems to figure out the list.
The conclusion is that we probably should look at something that:
1) is already causing problems for the world and
2) has to be stopped or reversed in order for the earth to be in a good/decent shape in 50 years.
The list – top 5 environmental issues
If you are in a hurry, I can quickly summarize the issues for you:
1. Global warming.
3. Drought and access to fresh water.
4. Plastic pollution.
5. Melting ice and increased sea levels.
And if you want to learn a thing or two about them, I would suggest that you keep on reading. PS! It’s actually very exciting. 🙂
Here they are – one by one.
1. Global warming
You have definitely heard about this one. But that is not why we put it as the single biggest environmental issue. If you dig a bit deep into the fatal consequences this might have, you would be scared. About every fifth documentary film that is released on Netflix will have some connection to global warming.
Let us show you a Youtube video about what global warming really is and what it is caused by. There are no one better to explain environmental issues than National Geographic.
Are we already seeing the effects of global warming?
Yes, we are.
As being told in the Youtube video, 1998 was measured to be the warmest year ever recorded in the history. Since then, we have seen a lot of similar milestones on a more local level. People are dying every summer in Europe due to a combination of heat and drought. And the weather is definitely becoming wilder and more “aggressive”. The amount of typhoons in and around USA had a dramatic increase.
Global warming facts from NASA
NASA is one of the best sources if you want to learn more about global warming. In fact, they created their own site called “evidence”. Here they list a lot of incidents that can directly be traced back to a warmer globe. Let us look at some of their facts:
– Our oceans have gotten 0,4 Fahrenheit (about 0.25 Celcius) warmer since 1969.
– We lose our glaciers. In fact, most of the ice sheets globally are shrinking quite extensively. Between 1993 and 2016, we lost about 281 billion tons of ice. Every year. So during that time period, we saw a total “ice loss” of 6463 tons of ice. A number that is so huge that we all struggle to understand it.
– The Arctic sea ice is in quite rapid decline.
– As a direct result of global warming, we are seeing more extreme weather than ever before. More typhoons, intense rainfall and forest fires. According to most scientists, this is just the start of something really bad.
The Paris Agreement
The infamous “Paris agreement” was a way for all leading politicians around the world to acknowledge global warming as a big environmental problem. The essential elements in the agreement can be summarized like this:
– All nations went together to fight human impact on global warming
– Every country that signed the agreement did pledge do undertake major efforts to combat climate change
– The main goal of the Paris agreement is to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.
If you want more information about this, I would suggest that you read more on UNs official website: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
Have you ever seen a graph showing the amount of people on the planet?
It is rather interesting.
This graph is brought to you by Wikipedia. As the time span on the graph is really long, it might look more dramatic than it really is. But it is a fact that the population of the planet is getting very close to reach an unsustainable level as we are seeing clear signs in certain parts of the world that we do not have enough resources for everyone. We simply face shortages of things like clean water, food and energy.
Why is overpopulation an environmental issue?
We are already seeing that the commercial agriculture industry are compensating for lack of resources by using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. When there isn’t enough food in the world to feed all the people living here, companies tend to lean towards what can be called “food innovation”. Needless to say, these practices are not really good for neither nature nor people.
One good example is the use of palm oil in a lot of snacks and chocolate. Mars Food Inc., which is the company producing the infamous Mars Bar and Uncle Bens instant rice, count for about 0.2 % of all the palm oil production in the world. It might not sound a lot, but it is. And we know for a fact that the whole palm oil industry is causing real problems for the wildlife in Indonesia and in terms of CO2.
Another good example is overfishing. Millions of people, especially in third world countries, depend on the ocean to live. Unfortunately, we see an increased amount of people in need for fish and other sea creatures to survive – and less and less fish in the ocean. Everyone can see where this is going.
What does the future look like?
You might think…”when will this all end?” Will we end up in a world where every day is a constant fight for food and water? Maybe.
National Geographic posted an excellent article a couple of years ago. It projects the population from today until 2100. Well, that is not exactly correct. It is not National Geographic that made the calculations, but several scientists from The United Nations Population Division. This is how their graph looks like:
Link to the article/source: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/09/140918-population-global-united-nations-2100-boom-africa/
The UN scientists concluded that there is an 80 % chance that the global population will be between 9.6 and 12.3 billion people by 2100. There have been loads of other projections over the last years, but none of them have gotten the same attention as this one from UN.
3. Drought and access to fresh drinking water
It was reported that South African women needed to change their beauty habits due to drought. But hygienic adjustments is not the most serious result of shrinking access to pure water.
There are a lot of serious consequences with an increased drought:
– Migration of wildlife
– A huge increase in wildfires
– Less people have access to drinking water
– Increased urbanization
– It becomes a “war” to access water in certain areas, which creates conflicts between people
A good example on the last point is the avocado production in Chile. The commercial avocado farms are using so much water due to an increased global demand for the fruit that private households in Chile struggle to access the water reservoirs.
And I guess we all remember the serious drought problem in California, USA that took place between 2013 and 2016. People were banned from watering their gardens and water distribution among citizens became a hot (pun not intended) topic.
Global Water Crisis
Water.org is a website that got a lot of excellent facts about what they refer to as The Global Water Crisis. This is just some of the sad facts that they present on their website:
– Every 90 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease
– 1 million people die annually due to a hygiene-related disease caused by lack of freshwater
– 844 million people are currently living without direct access to safe water
There are a certain countries that are definitely suffering more than others on this
environmental issue. Yemen, Libya, Jordan, The Western Sahara and Djibouti are five of the countries that are struggling the most. They do not only have the drought problem in common – they are also geographically placed in areas with long summers and high temperatures. In addition to that, these countries have a very low GDP per capita and an infrastructure that is not very good. These are factors that will accelerate the problem.
It is kind of ironic that you have a problem with these big, water-filled glaciers melting on the Northern Hemisphere causing an increasing sea level, but on the other side you have millions of people in lack of fresh water.
Guess this indicates that we need to work together globally to solve these environmental crisis in an efficient way?
4. Plastic pollution in the ocean
Did you know that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea? And it is not correct to only blame the plastic industry and other sources that produce and “sell” plastic products. Overfishing is also a big problem for the ocean wildlife and a big contributor to why we would see that “worst case scenario” in 2050. In other words: it’s just not a lot of plastic in the ocean. It’s also significantly less fish than what it was 100 years ago.
Why should we be worried about all the plastic in the nature?
Here are some facts for you. I was tempted to write “fun facts”, but they are not fun at all.
1) In the North Pacific Ocean alone, fish ingest around 25,000 tons of plastic each year. Needless to say, this will cause death and sickness – but it will also make sure that plastic moves upwards in the food chain to bigger fish, sharks and marine mammals.
2) It is predicted that already about 60 percent of all seabirds have eaten pieces of plastic. That number will increase to 99 percent by 2050.
3) Sea Turtles do not only eat plastic by “accident”. Actually, they often mistake floating plastic bags for food. As many of them usually feed on jelly fishes and turtles do not have the best eyesight, they often end up with plastic bags, ropes and monofilament lines in their stomach.
4) Half of the plastic produced in the world will only be used once before it’s thrown out. A lot of the plastic will end up in the nature.
5) Plastic counts for about 10 % of all the total waste that we generate.
Video: “A plastic ocean”
This is really a trailer for a documentary, but it is also a quick 2 minutes introduction to why the high level of plastic in our oceans is a huge environmental problem.
Spending a night watching the documentary “A Plastic Ocean” is a great introduction to the topic. The probably most interesting fact in the whole documentary is about microplastics. This might come as a surprise, but big water bottles is not a too significant part of the total problem. Sunshine and “wear & tear” will break most plastic items down to extremely small fractions, which are called microplastics. Birds and sea creatures will absorb these dangerous elements through their diet.
Not only do millions of sea animals die due to plastic pollution every year – it also affects humans as we tend to eat whatever comes out from the sea.
5. The melting of the ice – increasing sea levels
This is definitely something that is connected with 1) “Global warming”. However, it is also an issue that can be looked at and discussed separately.
According to National Ocean Service , the sea level is rising at an increasing rate.
Since reliable record keeping started in 1880, the global sea level has risen by 8 inches until 2018. It is projected that the sea level will rise 1 to 4 feet by 2100. However, it is very challenging for scientists to project the future rates of sea level increase. Most scientific reports these days are a result of ”semi-empirical” measurement methods that are mainly based on historical data of the correlation between increased temperatures and sea level.
A report written by
Why does the sea level rise when the temperature goes up?
1. The ice is melting.
2. Thermal expansion.*
*= An expression used to describe how water expands naturally as the temperature increases.
Sea level rise – worst-case scenario?
NOAA, which stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, created a report that was later called the ”doomsday prediction” for a worst- case scenario in regards to the sea level rise. In other words: how bad can this all be by the year 2100?
Where a lot of scientists say that a 4 feet rise would be the most realistic scenario, NOAA claimed that we might be looking at a rise of between 10 and 12 feet. William Sweet, a NOAA oceanographer, told USAtoday about the report:
It is a scenario that we hope never occurs. (…)It’s probably very unlikely, but definitely possible
What would actually happen if the sea level rise by 12 feet by year 2100?
Many of the big American (and foreign…) cities would be under water. The most populated areas of New York, where 800.000 citizens are now living, would simply be under water. People would have to move out. Cities like Shanghai, Bangkok and Tokyo, all close to water, would not be functioning as they do today. It would cause huge problems for many millions of people around the world.
Environmental issues that did not quite “make it to the list”
You should not be fooled by this list. Despite the fact that we see these five environmental issues as the most serious ones, there are still loads of other things out there that is and should be a concern. We have also gathered some information about other factors that is worth to mention.
People from the palm oil industry are not the only ones destroying the forests or rainforest.
Around 15 % of the total greenhouse gas emissions come directly from deforestation. But increased emissions is only a small part of this environmental issue. We know for a fact that about 70 % of all plants and species live in the woods. The more you cut down, the more species will be lost. In extreme situations, like the one we see in the Amazon, complete ecosystems have been wiped out.
10 scary facts about deforestation
1) If we continue the same way as we do today, we do no longer have rainforests on this planet in 100 years.
2) Between 12 and 17 % of all the greenhouse gas emissions in the world can be allocated to forest loss. Most of them are coming from developing countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and Peru.
3) Globally, we lose about 20 football fields of forest every single minute. You might see why it would be worth to save the world by planting a tree?
4) All living animals, included humans, need oxygen to breath. The Amazon rainforest alone produces 20 % of the total oxygen in the earth atmosphere.
5) Deforestation threatens useful innovation in the medical space. For instance, about 25 % of the organisms that are used for cancer medicine can be found in the Amazon.
6) The paper industry is, naturally, dependent on chopping down forests to survive. About 70 % of the total paper is sold to and used in Europe, USA and Japan. Think about that the next time you choose to buy a physical newspaper instead of reading news online.
7) Trees are not only important because they produce oxygen. They also absorb carbon, which is important to keep the air pollution level low. This is why trees and plants is an extremely important part of urban planning. The more trees and parks you can place into a city center, the better air quality.
8) Tropical rainforests contain about 50 % of all plant and animal species in the world. On the other side, they only cover barely 6 % of the earth`s surface.
9) Your beef consumption does actually have a direct impact on deforestation. You can read more about that if you scroll further down in the article.
10) About 1000 animal species are going extinct every year due to deforestation.
Food waste & waste management
Did you know that only about 60 % of all produced food will be eaten?
There are many reasons why we waste more and more food. And, unfortunately, it all comes down to me and you as consumers. The big food companies are only providing people with what they want. And when “ugly fruits and vegetables” is banned in many supermarkets due to the fact that consumers don’t want to purchase them, we understand that we have a problem.
How is food a problem for the environment?
We create two potential environmental problems through our dietary choices:
1) By what we eat.
2) On how we handle the packaging that the food comes with + whatever is left on the plate after you finished eating.
What are we most likely to throw out?
Both of them will have a significant impact on the environment. There are some types of food that is easier to be thrown out than others. Those are typically food that have a short time from its being produced to the expiry date.
How should we handle our waste in order to make it most environmentally friendly?
By not using landfill. Landfill is the absolute worst way to store trash. Unfortunately, it is still quite a common way to do things in countries that are not too developed. As these countries cannot afford to invest in expensive recycling initiatives for their population, they are forced to gather all the trash in one place.
If we are not digging too deep into this topic, we can just overall conclude that recycling is the best. Re-producing materials to “make the job” one more time is an excellent idea. I can present some facts for you to understand how environmentally friendly recycling is:
– Recycling old paper is 75 % less polluting than using new materials/trees.
– The same number for plastic is 88 %. That is why recycling all your plastic bottles (if you buy any) is a must.
– Only 1 out of 4 plastic items in US are recycled. All states across US do have the recycling option, which means that people are just lazy.
– Composting your food waste in your own backyard is much more environmentally friendly than throwing it in the bin. If you want to learn more about composting at home, you can read my full “composting guide” here.
Commercial agriculture – “the beef industry”
Some scientists started to research correlation between the food industry and environmental impact already in the 80`s. In 1991, Tim Phipps published a very famous report called “Commercial Agriculture and the Environment: An Evolutionary Perspective”. A part of his conclusion points out several challenges that the industry would need to figure out in order to minimize its environmental impact.
“For other environmental problems—especially 150 October 1991 NJARE the preservation of fragile ecosystems that do not produce game species, groundwater pollution in Karst and other vulnerable areas, and surface water pollution from agricultural chemicals and sediment—we still have a long way to go before effective solutions are found.”
If you want to read the whole report, you can go to this website (direct link to the .PDF). http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/29024/1/20020143.pdf
When we now, almost 30 years later, write this article – we know that there is one threat coming from this industry that is bigger than all the others combine: the taste for meat.
How much does the beef industry pollute?
Let us start with a pretty sad fact: about 51 % of all greenhouse-gas emission can be traced directly back to animal agriculture. Out of this, about 80 % is related to cow and bull.
One very famous quote from the movie Before The Flood (the one by Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio) is:
“If everyone stopped eating beef and replaced that with chicken, we would be able to save the world.”
There has to be a solution to this…?
Meat that isn’t meat
Many people have started to realize that the current beef industry is not working in a very sustainable way. They also acknowledge that people still want to eat hamburger and steak. So how can we solve this? A company called Impossible Food has developed a hamburger that looks like, tastes and smells like real beef.
But in fact it is made out of plants and soya beans. This small Youtube video can explain better than we can:
So the future is probably meatless. When we also add all the health risks on eating red meat, there is no way that this industry will survive when scientists continuously develop more and more research on this topic.
Movie tip – “Food Inc.”
There are few documentaries more shocking than “Food Inc.”. It is not only listed among the top environment documentaries that we really recommend, but it really shows the brutal reality of this industry. Unless you haven’t seen it yet, we are not going to spoil it for you. But we can say that it more or less digs deep into two moral questions about the food we eat and the companies producing it:
1) How do we really want to treat animals? Is it OK to overfeed animals to make sure that they will “deliver” a great steak within a couple of months/years?
2) Should big agricultural companies only focus on profit? Or should they get forced to do some attempt in order to minimize their environmental footprint?
These are the main questions being asked in “Food Inc.”
There are a lot of environmental issues out there that need to be dealt with. And this is not going to turn into some type of moral speech. However, it is important to know that we all can make changes in our lives to live more environmentally friendly. When you read about all these issues, you should also automatically be able to think what you can do to improve them – or at least not worsen them. Do not purchase single-use plastic items unless you really are forced to. Try to educate yourself about which companies that are a big part of the deforestation. And avoid buying their products.
There are loads of things like that you can do in order to make the world a better place to live. And if you have some questions about these (or other) environmental issues, please feel free to comment below and we will make sure to participate in a small discussion with you.