The coast of New South Wales (NSW), Australia got hit by a disastrous flood at the end of March 2021. Sydney received 40% of its annual rainfall in that time period, flooding numerous households and displacing large masses. Around 29,000 damage claims were put forward by different insurance companies, owing to the extent of damage this vicious flooding had caused. Such natural disaster unveils the social and economic distress mankind is indulged in.
Earth is the only planet mankind can inhabit because nature has provided it with ample blessings: freshwater, fertile soil, vegetation, appropriate climate, glaciers, desserts, and much more. Exhausting these natural supplies and littering the earth is one of the greatest threats we are posing. It is paramount to realize the extent of damage we, humankind, have done to the earth. It seems plausible to restore the earth to its original state, but we can still aim to reduce the damage we are currently doing. Earth’s deterioration is combinatorial factor damage. Thus, to pace down the damage, we need to understand and be receptive to the mankind-induced factors that are vandalizing planet Earth.
Human derived factors that are destroying Earth are as under:
One of the most destructive issues for the earth is pollution, water pollution, air pollution, or land pollution. The accelerating rate by which we are polluting this planet is an eye-opener. Pollution at such alarming rates is imperiling our survival and affects the biodiversity of various species of animals. Ocean acidification, spillage of oil at shipping ports, discharge of industrial and domestic waste into water bodies, the release of harmful gases (Sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen monoxide) is all impairing the quality of life on earth. This further gives birth to infinite diseases that are waterborne or airborne such as cholera, lung and respiratory diseases, etc.
One of the recent episodes of pollution has bought long-term damages with it. 20,000 tons of diesel leakage in a river in Russia after a storage tank collapsed is one of the biggest man-induced damage done in 2020. The oil flowed into the Ambarnaya River covering a 7.5-mile area. The oil also contaminated the Daldykan River. According to the former deputy chief of Russian environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, Oleg Mitvol, the entire cleanup process will cost $1.5 billion and a span of around 10 years. This spillage is a potent threat to marine life.
Another major concern for humanity is deforestation. With the increased demand for clear land for different activities, forests are being cleared faster. Lack of forest cover is one of the root causes for other issues such as loss of soil fertility, fluctuations in the water cycle, and habitat destruction, to name a few. Forest fires further add to the unproductivity of land. Destruction of natural landscapes and ecosystems is another outcome of human activities such as mining, fishing, etc. The land that provides us with food and a cover is collapsing in the blink of an eye.
The deforestation rate in Pakistan is accelerating between 0.2% to 0.5 % per annum, the highest worldwide contributing to a 4% to 6% decline in its wood biomass per annum. Assessing a research report, Justice Jawad Hasan (Pakistan) observed that the natural forest cover had declined from 3.59 million hectares to 3.32m hectares at an average rate of 27,000 hectares annually. This deterioration will exploit nature to alarming levels.
The exploitation of natural resources
Humans have been exploiting the earth’s natural resources to produce products for their survival. This practice is being carried out for decades. However, over-exploitation and overuse of natural resources are depleting them quicker than usual. Overfishing, excessive deforestation, abundant extraction of non-renewable raw materials such as coal, gypsum, natural gas is disturbing nature’s balance. Our hunger for the accessibility of these resources has masked the potential damage these practices are bringing forth.
Our dependence on non-renewable energy sources is so pronounced that it is polluting the environment to a much greater extent. Extraction of groundwater and dumping of solid waste has lowered the water table and has led the land to become waterlogged and saline, making it unfit to be used for agricultural activities. Barren land means no food supplies that lead to starvation.
As exciting as these terms sound, genetic modifications and research have an underlying dark side to them. Tampering with the natural human genome, introducing or eliminating specific genes, adding or omitting various physical traits according to human need is disturbing the natural phenomena. Genetic modifications have resulted in the introduction of non-native species of animals, the new variety of crop plants, all modified to the demands of mankind.
Reaping benefits for our survival and named “advancement” is actually reducing our chances of survival. Genetically modified organisms and transgenic organisms disrupt the germline and can pose much stronger natural selection phenomena, increased competition leading to the extinction of rare species all of which affect biodiversity on planet earth.
“I think the ethics and morals of genetic engineering are very complicated. It intrigues me.” -Roger Spottiswoode
With the global population exceeding 7.9 billion, overconsumption of resources and a shrinking planet is no surprise. The graph of the birth rate is rising exponentially. With a larger population, more land, resources, and infrastructure are needed. This is an added burden on earth as it exceeds the earth’s capacity to support life. With an increasing population to feed, more land is needed to practice modern agricultural techniques to meet the increasing demand for food. Moreover, the consumption of non-renewable energy resources in industries and transport has also heightened, further sinking the quality of life on earth and polluting the environment.
According to the Global Outlook for Water Resources to the Year 2025, it is estimated that by 2025, more than half of the world population will face water crises, and human water demand will contribute to 70% of all available freshwater. According to a Harvard study, “Over the next forty years, nearly all (97%) of the 2.3 billion projected increase will be in the less developed regions, with nearly half (49%) in Africa.
Automation and the industrial revolution depict numerous advantages to humankind that can confer more damaging consequences for the earth. The production of efficient and user-friendly transport means such as cars, airplanes, buses, ships are one of the major sources of pollution. The release of toxic gases from these means of transport makes the air we breathe polluted and harmful for the human body. This also brings several associated health-related risks and diseases such as chronic lung infections, asthma, allergies, etc.
The use of coal is dated back to the time of the industrial revolution. The black smoke/carbon released is again a threat for plants, polluting water bodies and land.
Furthermore, the production of plastics (non-degradable), cleaning agents, pesticides and insecticides, and pharmaceuticals is degrading this planet. Lead and other additives used in the production of paints lead to several environmental concerns. Similarly, the cleaning agents can be bio-active with a range of consequences, including health-associated risks. Pesticides and Insecticides, though used for crop production, can prove to be fatal. They are drained off into streams and lakes, causing eutrophication that kills the underwater living organisms.
Land contamination, particularly lead-associated land contamination, is a major drawback of industrialization. Landscape damage, ecosystem disturbance, biodiversity reduction is some of the many drawbacks of industrialization.
Global warming is escalating at an unprecedented rate. The increase means the daily temperature can potentially transition the climate of the entire world for the worst. Depletion of the ozone layer, due to the release of toxic and harmful substances in the environment, further adds to higher daily temperatures. With no cloud cover to protect us from harmful UV radiation, we destroy the planet with our own hands. Cancers, especially skin cancer, are prevalent due to exposure to direct UV radiation.
The ever-rising temperatures mean more evaporation of water from water bodies, more transpiration in plants, and distortion in the normal water cycle. Less condensation takes place, which leads to less precipitation. High temperatures mean that the frozen water bodies such as glaciers and snow-covered areas are melting faster. This leads to floods which devastates large communities and socio-economic setups. Animals such as polar bears, who are accustomed to living in lower temperatures, have to migrate. Lack of food availability, changes in seasonal rainfall patterns, and dry polluted air are all the unknowable problems we face.
According to the National Climate Assessment, human causes are the biggest reason for global warming. The harmful pollutants released into the environment act as a cushion that absorbs the Ultraviolet rays and makes the planet warm. Such climatic shifts can jeopardize our chances of survival and potentially make the earth a non-habitable place, just like the other planets of the solar system.
To ensure a healthy lifestyle for present and future generations, to ensure earth remains an inhabitable planet, to validate a supreme quality of life on this planet, we must change our practices, implement environmentally friendly procedures, reduce population rates and prevent exhaustion resources.
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
Maira Masood is a BS Biosciences student at NUST, Pakistan. She aspires to be a geneticist and wants to play an active part in spreading scientific awareness through writings.