CLIMATE CHANGE

While 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring and greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause, political will has not been strong enough so far to initiate a massive policy shift away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable forms of energy. Perhaps more extreme weather events such as droughts, wildfires, heat waves and flooding will convince the public to put more pressure on policymakers to act urgently to curb carbon emissions and address this issue before it’s too late.

Climate change occurs when long-term weather patterns are altered — for example, through human activity. Global warming is one measure of climate change, and is a rise in the average global temperature. We have released so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that our planet’s atmosphere is now like a thick, heat-trapping blanket. By disrupting the atmospheric balance that keeps the climate stable, we are now seeing extreme effects around the globe. It’s like a thermostat that’s gone haywire — it just doesn’t work the way it should. The result: the climate changes, and it gets warmer. Extreme weather events also become more common. Global warming has already begun. Since 1900, the global average temperature has risen by 0.7 degrees Celsius, and the northern hemisphere is substantially warmer than at any point during the past 1,000 years.

POLLUTION

Air pollution and climate change are closely linked, as the same greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet are also creating smoggy conditions in major cities that endanger public health. If you’ve seen horrifying images of pollution-choked Chinese cities and think the smog is isolated to Beijing or Shanghai, think again. U.S. scientists are finding that Chinese pollution is intensifying storms over the Pacific Ocean and contributing to more erratic weather in the U.S.

Air pollution is attributed to burning of fossil fuels, water pollution is associated with drainage of waste. Similarly, noise pollution is caused when the level of noise crosses certain decibels, and soil pollution or land pollution is caused as a result of contamination of soil due to the introduction of chemicals in the same. The use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides on agricultural land results in contamination of soil. These chemicals stay in the soil for a long time and eventually come in contact with our body through the food that we consume, which is grown in the polluted soil. While thermal pollution is attributed to its use as coolant by power plants and industries, radiation pollution is attributed to accidents involving radioactive substances as a result of human error.

Air pollution can trigger a number of environmental hazards, including global warming, depletion of the ozone layer, increase in ultraviolet radiations, acid rain, etc. Water pollution, on the other hand, is resulting in habitat destruction for a number of species which inhabit various water bodies.

It’s high time we acknowledge the fact that we are the ones who are responsible for this mess, and being the most intelligent species, the onus is on us to take the initiative to save our planet.

DEFORESTATION

Green-winged macaw in Brazil. Protecting this forest and others like it from against destruction is an ongoing challenge.

Green-winged macaw in Brazil. Protecting this forest and others like it from against destruction is an ongoing challenge.

Forests are important to mitigating climate change because they serve as “carbon sinks,” meaning that they absorb CO2 that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere and worsen global warming. It is estimated that 15 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation. Cutting down trees also threatens animals and humans who rely on healthy forests to sustain themselves, and the loss of tropical rainforests is particularly concerning because around 80 percent of the world’s species reside in these areas. About 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been cut down in the past 50 years to make way for cattle ranching. That’s a double whammy for the climate because cattle flatulence is a major source of methane gas, which contributes more to short term climate change than carbon emissions.

Since the 1970s, “save the Amazon rainforest” has been a rallying cry for environmentalists and human rights activists worldwide. In recent years, countries and corporations are ramping up their commitments to cut down fewer trees and plant more of them. In 2014, the New York Declaration on Forests united 30 governments and 50 companies under the goal of cutting natural forest loss in half by 2020 and ending it by 2030.

No deforestation at all just isn’t possible,” said Lisa Famolare, vice president of Conservation International’s (CI) Amazonia program. “For example, highly forested countries like Suriname and Guyana will likely have some deforestation as they develop. As we support these countries’ efforts to develop sustainably and avoid deforestation, we can gain forest in other places like Brazil, which has plans to reforest 5 million hectares [12.3 million acres].”

Colombia has pledged to achieve zero net deforestation in its Amazon region by 2020; Peru aims to reach this goal for the entire country by 2021

WATER SCARCITY

Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, yet only three percent is suitable for human consumption. Water shortage, which may be caused by pollution, overuse, wastage, or climate change leading to droughts or floods, is an increasing challenge, affecting nearly 27 perfect of the world’s population. Water levels in America’s largest aquifer have dropped by over 30 percent in recent years. By 2030, the world will have only 60 percent of the fresh water it needs.

As the population increases and climate change causes more droughts, water scarcity is becoming more of an issue. Only three percent of the world’s water is fresh water and 1.1 billion people lack access to clean, safe drinking water. As the current drought in California dramatically shows, access to water is not just an issue for developing countries but the United States as well. In fact, by the middle of this century more than a third of all counties in the lower 48 states will be at higher risk of water shortages with more than 400 of the 1,100 counties facing an extremely high risk.

Water is essential for all living organisms, and life on earth would be impossible without it

SOIL EROSION AND DEGRADATION

Unsustainable industrial agriculture practices have resulted in soil erosion and degradation that leads to less arable land, clogged and polluted waterways, increased flooding and desertification. According to the World Wildlife Fund, half of the earth’s topsoil has been lost in the last 150 years.

Soil is the earth’s fragile skin that anchors all life on Earth. It is comprised of countless species that create a dynamic and complex ecosystem and is among the most precious resources to humans. Increased demand for agriculture commodities generates incentives to convert forests and grasslands to farm fields and pastures. The transition to agriculture from natural vegetation often cannot hold onto the soil and many of these plants, such as coffee, cotton, palm oil, soybean and wheat, can actually increase soil erosion beyond the soil’s ability to maintain itself.

*Half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years. In addition to erosion, soil quality is affected by other aspects of agriculture. These impacts include compaction, loss of soil structure, nutrient degradation, and soil salinity. These are very real and at times severe issues.

The effects of soil erosion go beyond the loss of fertile land. It has led to increased pollution and sedimentation in streams and rivers, clogging these waterways and causing declines in fish and other species. And degraded lands are also often less able to hold onto water, which can worsen flooding. Sustainable land use can help to reduce the impacts of agriculture and livestock, preventing soil degradation and erosion and the loss of valuable land to desertification.

The health of soil is a primary concern to farmers and the global community whose livelihoods depend on well managed agriculture that starts with the dirt beneath our feet. While there are many challenges to maintaining healthy soil, there are also solutions and a dedicated group of people, including WWF, who work to innovate and maintain the fragile skin from which biodiversity springs.