The Earth is dying. At least, that’s what the world’s leading experts are saying. But what exactly is happening, and why is it such a big deal?
The fact of the matter is that every part of Earth has been damaged to an extent, and although nature has been responsible for some of these problems (volcanoes emitting carbon into the atmosphere, pigs releasing phosphorus through excretion, etc.) environmental destruction has been caused almost entirely by humans. As a matter of fact, many scientists believe that Earth is in the midst of its 6th mass extinction, and unlike the previous five extinctions, which were likely caused by asteroid impacts, massive volcanism, or extreme climate change, this one is being caused by humans.
Overconsumption and Population Growth
In the 1990s, environmental scientists Dr. Mathis Wackernagel and Dr. William Rees estimated that humans are using Earth’s resources 50% faster than they’re being replenished, calculating that the human population will need 2 Earths to support its population and consumption by the year 2030. Essentially, the planet is struggling to support the 7 billion people that already inhabit it, and an increasing population (coupled with the subsequent consumption) will have dire consequences for the planet.
Biodiversity Loss and Species Extinction
Humans have destroyed numerous animal and plant habitats due to resource consumption, agriculture, and industrialization. The destruction of forests, contamination of marine systems, and manipulation of land for agricultural and industrial purposes has misplaced and/or eliminated animal habitats. In 2007 Amhed Djoghlaf, head of the United Nations convention on biological diversity, stated the following:
“We are indeed experiencing the greatest wave of extinctions since the disappearance of the dinosaurs…Every year, between 18,000 and 55,000 species become extinct. The cause: human activities.”
Humans living in western society are naturally wasteful: paper, food scraps, yard trimmings, old electronics, packaging, metals, etc. Practically everything purchasable comes with some type of packaging or wrapping that is thrown away. If not managed correctly, waste can emit hazardous toxins into the environment, harm animal habitats, and pollute land and water. In addition, there’s the industrial waste that is emitted from factories, mining activities, agriculture, petroleum extraction, and other processes. U.S. industry generates nearly 8 billion tons of waste each year, the majority of which is wastewater. The management of human waste will no doubt be an area of concern in coming years due to the increasing population and human consumption.
So, now that we’ve addressed the severity of the issues at hand, what can you do to help?
How You Can Help
If we’re really in the midst of a mass extinction, what can you do to cease this extinction or send it into regression? Well, every environmentally conscious step can help better the planet, no matter how small the action may be. To help you out, here are a few steps you can take:
- Walk/Ride a Bike. Sometimes, it’s not necessary to take a car everywhere you go; walking or riding a bike is a great way to get some exercise and reduce your carbon footprint.
- Unplug Unused Electronics. Even unused electronics can suck up energy – unplug rarely-used items to reduce energy consumption and your electric bill.
- Use Public Transportation/Carpool. If walking or riding a bike is out of the question, mass transit and/or carpooling causes less strain on the environment and puts a smaller dent on your bank account.
- Install Low-Flow Showerhead. Low-flow showerheads use less water, meaning a lower water bill and less strain on the world’s limited supply of fresh, drinkable water.
- Sign Up for E-Billing. It can save you time and save lots of trees.
- Change the Thermostat Level. Lowering the thermostat level during cooler temperatures and raising it a few degrees when there’s warmer weather can save you some money and reduce the use of fossil fuels.
- Use Reusable Shopping Bags. Plastic bags aren’t biodegradable, meaning nature can’t break them down, and they often end up ravaging animal habitats or polluting waterways. Instead, use a cloth or canvas bag when doing your grocery shopping.
- Bundle Your Errands. If you know you’re going to have several errands to run over the course of a month, try to do them all at one time – it’ll save you money and help the environment.
- Use compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs. CFLs are more energy efficient than regular incandescent bulbs. Although they may be a tad more costly, they use 75% less energy than regular light bulbs and last 6 times longer.
- Vote. In a country where citizens elect their representatives, it’s important to choose individuals who have your best interests at heart. Because the state of the environment affects everybody on Earth, it’s necessary to vote for politicians who are passionate about protecting the planet.
- Skip the Bottled Water. Opt for a reusable water bottle to save money and help the environment. Besides, tap water is already stringently monitored by the government, so bottled water isn’t necessarily safer.
- Keep Old Electronics. E-waste is a growing concern, especially when industrialized countries send old electronics to poorer nations, harming both the impoverished individuals who salvage them and the environment that must sustain the waste. Try not to upgrade to the latest version of any gadget you have if the device you own continues to work well. If you need to, though, deposit your old version at an e-waste collection center.
- Grow Your Own Food. Having your own garden is a great way to eat organically, avoid genetically modified foods, and reduce the need for polluting farming equipment and substandard irrigation methods.
- Buy Sustainable Products. When growing your own food isn’t an option, you can let your money speak for you. Buying sustainable products is a great way to help the environment. Supporting your local farmer’s market, only purchasing items that you need or repairing items that you already have, buying reusable or recycled products, and investing in appliances with EnergyStar ratings are all great ways to buy sustainably.
- Recycle. Recycling is a classic way to help the environment, but not many people know exactly which items can be recycled. Glass, newspaper, aluminum, steel cans, plastic, food and yard debris (compost), corrugated cardboard, motor oil, and batteries are all items that can be recycled at community recycling facilities. To find out what items can be recycled in your community, contact your local waste management.
- Reuse. Simply reusing old items can help protect the environment. Glass containers can be used for storing food or other items, cereal bags can be used in place of Ziploc bags, and old or unused items can be sold in a yard sale; it’s about finding alternative uses for items so that waste can be reduced.
The state of the environment is one of the most pressing issues of our time. You can make an important impact with small changes designed to minimize your consumption and waste. And even though you’re just one man, other guys are sure to take note of your good actions, resulting in a domino effect that will magnify the benefits of your behavior.
Photo by Satoru Kikuchi