Technological developments, population growth, and cultural outlook have put increasing demands on the natural environment, and people are becoming concerned. People in the third world countries face grave problems of overpopulation and poverty. What are some of the key environmental issues?
Solid Waste: The “Disposable Society”
Think about a day in your life and collect everything that you throw away. How much will it weigh? In an industrial society like US an average person discards about 2.5 kilograms of paper, metal, plastic, and other disposable material daily (over a lifetime about 50 tons). This is the example of a disposable society, where convenience has become a cultural value. A rich society consumes much more and most of the items have throwaway packaging. The most familiar case is that of fast food, served in cardboard, plastic, and Styrofoam containers that we throw away within minutes. Countless other products are elaborately packaged to make the product more attractive to the consumer. The other disposables: the bottles, pens, razors, flashlights, batteries, and other items designed to have limited life. We are fast emulating the cultural patterns of Western society.
Where does this waste go? Since most of it is not recycled, so it never ‘goes away'. It needs landfills and poses several threats to the natural environment. So it needs land for disposal, which contributes to water pollution (both above and below the ground). For the protection of environment, this waste has to be recycled.
Preserving Clean Water
Oceans, lakes, and streams supply the lifeblood of the global ecosystem. Humans depend on water for drinking, bathing, cooling, cooking, recreation, agriculture, and host of other activities.
According to what scientists call the hydrological cycle, the earth naturally recycles water and refreshes the land. The process begins as heat from the sun causes the earth's water to evaporate and form clouds. Water then returns to earth as rain, which drains into streams and rivers and rushes towards sea. This hydrological cycle not only renews the supply of water but cleans it as well. Pollutants steadily build up that affect the water supply and the environment.
Soaring population and complex technology have greatly increased the societies' appetite for water. Even in parts of world that receive significant rainfall, people are using groundwater faster than it can be naturally replenished.
We must face the reality that water is valuable, and is a finite resource. Greater conservation on the part of individuals, industry, and farming is the answer. Then there is the problem of water pollution affecting the health of the people. It is also part of development and population growth.
Clearing the Air
One of the unexpected consequences of industrial technology (especially the factory and the motor vehicle) has been a decline in air quality. In the developed countries, great strides have been made in combating pollution caused by industrial way of life. Laws have made to prohibit air pollution. Scientists have developed new technologies to reduce the air pollution. But in the developing countries the problem of air pollution is becoming serious. Fuels used for cooking and heating damage the air quality. The poor nations are eager to encourage short-term industrial development but pay little heed to the long-term dangers of air pollution. Cities are plagued by air pollution.
There is also the danger of acid rain. It refers to precipitation, made acidic by air pollution that destroys plant and animal life. It begins with power plants burning fossil fuels (oil and coal) to generate electricity; this burning releases sulfuric and nitrous oxides into the air. As the wind sweeps these gases into the atmosphere, they react with the air to form sulfuric and nitric acids, which turn atmospheric moisture acidic.
One type of pollution can cause another. Air pollution can cause water contamination. Preserving the Forests
Forests are falling victim to the needs and appetites of the surging world populations. Land is cleared of forests for using it for other purposes. Then we have the lumber industry, which eats the forests.
Forests play an important part in cleansing the atmosphere of carbon dioxide (CO2). With the depletion of forest, the process of cleaning the atmospheres is hampered. In the atmosphere, carbon dioxide behaves much like the glass roof of a greenhouse, letting heat from the sun pass through to the earth while preventing much of it radiating back away from the planet. Ecologists therefore speculate about a possible green house effect, a rise in the earth's temperature due to an increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It will result in global warming. The warming trend will melt vast areas of the polar icecaps and raise the sea level to cover low lying land areas of the world. Though this issue has been a controversy, but certainly it has an effect on biodiversity. These forests are home to a variety of 30 million living species. What is the significance of this biodiversity? Biodiversity is a rich source for human food, a vital genetic resource for research, provides beauty and complexity of environment, and the extinction of any species is irreversible and final.
Society and the environment
It is the operation of society that affects the natural environment.
The values and beliefs to the operation of a social system are highly important. Therefore the state of the environment reflects our attitudes towards the natural world. As part of the logic of growth, environment has been used as a resource. Humans have also been trying to solve the environmental problems, and functionalists are optimistic that human beings can do it.
Social conflict theorists maintain that the problems of natural environment result from social arrangements favored by the elites. Elites directly or indirectly aggravate environmental problems as they advance their self-interest. There is also environment racism: the pattern by which environmental hazards are greatest in proximity to poor people, especially minorities.
Environmental problems from the conflict point of view, result from a society's class structure and, globally, the world's hierarchy of nations. It has been that the high-income countries place the greatest demand on the natural environment. Environmental problems are likely to grow worse as in poor societies as they develop economically, using more resources and producing more waste and pollution in the process. In the long run, all nations of the world share a vital interest in protecting the national environment.
Sustainable Society and World
Solution to the entire range of environmental problems is for all of us to live in a way that does not add to the environmental deficit. We have to look for ecologically sustainable culture, which refers to way of life that meets the needs of the present generation without threatening the environmental legacy of future generations.
Sustainable living calls for three basic goals. The first is the conservation of the finite resources, that is, satisfying our present wants with a responsible eye toward the future. Conservation involves using resources more efficiently, seeking alternative sources of energy, and, in some cases, learning to live with less.
The second goal is reducing waste. Whenever possible, simply using less is the most effective way to reduce waste. In addition, societies around the world need to recycling programs. Success depends upon educating the people to reduce waste and passing laws that require recycling of certain materials.
The third goal in any plan for sustainable ecosystem must be to bring world population growth under control.
But even sweeping environmental strategies - put in place with the best intentions - - will fail without some fundamental changes in how we think about ourselves and our world. We need to realize that the present is tied to the future. Simply put, today's actions shape tomorrow's world. Second, rather than viewing humans as “different” from other forms of life and assuming that we have the right to dominate the planet, we must acknowledge that all forms of life are interdependent. Thirdly, achieving a sustainable ecosystem requires global cooperation.