The natural world as we know it today has required over 4 billion years of slow evolutionary change. The introduction of the human species, at least 200 thousand years ago, set the stage for an accelerated rate of change to the natural world. Human beings’ inquisitive nature soon began to raise questions about this magical planet. How and where did Earth originate? How do we understand the origin of life? It was these basic questions that provided the basis for religion beliefs among early human cultures and led to the development of the great religions of the world. For thousands of years religious beliefs have provided the satisfactory explanation for the understanding of the story of creation. Human beings, being the dominate species, initiated ever-increasing demands for Earth’s resources that would impact the natural worlds ability to provide the requirements for an expanding world population.
Much of our remaining natural surroundings are the lands covered with trees or forested lands. These remaining forested acres are vital to future life on Earth as eighty percent of life on our planet require forests for survival. There are isolated incidences of ancient civilizations that have failed and collapsed in the past which offer historical evidence of how and why they failed. Examples like the Easter Island people; the Aztec, Inca and Mayan Indian societies; the Nordic people on Greenland are examples of failed populations resulting from living out of balance with their natural surroundings. These ancient societies failed within the environment they lived in and it’s limited carrying-capacity. Today, there are no new lands to discover and the world population has expanded to the point we must now consider the limited carrying-capacity of planet Earth. This requires understanding the current state of our natural world planetwide.
The Earth formed from both rocky and volatile compounds, the latter escaping from the interior of Earth and forming the atmosphere. These volatile elements included carbon dioxide (CO2), which started out as a major compound within the atmosphere, but became significantly depleted by plant species after the introduction of photosynthesis into the natural world. CO2 is only a relatively small trace gas in our atmosphere, but it remains important as it is a strong green-house gas that absorbs heat and warms the atmosphere. Knowing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is critical as scientific data validates that the Earth’s average surface temperatures are directly correlated to the amount of CO2 within the atmosphere. A certain amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is important, but when it gets to high it has serious adverse impacts on Earth’s life systems. Back at the height of the last glacial period our atmosphere had about 180 parts CO2 per million parts of air. The amount of CO2 gradually increased as the Earth warmed and the glaciers receded about 12,000 years ago, averaging about 280 ppm until the start of the industrial revolution almost 200 years ago. Over the past 200 years atmospheric levels of CO2 have been raising dramatically. 2013 brought a new milestone with CO2 levels exceeding 400 ppm, the highest level over the last 800,000 years. This increase is the result of releasing CO2 and other greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere from factory exhausts, burning fossil fuels, population expansion and deforestation. Methane gas is now almost as large a problem as CO2. The results of these changes are global warming, climate change, water pollution and loss of species. Science currently predicts the loss of 28,000 different species of plants and animals over the next 25 years if we continue on our current path. Despite reports that global emissions of potent green-house gas, were almost eliminated in 2017, an international team of scientists led by the University of Bristol, has concluded atmospheric levels are growing at record values.
Raising green-house gas emissions are the direct result of human demands due to population expansion and are resulting in global warming, raising ocean temperatures, climate change, loss of species and reductions in food crop production levels.
Water covers almost seventy percent of Earth’s surface and is a vital element in sustaining life systems on our planet. Today, we are faced with raising ocean sea levels and temperatures, pollution of our surface water supplies and serious water shortages worldwide. Scientists say our world’s oceans are warming much more rapidly than thought, resulting in major implications for climate change, since most all excess heat absorbed by our planet is stored in our ocean waters. A new report in the Journal of Science suggests our oceans are heating up forty percent faster than had been estimated by a United Nations panel just five years earlier. 2016,17 18 and 19 each set record warm temperature increases for our oceans. Associate professor Malin L. Pinsky, from Rutgers University, states, “our oceans are providing a critical buffer by absorbing 93 percent of the heat trapped by the green-house gases being released by humans into the atmosphere”. Surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and intensifying hurricane destruction. As oceans heat up, sea levels rise as a result of warmer water taking more space than colder water. Rising sea levels so far are more the result of temperature increases than ice melt, however ice melt is increasing at a rapid rate. Global mean sea level has risen between 8 and 9 inches since 1880, with almost a third of that rise in the last two and a half decades. By the end of the century, global mean sea levels will rise at least 12 inches above the 2000 levels, even if green-house gas emissions continue on a lower rate of increase.
Almost forty percent of the United States population live in high density coastal areas. Eight of the world’s ten largest cities are found in coastal regions and highly subject to flooding due to rising sea levels. In addition to cities, major infrastructures will be threatened, like roads, bridges, water treatment plants, landfills, power plants, factories and more. Warming sea temperatures will result in increased frequency and intensity of storms that form over heated ocean waters, and loss of shoreline will allow these storms to move further inland.
The rising sea temperatures and general global warming is already resulting in significant impacts on our food sources. The Friday evening fish fries are one of the traditional restaurant events in the Great Lake’s region. The specialties were the Great Lakes yellow perch and smelt, which were abundant. Due to raising water temperature these species are now scarce and have tripled and quadrupled in price per pound. Atlantic coast oysters are rapidly dying as ocean temperature rise and today are being farm raised to meet human demand. Alaska salmon fisheries are reporting major reductions in the population, and scientists are attributing the losses to warming Pacific Ocean temperatures. Farmers throughout the United States are reporting loss of productivity and increased failures in crops as a result of warming temperatures and climate change.
Weather and meteorological records clearly disclose that these changes have accelerated significantly since 1830, the start of the industrial revolution. These records validate that although some of the changes may be due to natural occurrences, the acceleration of these changes is the direct result of human demands upon our natural world.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation projects the demand for water will increase by 55% from 2010 to 2050. This growing demand will come from manufacturing, energy generation and domestic requirements. The increased demand will cause increased competition among uses and users, and result in adverse impacts on natural ecosystems. Groundwater depletion will threaten agriculture and urban water supplies in many regions of the world in the next decade.
One of the major contributors to reductions in ground water quantities is deforestation. Removing trees disrupts the transpiration process resulting in significant amounts and distribution of rainfall. Drought conditions become more prevalent and underground aquafers begin to dry up. Paul Dickinson, Executive Chairman of the Carbon Disclosure Project, has stated, “Demand for water is projected to outstrip supply by a staggering forty percent by 2030, and an estimated half of the world’s population will likely live in areas of high-water stress by the same year”.
An even larger problem is water quality. Water quality is rapidly declining in most regions of Earth. Regional over-population, increased industrialization and lack of adequate waste treatment facilities are constantly contributing to the pollution of our fresh water lakes and streams. Every day two million tons of sewage and other effluents drain into the world’s water. Every year more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war. The most significant sources of water pollution are inadequate treatment of human wastes and inadequately managed and treated industrial and agricultural wastes.
Today, you are hard-pressed to find a pristine surface water supply considered safe for human consumption. Treatment facilities are required to produce water considered safe for human use in developed countries throughout the world. Many parts of the world are still faced with unsafe water issues contributing to serous health problems. Tree covered lands are one of the best filtering systems, but are being lost to deforestation. In many countries, including the United States, corporate profits seem to take precedence over major environmental issues such as water quality. Past efforts to protect water quantity and quality have been dropped recently by government officials, clearing the way for our water issues to intensify.