The big 8
While not comprehensive and not the only things that we need to deal with, below are 8 of the important challenges to the environment.
1. Climate Change
Global warming has been concerning scientists for decades, but Al Gore legitimized the crisis with his controversial film An Inconvenient Truth. From the melting polar ice caps to catastrophic weather and threatened ecosystems, not only is climate change real, scientists agree that humans are influencing climate change with our production of greenhouse gases (mainly stemming from carbon dioxide and methane). The good news is that despite the urgency of the crisis, there are exciting technological developments as well as meaningful lifestyle changes you can make to help.
Clean energy vs. dirty energy. Renewable energy. Energy independence. Petroleum. Biofuels. Coal. ANWR and offshore drilling. Even Paris Hilton has something to say about energy. Though no single energy source is going to be the solution, positive developments toward a cleaner future are happening every single day.
With the immediate looming problems of climate change and energy, focus has shifted away from landfill waste, but this is a serious problem. The world has largely gotten accustomed to a throwaway lifestyle, but that’s neither healthy nor sustainable. Waterways are choked with trash and modernized nations ship their undesirable leftovers to the developing world. Fashion fashion, fast food, packaging and cheap electronics are just some of the problems. The amount of waste the industrialized world generates is shocking. Water bottles are the defining symbol of this critical issue. I believe this to be one of the key urban challenges.
Pure Water is in short supply. Our global reserves of drinkable water are a fraction of 1% and 1 in 5 humans does not have access to potable (safe) water. Many people do not realize that strife has already broken out in some stressed regions. There are many potential solutions, some promising, others challenging. Desalinization is an energy-inefficient, expensive option. But there are many things you can do. (Hint: it starts with turning off the faucet when you brush.)
Biofuels have turned into a global controversy – the idea that people may causing the starvation of millions in order to fuel their SUVs is sickening. And yet that’s not the whole picture. For example, eating hamburgers has as much or more impact on the global food picture as the use of biofuels. And then there’s the whole issue of “food miles” – at first, local seemed logical, but the situation is more complex than that. It’s all about resources and efficiency.
This is directly tied to waste. It is well-known that the industrialized world simply consumes in a way that is not sustainable. And the developing world is rapidly imitating the model. Sustainability in the most compelling sense is about long-term solvency. The way we live now is borrowing against the future. Reducing consumption, and smart consumption, are both necessary – and there are many ways to go about doing this. Some methods are pure geek, some are high tech, and some are just common sense. And once you start exploring, you’ll see that it’s actually fun.
7. Land Management
From desertification to polar ice melting to erosion and deforestation, existing land management choices are not serving the planet or its inhabitants very well. The 1990s saw some headway with forest management but the Bush administration’s various initiatives (most notoriously, “Healthy Forests”) have set back progress by decades. There is very little land left that is undeveloped, either with structures or roads. And there is virtually no land left that is not subject to light or noise pollution.
8. Ecosystems and Endangered Species
The good news is that some species have made a comeback. The bad news is that many more species are now under threat, including indicator species and evolutionarily unique species. (When an indicator species becomes threatened, endangered, or worse, extinct, this means an entire ecosystem faces collapse.) The consequences can have global impact.
The Guardian on climate change