Anytime you drive a petroleum-powered vehicle, you are contributing damage to the natural environment. Humans have the remarkable ability to perform helpful activities that unfortunately can be detrimental to themselves, wildlife and Earth's renewable and nonrenewable resources. To help save the environment, it is useful to learn the ways that humanity damages it daily.
Something's In the Air
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that “There is broad consensus among scientists that rising concentrations of greenhouse gases are warming the atmosphere and oceans of the Earth.” Most greenhouse gas emissions from humans are caused by burning fossil fuels for transportation, heat and energy. According to NASA, computer models show that the planet’s average surface temperature will increase by up to 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the 21st century. As average temperatures rise, permafrost thaws, rain patterns change, glaciers melt, coastal erosion increases and sea levels rise. Warmer temperatures have already created increased flooding in low-lying areas in the mid-Atlantic region.
Don't Drink the Water
Scientists are still working to determine the environmental impact of the catastrophic spillage of 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Oil spills can harm aquatic life in the water, as well as life on shore if the oil remains on a beach for any length of time. In addition, oil may destroy wildlife habitats and delicate coral reefs. These types of problems can also occur when chemicals spill into waterways.
You may not always be aware of it, but signs of pollution may be in plain sight in the form of soil contamination. Hazardous particles that fall from smokestacks onto land are one source of soil pollution. Companies and individuals may spill contaminants that travel into the soil. Soil contamination can also occur when substances from an affected area move to another location. This contamination may harm animals and people that eat, breathe or come into contact with it. Soil pollutants can also damage plants that absorb hazardous substances through their roots. Coal plants produce needed energy, and vehicles are essential for transportation, but they also create smog and other pollutants that harm the environment and the people who live in it.
Good Intentions, Unfortunate Consequences
Many beneficial activities that humans perform may also harm the environment. Fertilizer, for instance, helps plants thrive, but when people misuse it, fertilization can harm plants on land and pollute lakes. Fishing helps feed the hungry, but overfishing may reduce the populations of some fish species and affect coral reefs. Deforestation creates more wood products, but it eliminates trees that help remove carbon dioxide from the air and slow global warming. Underground storage tanks can help house hazardous materials, but if those tanks leak, there may be disastrous effects on the surrounding land and water.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: The Impact of Climate Change on the Mid-Atlantic Region
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- NASA Earth Observatory: Global Warming
- The Times-Picayune Greater New Orleans: BP Oil Spill: Scientists Struggling To Understand Effects Four Years Later
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Response and Restoration: How Oil Harms Animals and Plants in Marine Environments
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Oil and Chemical Spills
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Soil Contamination
- University of Minnesota Extension: Preventing Pollution Problems from Lawn and Garden Rertilizers
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office: Soil Contamination
- Photo Credit predrag1/iStock/Getty Images
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