Our planet has problems, some of which we have created ourselves are grave enough to threaten the survival of our species. Below are eight serious environmental problems that may have imminently observable consequences within the coming years.
If you haven’t been thinking about them, well, you should be. We all should be, ‘cause all the beauties of planet Earth that we enjoy may not be for long if we don’t act soon.
Great Pacific Garbage Patch
When countries face political pressure to control landfill usage and reduce garbage, the quick solution is to dump garbage into our oceans. We feed our oceans about 130 million tons of toxic goodies each year.
Large patches of garbage broken down into tiny (even microscopic) plastic and other particles are swathing around in our oceans, and the most famous of which is probably the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These ocean plastic end up in the bellies of birds, kill baby sea turtles, and strangle seals and sea lions.
If this is not gruesome enough for you to care, our oil spills have polluted habitats, killing countless sea life.
The worst part? we may not have a way to clean this mess up.
Decreasing sea oxygen level
We know that sea water is getting warmer and the temperature alone affects the survivability of various species. But the truth is that rising sea water temperature is like a warm can of soda, gas escapes. In this case, warm sea water holds less oxygen, causing species to migrate toward the poles to avoid suffocation.
Worse yet, the ocean depends on the delicate balance of upwelling and downwelling effects to circulate oxygen down to deep ocean and bring nutrients up to the surface. As climate changes, upwelling and downwelling effects are disturbed, leading to oxygen-depleted deep ocean. If this does not concern you yet, upwelling zones account for only 5% of ocean surface, but 25% of our fish catches.
Suffice to say the effects on our global ecosystem as well as on our food supply will be a profound one.
Drought and Deforestation
Prolonged global drought is no longer news. One of the main factors of drought is deforestation (others include higher surface temperatures) Deforestation increases atmospheric CO2 and in turn raises surface temperature. Deforestation also leads to less evapotranspiration (activity to move water from the soil into the air), which when combined with higher surface temperature leads to drying of vegetation and in turn cause forest fires (and then more deforestation). Given the feedback loop, the situation will in all likelihood worsen in the coming decades.
Colonial Collapse Disorder
Our bees are dying. The US lost roughly 23% of its bees in just one winter. Entire colonies are collapsing and we have only begun discovering why.
Why is this a problem? Well, most of our food, anything from cashews to pears to carrots require pollination. If bees die out, our food supply will take a huge hit.
How is this happening? So far some research point to the use of insecticides like neonicotinoids for killing bees that come in contact. Some point to mites such as Varroa mites become rampant as harmful chemicals destroy honey bees’ immune systems.
Chemicals such as DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, widely used as pesticides) and PCB (Polychlorinated biphenyl, widely used as insulating fluids) are considered endocrine disruptors. These chemicals tend to collect in fat, and often mimic hormones like estrogen. As a result, estrogen receptors bind to these chemicals instead of to estrogen, causing hormonal abnormalities such as feminization and precocious puberty.
The Inuit People in the Arctic have so far gotten the worst of it. The cold weather and ice build-up of the arctic means more chemical gets trapped in the region. The high fish fat diet of the Inuit lead to a high intake of endocrine disrupting chemicals. Inuit women have been discovered to have high levels of PCBs in their breast milk, and endocrine disruption may have caused more girls than boys to be born.
As climate changes, more toxic endocrine disruptors trapped in water and ice are being released into the air. It can get a lot worse.
Polar Vortex and Weather Abnormalities
Remember the blistering cold weather last winter in the US? (and perhaps the winter before?)
This is due to polar vortex, which is a batch of very cold air from the Arctic, traveling farther south than usual. Normally, the jet stream in the atmosphere keeps polar vortex at bay, but as sea ice melts, warmer air disrupt jet stream and lead to more polar air excursions to the south.
Overfishing and Overpopulation of Jellyfish
In the last half a century, we have fished 90% of big fish out of our oceans. We are killing an estimated 100 million sharks per year (or conveniently dump them back into the ocean after we have cut off their fins), while sharks on average kill only twelve humans in the same time period. Bluefin Tuna stock is down 96%, more and more large fish species are becoming endangered.
The result? Because of the lack of predators and algae boom (due to warming and pollution), smaller fish populations flourish. Worse yet, Jellyfish boom is happening everywhere, from Japan to the Mediterranean, to the Gulf of Mexico to the Black Sea.
As a side effect, we are turning to fish farming, which is an industry that abuses antibiotics, and in turn threaten our food safety. There is an interesting and digestible infographic for overfishing and aquaculture here