A list of environmental issues might seem easy to compile.
A regular lament is that human activities have caused any number of issues that have changed the way the environment works and disrupted processes that we rely on.
Certainly the world is now a very different place to the one that Charles Darwin sailed around in the 1830’s on a voyage that presented the environment in its raw form and ready for his transformative interpretation of how it came to be. Most of the places he visited had very few people.
In Darwin’s time there were a billion humans alive and spread thinly across the globe. Today there are 7 billion — nearly half of them crammed into cities — and we will add a billion more in a little over a decade.
It should be no surprise that this huge and rapid expansion has created a few issues.
At a global or national scale there are some obvious candidates for the list of environmental issues
This list includes most of the likely suspects but it is actually a mixture of effects and drivers. Some issues are the consequence of others.
Effects are the consequences of human actions on the environment [e.g. pollution, land degradation] and drivers are features that either result in a change to rate or type of human activity [e.g. population, land use] or interact with existing activity to create a challenge to that activity [e.g. climate change].
So even at this very coarse scale it is clear that not all environmental issues are alike and they can be a cause or a consequence.
this agricultural landscape in eastern Australia is productive and would not normally be labelled under 'land degradation' and yet the entire system is dependent on inputs of fertiliser, pesticides and pest animal control — take these away and production falls off sharply
The list above is about the big, obvious challenges.
Think a little harder and the effect issues start coming thick and fast…
Clearly we rely on the environment for far more than we realize or perhaps care to admit.
It is also clear what environmental issues are really about — they are all about us.
This might seem obvious yet it is worth pondering what that statement really means — it says that the environment has no issues, we do.
And this is true. The environment has coped with massive changes to atmospheric composition, a climate that has delivered alternately heat and intense cold, continents that move, events as drastic as meteorites strikes that blocked out the sun for months and yet it has persisted.
The environment has lasted and been shaped by all the turmoil.
on the list of environmental issues weeds are a huge problem for agricultural productivity — this is Lyppia, an increasingly important weed on rangeland in eastern Australia that turns paddocks green as it strangles grasses but livestock cannot eat it
Nature does not have an issue with anything.
It simple exists obeying a set of rules that over time have created extraordinary variety of form and function. Species come and go just as new ones evolve. The landscape changes as does the atmosphere and the climate. Wait long enough and even the continents move and alter their configuration.
We have list of environmental issues only because the environment has value to us.
This is an important concept to have in mind when tackling environmental issues, for tackle them we must. Just to say that the environment has no problem with them does nothing to diminish the certainty that they affect human wellbeing.
For the value we place on the environment is high. It includes a complex set of values from the intrinsic one of existence to the financial value of an agricultural crop that change as the environment does.
So we could argue that it is threats to these values that are the real environmental issues.
Nature has no issues | this billabong in central Australia will support life whilst there is water and return to arid woodland if the water dries up
Compiling a list of environmental issues can be instructive.
Here are three independent lists from different sources
The first from most peoples first port of call for information, Wikipedia
This one comes from a Green Living website under environmental concerns
A lengthy one, for sure. Here is another from a consulting firm on a page of environmental problems
Lists have a tendency to reflect what we know and are thinking about right now.
After all they are supposed to help our minds be organized and focus on the tasks that are important. So list of environmental issues tend to contain the issues of the day, the challenges we already know about, and those we believe we can fix.
We don’t tend to list things we have no hope of achieving a solution.
It is obviously hard to list issues that we have not thought about or did not know were there. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that a springtime hole in the ozone layer was discovered and the realization that ozone depletion was a potential environmental issue.
Where the environment is concerned this is both good and bad. Good because we can bring focus to the main issues that we have a chance to resolve, and bad because of those we don’t see coming.
Ever notice that we rarely get to the items in the middle of any list.
I think this is an unwritten law of human nature that comes about because lists are ordered as per priority. We tackle priority one, two and three and will also check off a few easy ones further down but always leave the nagging and awkward ones in the middle.
The list of environmental issues on this page were ordered alphabetically. This was to avoid the problems of how to prioritize, a whole new topic.
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