How is Humanity Affecting the Environment?

How is Humanity Affecting the Environment?

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Hi, welcome to Enchiridion. I am more  than happy to share with you these ideas   of Environmental Science, because I’m an  avid fan of everything environmental!   A summary of the key ideas of this  video includes the fact that:   Humans dominate the earth with the power to  degrade, sustain, or add to the natural capital   that supports all life and human economies. They  can stress ecosystems and affect the environment   mainly because they are the only animals that can  cooperate both flexibly and in very large numbers.  

Homo sapiens became the dominant species on the  planet, not any other animal, not even any other   species of early man, like Neanderthals. As our ecological footprints increase,   we degrade and deplete more of the earth’s natural  capital that sustains us. On the other hand,   if ecological footprints decrease, problems  like increased desertification, global warming,   lack of fresh air, carbon emissions, and increased  environmental pollution would be reduced.  

Good News: Many People Have  a Better Quality of Life   As the world’s dominant animal, humans have  great power to degrade or sustain the earth’s   life-support system. For instance, humans impact  the physical environment in numerous ways:   pollution, burning fossil fuels,  deforestation, and overpopulation.   An additional example may be that humans decide  whether forests are preserved or cut down.  

Human activities affect the acidity of ocean  waters, also known as ocean acidification,   temperature of the atmosphere,  also known as global warming,   and which species survive or become  extinct. Changes like these have triggered   climate change, soil erosion, poor  air quality, and undrinkable water.   We can either choose the common good, applying  principles like intergenerational ethics;   leaving the planet in as good or better condition  as we found it, or we can degrade it and lead to   the depletion of the natural capital that  supports all life and our economies.   At the same time, scientific research, political  pressure by citizens, creative thinking,   and regulatory laws have improved the quality  of life for many of the earth’s people,   especially in the more-developed countries.  The environment directly affects health status   and plays a major role in quality of life. For  instance, in less-developed countries, poor air   quality is linked to premature cancer, death, or  long-term damage to respiratory and cardiovascular   systems. For that reason, less-developed countries  are affected by rising economical inequalities.  

We can also observe environmental racism,  in which minorities like those of color   and members of low socioeconomic backgrounds, are  burdened with disproportionate numbers of hazards   including garbage dumps, toxic waste facilities,  and other sources of environmental pollution.   Humans have developed an amazing array of useful  materials and products. We have learned how to use   wood, fossil fuels, the sun, wind, flowing water,  the nuclei of certain atoms, and the earth’s heat   or geothermal energy to supply us with enormous  amounts of energy as well as wind energy, solar   energy, and hydropower. We’ve developed materials  like plastic, rubber, glass, and styrofoam.  

Most people live and work in artificial  environments within buildings and cities.   This is known as built environment, or built  world, referring to the human-made environment   that provides the setting for human activity,  ranging in scale from buildings to cities and   beyond. The built environment encompasses places  and spaces created or modified by humans to serve   their needs of accommodation, organization, and  representation. And while these environments have   led to great progress, they have also given  rise to new concerns like physical health,   mental health, and healthy food access.  The reality of cities -- people living   in close proximity to one another -- creates  opportunities for fully decoupling economic growth   from environmental degradation and advancing  along sustainable pathways to development.  

We have invented computers to extend  our brainpower through increasing   our productivity, connecting us to the  internet, storing vast amounts of data,   organizing this data, and essentially functioning  as portals to our education and work life.   We have created robots to perform  repetitive tasks with great precision,   used in industrial, service, education, and even  military settings. From materials handling and   machine tending to working alongside humans  in pick-and-place operations, robot precision   is transforming the manufacturing, medical,  logistics, among other sectors significantly.  

We have built electronic networks to allow  for instantaneous global communication.   This instant connection allows individuals to  send vast messages to loved ones and strangers   from anywhere in the world with an internet  connection, within seconds. It is the first   stage of an evolution that has seen social media  rise as one of the most prolific and impactful   innovations in recent history. Today, social  media can do it all, from personal announcements,   instant global communication in seconds,  and even to industry and business marketing   campaigns on a worldwide scale. Globally, life spans are increasing,   and they currently are roughly  up to almost 73 years in age.   Infant mortality is decreasing, and in the  U.S. it has declined from 6.89 deaths per  

1,000 births in 2000 to 5.79 in 2017,  according to a relatively recent study.   Education, widely accepted to be a fundamental  resource both for individuals and societies,   is on the rise, and global literacy rates  have been climbing over the course of the   last two centuries, mainly through increasing  rates of enrollment in primary education.   Numerous diseases are being conquered,  with diseases like Guinea worm,   Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Polio, among others and  their effects being gradually alleviated.  

The population growth rate has slowed. For  instance, the Census Bureau recently reported in   a preliminary estimate that the U.S. population  grew 0.35% through July 1, 2020, marking the   fifth consecutive year of slowing growth. Despite the fact that one out of seven people   live in extreme poverty, we have witnessed the  greatest reduction in poverty in human history.   The percentage of people living in extreme  poverty globally fell to a new low of 10% in 2015,   down from 11% in 2013, reflecting progress.  During this period, the number of people   living in less than $1.90 a day fell during  this period by 68 million to 736 million.  

The food supply is generally more abundant  and safer, as Americans for instance enjoy a   food supply that is abundant, affordable  overall and among the world’s safest,   largely due to the efficiency and productivity  of America’s farm and ranch families.   Air and water are getting cleaner in many parts  of the world, allowing many areas of the world   to meet national air quality standards set to  protect public health and the environment.   Exposure to toxic chemicals that affect our health  is more avoidable. You come into contact with an   array of chemicals every day, and this is called  chemical exposure. These chemicals have varying  

degrees of toxicity, and the fact that they are  becoming more avoidable is great news because   these substances may cause lethality to the entire  body, specific organs, or even cause cancer.   People have protected some endangered  species and ecosystems through acts,   which make the federal government for instance  responsible to protect endangered species,   threatened species, and critical habitat. We have restored some grasslands and wetlands,   which is essential because it makes up  a quarter of the world’s land and about   70% of its agricultural land. Grasslands  are threatened by habitat loss, which can   be caused by human actions like unsustainable  agricultural practices, overgrazing, and crop   clearing. Almost half of all temperate grasslands  and 16% of tropical grasslands have been converted  

to agricultural or industrial uses and only 1%  of the original tallgrass prairie exists today.   What we are doing to solve these problems includes  the protection and restoration of wetlands.   Forests are growing back in some areas. This  is important because countries with annual  

increases in the amount of trees typically  score highly on the UN’s Human Development   Index (HDI), meaning that they experience  higher levels of general wellbeing.   Scientific research and technological advances  financed by affluence helped achieve these   improvements in life and environmental quality.  This may be known as sustainable development,   meeting human development goals while  simultaneously sustaining the ability   of natural systems to provide the natural  resources and ecosystem services on which the   economy and society depend. The desired result  is a state of society where living conditions   and resources are used to continue to meet  human needs without undermining the integrity   and stability of the natural system. This is  also related to intergenerational ethics, as  

sustainable development can be defined as  development that meets the needs of the present   without compromising the ability of future  generations to meet their own needs.   Education also spurred many citizens to insist  that businesses and governments work toward   improving environmental quality. We are seeing  more widespread awareness of the climate crisis   and issues like ocean pollution and acidification.  With the widespread interconnected network of   social groups, environmental activism,  or environmentalism, is rising,   and to the great benefit of humanity. We are a globally connected species with  

growing access to information that could  help us to shift to a more sustainable path.   For instance, as secondary cities in developing  countries develop, they have particularly   promising opportunities to follow sustainable  pathways, through investments in infrastructure   and urban design to advance climate change  mitigation, social inclusion, and liveability.   Bads News: On the Whole, We  Are Living Unsustainably   According to a large body of scientific evidence,  humans are living unsustainably. In other words,  

economic growth has increased national incomes  significantly, yet unevenly, across countries.   While that has contributed to advances in  human, social, and economical well-being,   the effects on human societies and the  environment are currently unsustainable.   People continually waste, deplete, and degrade  much of the earth’s life-sustaining natural   capital. This is known as environmental  degradation, or natural capital degradation,   the deterioration of the environment  through depletion of resources like air,   water, and soil; the destruction of ecosystems;  habitat destruction; the extinction of wildlife;   and pollution. In a nutshell, it is defined as  any change or disturbance to the environment  

perceived to be undesirable or deleterious. It is estimated that the human ecological   footprint has affected 83% of the  global terrestrial land surface   and has degraded about 60% of the ecosystem  services in the past 50 years alone. Land use   and land cover, or LUCC change, has been the  most visible indicator of the human footprint   and the most important driver of loss of  biodiversity and other forms of land degradation.  

Recent trends on global demand for food and  bioenergy change -- which are intimately tied   to food and energy price spikes and volatility  -- have raised concerns on the impact of land   use and land cover change on biodiversity  and other environmental impacts.   This land is used for important  purposes like energy production,   urban development, grazing livestock, growing  crops, timber cutting, and mining.   In many parts of the world, however,  renewable forests are shrinking,   as deforestation and forest degradation  continue to take place at alarming rates,   which in turn contributes significantly  to the ongoing loss of biodiversity.  

Deserts are expanding, as the range  and intensity of desertification   have increased in some dryland areas over the past  several decades. Desertification is a type of land   degradation in drylands in which biological  productivity is lost due to natural processes   or induced by human activities whereby  fertile areas become increasingly arid.   Topsoil erosion is also becoming  a major environmental concern.   It occurs when the topsoil layer is blown or  washed away. Without topsoil, little plant  

life is possible. This is an issue because public  and environmental health loss costs are involved.   Unfortunately, the estimated annual costs  related to soil erosion exceed $45 billion.   The lower atmosphere is warming, as measurements  from satellites and weather balloons indicate   that the lowest layer of the atmosphere -- where  airplanes fly, weather occurs, and we live -- is   warming. Greenhouse gases are building up in this  layer, trapping heat radiated from Earth’s surface   and raising the planet’s temperature. Floating ice and many glaciers are melting at   unexpected rates, which may lead to increases in  sea levels, which in fact are being underestimated   by scientists. From the thin ice shield covering  most of the Arctic Ocean to the mile-thick mantle   of the polar ice sheets, ice losses have  soared from about 760 billion tons per year   in the 1990s to more than 1.2 trillion tons per  year in the 2010s, almost double the amount.  

Sea levels are rising, and global mean sea  level has risen roughly 8 to 9 inches, or 21   to 24 centimeters since 1880, with about ⅓ of that  coming in just the last two and a half decades.   The rising water level is mostly due to  a combination of meltwater from glaciers   and ice sheets and thermal  expansion of seawater.   Ocean acidity is increasing. This is known  as ocean acidification. It is the ongoing  

decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, with its  source being the uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2)   from the atmosphere. This is mainly  caused by the burning of fossil fuels.   There are more intense floods, droughts,  severe weather, and forest fires in many areas.   This may be known as extreme weather, or extreme  climate events and includes unexpected, unusual,   severe, or unseasonal weather. There is evidence  to suggest that human-induced global warming  

is increasing the periodicity and intensity  of some extreme weather events.   In a number of regions, rivers are running  dry. From the American West to China, Australia   to India, some of the world’s most important  rivers have been drained dry for drinking water,   industry, and agriculture. For  instance, the Colorado River,   the Indus River, and the Amu Darya River. 20% of the world’s species-rich coral reefs are   gone, and others are threatened. Over  the next 20 years, scientists estimate   that about 70 to 90% of all coral reefs will  disappear as a result of warming ocean waters,   pollution, and ocean acidity. Degradation of normally renewable  

natural resources and ecosystem services like  the atmosphere, water, land, vegetation, and   animal life that support us and human economies  caused by growing human ecological footprints   is mostly the result of population growth and  rising rates of resource use per person. Now,   more than ever, there is greater and greater  demand for resources, with the UN’s International   Resources Panel projecting that resource use per  person will be 71% higher than today in 2050.   Species are becoming extinct at least  100 times faster than in prehuman times,   and some even estimate 1,000 times faster than in  pre-human times. A rough estimate revealed a rate  

of 100 to 1,000 species lost per million per year,  mostly due to human-caused habitat destruction and   climate change. And that is the good news, because  future rates are likely to be much higher.   Extinction rates are projected to increase at  least another 100-fold during this century,   creating a 6th mass extinction caused by human  activities. This is known as the holocene   extinction, or the sixth mass extinction or  anthropocene extinction, with the included   extinctions spanning numerous families of plants  and animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles,   amphibians, fishes, and invertebrates.  The current rate of extinction of species  

is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher  than natural background extinction rates.   In 2005, the United Nations released its  Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a four-year   study by 1,360 experts from 95 countries. It is  a major assessment of the human impact on the   environment that since popularized the term  ecosystem services. According to this study,  

human activities have overused about 60% of the  earth’s ecosystem services, mostly since 1950.   This is rather unfortunate if we acknowledge that  the key ecosystem services like nutrient cycling,   food, climate regulation, and spiritual and  aesthetic services lead to personal safety,   strength, social cohesion, and mutual respect,  among other elements of well-being.   According to this assessment, “human activity is  putting such a strain on the natural functions of   Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems  to sustain future generations can no longer   be taken for granted.” This idea is related to  intergenerational ethics, or responsibility to  

future generations and the stress human activity  is applying on Earth’s natural processes.   Another conclusion yielded from the  assessment includes that political, economic,   and scientific solutions to these complex  problems could be implemented within decades,   which is an aspect that underscores hope for  humanity and Earth’s future. Unfortunately,   since that study, the harmful health and  environmental impact of human activities   on the planet’s ecosystems has increased.  But fortunately, with the rise of education  

and awareness about these essential issues, we are  paving the way for a more sustainable future.   Degrading Commonly Shared Renewable  Resources: The Tragedy of the Commons   Some renewable resources, called open-access  resources, are not owned by anyone   and can be used by almost anyone, with examples  being things like the ocean and array of fish   as well as the atmosphere -- all of which  provide some form of ecosystem services.   Other examples of less open, but often shared  resources, are streams, forests, grasslands,   and aquifers, which are underground bodies of  water. Many of these renewable resources have   been environmentally degraded in some form. In  1968, biologist Garrett Hardin famously called   such degradation the tragedy of the commons. The  tragedy of the commons describes a situation in   economic science when individual users, who  have open access to a resource unhampered by   shared social structures or formal rules that  govern access and use, act independently according   to their own self-interest and, contrary to the  common good of all users, cause depletion of the   resource through their uncoordinated action. Users  reason that it doesn’t matter whether they pollute  

or take from the resource, because it’s renewable.  Yet, when this occurs in large quantities, it   leads to degradation of the resource, eventually  leading to exhaustion or ruining the resource.   After this occurs, no one benefits and everyone  loses, thus the tragedy of the commons.  

Hardin wrote, “Ruin is the destination toward  which all men rush, each pursuing his own best   interest in a society that believes in the  freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons   brings ruin to all.” It has proved to  be a powerful idea. To Hardin, the same   grim logic was behind many of our greatest  challenges. Common resources like forests,   air, and fisheries are threatened by selfish  individuals and nations taking what they can,   even though they know the resource will be wiped  out if everyone does the same. Hardin’s solution   was to cede our freedoms to the state, to be bound  by “mutual coercion mutually agreed upon”.   One method to alleviate this challenge is to use a  shared or open-access renewable resource at a rate   well below its estimated sustainable yield. As a  review, the sustainable yield of natural capital  

is the ecological yield that can be extracted  without reducing the base of the capital itself.   Thus, if we apply this, we are  using resources in a quantity   that doesn’t reduce the base of the natural  capital. This is done by regulating access   to the resource, mutually agreeing to  use less of the resource, or doing both.   Doing both essentially allows for greater  control of the specific resource in question.  

Another way is to convert shared  renewable resources to private ownership,   as it is thought that if someone owns something,  they are more likely to protect their investment.   Nonetheless, history has proven that this isn’t  necessarily the case. Additionally, this approach   is not possible for open-access resources such  as the atmosphere, which cannot be divided by and   sold as private property, so this solution has its  limitations. Nonetheless, recent interdisciplinary  

work offers hope that the tragedy is not so  inevitable after all. Instead, governments and   institutions can design systems for people to join  collective schemes, protect endangered resources,   and help control their selfish impulses. Our Growing Ecological Footprints   The effects of environmental degradation by human  activities can be described as an ecological   footprint -- a rough measure of the total harmful  environmental impacts of individuals, cities,   and countries on Earth’s natural resources,  ecosystem services, and life-support system.   In other words, it’s a measure of human demand  on natural capital, and it is tracked through   an ecological accounting system. A per capita ecological footprint is the   average ecological footprint of an individual  in a given population or defined region.   An important measure of sustainability is  biocapacity, or biological capacity -- the   ability of an area’s ecosystems to regenerate  the renewable resources used by a population,   city, region, country, or the world in a given  time period and to absorb the resulting wastes   and pollution. In other words, it's an estimate  of an ecosystem’s production of certain biological  

materials like natural resources, and its  absorption and filtering of other materials   like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If the total ecological footprint in a defined   area (such as a city, country, or the  world) is larger than its biocapacity,   the area is said to have an ecological deficit.  Such a deficit occurs when people are living   unsustainably by depleting natural capital  instead of living off the renewable resources and   ecosystem services provided by such capital. Ecological footprint data and models have been   used since the 1990s. Despite the fact that  they are imperfect, they provide useful rough   estimates of individual, regional, national,  and global scales of environmental impacts.  

In 2016, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)  and the Global Footprint Network estimated   that we would need the equivalent of 1.6 planet  Earths to sustain the world’s average 2014 rate   of renewable resource use per person far into the  future. This means we would need the equivalent   of almost two Earths to sustain life on Earth  into the future. They estimated that by 2030,   we would need the equivalent of two planet Earths  and, by 2050, three planet Earths. The current  

and projected future overdraft of the earth’s  natural resources and ecosystem services and the   resulting environmental degradation  will be passed on to future generations.   For this reason, intergenerational ethics  is an essential principle of sustainability,   making us responsible for our actions with  a view towards future generations.   1.6 is the number of earths needed  to sustain the 2014 global rate   of renewable resources per  person use indefinitely.   We can reduce our harmful ecological footprints  and increase our beneficial environmental impacts   by working with rather than against the earth such  as restoring degraded wetlands and grasslands,   planting forests on degraded land, and  protecting species from becoming extinct.   IPAT Is Another Environmental Impact Model Another environmental impact model was developed   in the early 1970s by scientists Paul Ehrlich  and John Holdren during the course of a debate.  

It is the mathematical notation of a formula put  forward to describe the impact of human activity   on the environment. This IPAT model shows that  the environmental impacts (I) of human activities   is the product of three factors: population  size (P), affluence (A), or resource consumption   per person, and the beneficial and harmful  environmental effects of technologies (T).   Impact (I) = Population (P) x  Affluence (A) x Technology (T)   The T factor can be either beneficial or harmful.  Some forms of technology like polluting factories,   gas-guzzling motor vehicles, and coal-burning  power plants increase our harmful environmental   impact by raising the T factor. Other technologies  like fuel-efficient cars, wind turbines and solar  

cells, and pollution control and prevention  technologies reduce our harmful environmental   impact by decreasing the T factor. By developing  technologies that mimic natural processes,   scientists and engineers are finding ways to have  positive environmental impacts. This is known as   biomimicry or biomimetics, which is the emulation  of the models, systems, and elements of nature for   the purpose of solving complex human problems. In a moderately developed country like India,   population size is a more important factor  than affluence, or resource use per person,   in determining the country’s environmental  impact. In a highly developed country like   the United States with a much smaller population,  resource use per person and the ability to develop   environmentally beneficial technologies play key  roles in the country’s environmental impact.   Cultural Changes Can Increase or  Shrink Our Ecological Footprints   Until about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, humans  were mostly hunter-gatherers who obtained food   by hunting wild animals or scavenging  their remains, and gathering wild plants.  

A hunter-gatherer is a nomadic human living  in a society in which most or all food is   obtained by foraging, or collecting  wild plants and pursuing wild animals.   Our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in  small groups, consumed few resources,   had few possessions, and moved as needed  to find enough food to survive.   Since then, three major cultural changes have  occurred that have re-defined culture and   whether it can increase or shrink our ecological  footprints. First was the agricultural revolution.   It began around 10,000 years ago when humans  learned how to grow and breed plants and animals   for food, clothing, and other purposes and began  living in villages instead of frequently moving   to find food. They had a more reliable source of  food, lived longer, and produced more children who  

survived to adulthood. The agricultural revolution  is also known as the Neolithic Revolution,   and it was a wide-scale transition of many human  cultures from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering   to one of agriculture and settlement, making  an increasingly large population possible.   These settled communities allowed humans  to observe and experiment with plants   to learn how they grew and developed. This new  knowledge led to the domestication of plants.   Second was the industrial-medical revolution,  beginning about 300 years ago when people   invented machines for the large-scale production  of goods in factories. Many people moved from   rural villages to cities to work in the factories.  This shift involved learning how to get energy   from fossil fuels like oil and coal and how to  grow large quantities of food. It also included  

medical advances that allowed a growing number  of people to have longer and healthier lives.   Third, about 50 years ago, the  information-globalization revolution   began when we developed new technologies for  gaining rapid access to all kinds of information   and resources on a global scale. As mentioned in  the introduction, this global network connects   most of the world nowadays and leads to rapid  communication and diffusion of information.   Each of these three cultural changes gave us  more energy and new technologies with which to   alter and control more of the planet’s resources  to meet our basic needs and increasing wants.   They also allowed expansion of the human  population, mostly because of larger food   supplies and longer life spans. In addition, these  cultural changes resulted in greater resource use,   pollution, and environmental degradation  and expanding ecological footprints.  

On the other hand, some technological leaps have  enabled us to shrink our ecological footprints by   reducing our use of energy and matter, resources  and our production of wastes and pollution.   For example, energy-efficient  cars and buildings, recycling,   the use of energy-efficient LED light bulbs,  sustainable farming, and solar energy and wind   energy to produce electricity are on the rise. Many environmental scientists and other analysts   see such developments as evidence of an emerging  fourth major cultural change: a sustainability   revolution, in which we could learn to live  more sustainably during this century. This   would involve avoiding degradation and depletion  of the natural capital that supports all life and   our economies and restoring natural capital that  we have degraded. Making this shift would involve  

learning how nature has sustained life over  3.8 billion years and using these lessons from   nature to shrink our ecological footprints and  increase our beneficial environmental impacts.   We can contribute to this by applying the  six essential principles of sustainability,   taking action, and educating ourselves  about environmental challenges.  

Outro Thank you for watching   this extensive documentary of How Humanity is  affecting the Environment we live and care for,   essential because of the ecosystem services it  provides and part of our responsibility as caring   citizens. I love Environmental Science and will  continue working to provide high-quality content.   This program episode belongs to the Sustainability  and the Environment Section and I plan to provide   the scripts via a website for you guys! As always,  this is Enchiridion, see you next time.   #Enchiridion #EnvironmentalScience  #EnvironmentalDegradation

2021-03-25 01:40

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