11 important ways that humans impact the Earth's environment

Find out how people are changing the environment, from acid rain to cutting down too many trees, and what the results of our actions are.
Donovan Alexander
  • We, as humans, have become dependent on luxuries such as cars, houses, and even our cell phones.
  • Things like overconsumption, overfishing, and deforestation are dramatically impacting our world. 
  • But what does our love for manufactured metallic and plastic goods do to the environment?

The environment is a complicated web of ecosystems that depend on each other, and people significantly impact its health and well-being. While we rely on the environment for survival and well-being, our actions often have unintended and harmful consequences.

From pollution and deforestation to climate change and habitat destruction, our environmental impact is widespread and significant. Here we'll explore how humans affect the environment, the consequences of our actions, and how we can mitigate our impact and protect the planet for future generations.

1. Overpopulation could be impacting the environment

11 important ways that humans impact the Earth's environment
Is overpopulation a problem?

Survival used to mean repopulating. That, however, is quickly becoming true for the opposite as we reach the maximum carrying capacity that our planet can sustain, so some experts claim. Overpopulation has become an epidemic since mortality rates have decreased, medicine has improved, and industrial farming methods were introduced, thus keeping humans alive for much longer and increasing the total population.

The effects of overpopulation are thought to be severe, with one of the most powerful being the degradation of the environment. Humans require lots of space, whether for farmland or industries, which also takes up tons of space. An increased population results in more clear-cutting, resulting in severely damaged ecosystems. Without enough trees to filter the air, CO₂ levels increase, potentially damaging every single organism on Earth.

Another issue is our dependency on coal and fossil fuels for energy; the larger the population, the more fossil fuels will be used. Using fossil fuels (such as oil and coal) results in copious amounts of carbon dioxide in the air- threatening the extinction of thousands of species, which adds to the effect that forest depletion already has.

Humanity continuously requires more space, which devastates ecosystems and increases CO₂ levels, further devastating the delicate environment. Although processed materials are necessary to power the cities, the previous assessment tells us that the planet can only sustain so much damage until it begins to damage us. However, many other experts point to the fact that human population levels are not really a concern, with others claiming we need more people!

2. Pollution has a direct impact on the environment

11 important ways that humans impact the Earth's environment
Pollution is obvoiusly not a good thing.

Pollution is everywhere. From the trash thrown out on the freeway to the millions of metric tons of pollution pumped into the atmosphere yearly, it's obvious pollution and waste is inescapable. 

Pollution is so bad that, to date, 2.4 billion people do not have access to clean water sources. Humanity continuously pollutes indispensable resources like air, water, and soil, which require millions of years to replenish.

Air is arguably the most polluted, with the US producing 147 million metric tons of air pollution each year alone. In 1950, smog was so bad in LA that the ground-level ozone (atmospheric gas that is great in the atmosphere, not so much on the ground) surpassed 500 parts per billion volume (ppbv)- well above the National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 75 ppbv (6.6 times more to be precise).

People thought they were under foreign attack as the smog burned their eyes and left an odor of bleach. That is when the devastating effect of aerosols was discovered. While air quality in the US has slightly improved, the rate in developing countries continues to plummet as smog continuously blocks out the sun in a dense shroud of pollution. This is just one of the issues we have to tackle shortly.

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3. Global Warming is blamed on humans

Global warming is arguably the most significant cause of impact on the environment. The most prominent causes emanate from CO₂ levels from respiration to more detrimental reasons like burning fossil fuels and deforestation.

At any rate, humans are consistently increasing CO₂ levels globally- every year. The highest level of CO₂ in recorded history before 1950 was about 300 parts per million. However, current measurements of CO₂ levels have exceeded 400 PPM, abolishing every record dating back 400,000 years.

The increase in CO₂ emissions has contributed to the planet's average temperature increasing by almost a whole degree.

As the temperature increases, arctic land ice and glaciers melt, which causes the ocean levels to rise at a rate of 3.42mm per year, allowing more water to absorb more heat, which melts more ice, creating a positive feedback loop that will cause the oceans to rise 1-4 feet by 2100.

So what's the big deal?

4. Humans could be impacting climate change

11 important ways that humans impact the Earth's environment
Source: Sepp/iStock

Climate change is closely connected to the historical development of industry and technology. As global temperatures increase, Earth's weather patterns will drastically change. While some areas will experience longer growing seasons, others will become barren wastelands as water will deplete in vast areas, turning once floral regions into deserts.

The increase will impact weather patterns, promising more intense hurricanes in both size and frequency and intensifying and prolonging droughts and heat waves. But air pollution does not just affect the environment.

The evidence is mounting that poor air quality, and rising temperatures are ruining delicate ecosystems, even leading to increased asthma and cancer rates in humans.

5. Genetic modification could be a ticking time bomb

11 important ways that humans impact the Earth's environment
Source: simarik/iStock

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have significantly contributed to humans' survival and prosperity. GMOs are selected bred crops or crops with DNA directly implanted into them to give an advantage to the crop, whether to sustain colder temperatures, require less water, or yield more product.

But GMOs are not always intentional. For years humans have used glyphosate, a herbicide designed to eliminate weeds - the biggest threat to any plant. However, just as humans have a learning immune system, certain weeds have developed a resistance to 22 of 25 known herbicides, with 249 species of weeds completely resistant, according to the latest scientific report.

"Super weeds" threaten farming lands by choking outcrops. One of the only solutions is to till the land, turning over the soil to kill the weeds and give an early advantage to the planted crops.

The disadvantage of tilling is that it causes the soil to dry faster and kills off good bacteria, making its fertile lifespan significantly shorter. To replenish the depleted soil, fertilizer is used, which introduces a whole new set of problems to the environment and can be disastrous for local agriculture in the long run. 

6. Ocean acidification needs to be avoided at all costs

Ocean acidification is caused when CO₂ dissolves into the ocean, bonding with seawater and creating carbonic acid. The acid reduces the pH levels in the water, essentially changing the Ocean acidity by 30% in the last 200 years, according to analysis - a level that the ocean has not been at in over 20 million years.

The acidity depletes the calcium concentrations, making it difficult for crustaceans to build their shell, leaving them vulnerable without their armor. Between the global temperature rise of one degree and ocean acidification,  scientists say a quarter of all coral reefs are considered damaged beyond repair, with two-thirds under serious threat. The death of coral reefs is a serious concern.

Coral reefs are home to 25% of aquatic life, many of which are responsible for the ocean's natural filtration and the production of necessary nutrients vital for life under the sea. However, acidification is not the only watery threat, as other human activities are causing severe changes. Things like plastic pollution and overfishing are wreaking havoc on our oceans.

7. Water pollution is not good either

There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Not only is garbage introduced into the oceans, but also the excessive amounts of fertilizer that finds its way into the sea through rains, floods, and winds or are dumped in excess right into the largest producer of the oxygen we have.

Fertilizer contains nitrogen, an element essential for the growth of plants-  but that does not limit it to what it was intended for. Phytoplankton and algae thrive off of nitrogen, causing excessive growth in what is known as "red tides" or "brown tides" in areas with high concentrations of nitrogen. Brown tide is caused by the rapid growth of billions of algae, which deplete water bodies of oxygen and cause the poison to accumulate in all life that consumes it, including fish and birds. But water pollution does not end there.

Millions of tons of garbage are dumped yearly into the ocean. Since the trash mainly consists of plastics, it is largely indissoluble. The waste accumulates in large vortexes across the sea.

Marine life, including loggerhead sea turtles, are tricked into thinking they are eating food when it is only a floating plastic bag or other poisonous plastic that will cause starvation or suffocation to any unfortunate animal that mistakenly ingests it.

8. Overfishing is severe for the environment

Pollution is the number one threat to all aquatic life and is the leading cause of reduced biodiversity. This is sad, given that water and water life forms are some of our most critical natural resources. But as mentioned above, overfishing is also damaging our oceans.  

Fishing is not inherently bad for our ocean. But when not properly regulated, it can harm our oceans and people. Overfished stocks globally have tripled in half a century, and today, one-third of the world's assessed fisheries are pushed beyond their biological limits, says the WWF. Even more so, billions of people rely on fish for protein. 

9. Deforestation is very damaging to the environment

11 important ways that humans impact the Earth's environment
Source: luoman/iStock

With an exponential expansion in human beings, more food, materials, and shelter are being manufactured at astonishing rates, mostly stemming from forestry.

Forests are cleared to make way for new humans, which in turn, causes more humans; you can see the problem. According to international data, an estimated 18 million acres of trees are clear-cut each year to make way for new development and wood products- just under half of all the trees on the planet since the industrial revolution began.

With trees being one of the largest producers of oxygen, that is not good for humans- especially not for the animals that call the forest home.

With millions of species living in forests, deforestation is a significant threat to their survival and an extensive conservation issue. It also increases greenhouse gases within the atmosphere, leading to further global warming. Such human activities need to stop if we wish to survive. Even more so, recent studies have attributed deforestation to increased wildfires in areas like the Amazon. Wildfires are equally destructed, even more so, displacing both people and entire species. 

10. Acid rain is avoidable

When humans burn coal, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere, where they rise and accumulate in the clouds until the clouds become saturated and rain acid, causing havoc on the ground beneath.

When the rain falls, it accumulates in water bodies which is especially harmful to lakes and small bodies of water. The ground surrounding the water soaks up the acid, depleting the soil of essential nutrients. Trees that absorb the acid accumulate toxins that damage leaves and slowly kill large forest areas.

Acid rain has also been known to eliminate entire fish species, causing a snowball effect of damage to the ecosystem that relies on diverse organisms to sustain the environment.

11. Ozone depletion is one impact we may have reversed

11 important ways that humans impact the Earth's environment
Source: nito100/iStock

The ozone layer is renowned for absorbing harmful UV rays that would otherwise be detrimental to the health of all walks of life. Without an ozone layer, walking outside would be unbearable.

Ozone comprises three bonded oxygens that float up to the stratosphere, absorbing a substantial amount of UV radiation and protecting all life below. However, "ozone-depleting substances" (or ODS), primarily made up of chlorine and bromine, find their way up to the stratosphere, where they strip the O3 of oxygen, destroying its capabilities of absorbing UV light.

The human impact is devastating for plants susceptible to UV light, including wheat and barley, two indispensable crops to humans.

Although most chemicals that deplete the ozone layer have been banned, the substances that have already been released can take upwards of 80 years to reach the upper atmosphere so it will be some time before our protective boundary will be fully functional again. Until then, slap on that sunscreen and be safe out there.

What can be done in the future?

We must support the earth we live on, but the world will live on no matter what. Human impacts the natural habitat in so many ways, and we need to be aware of our environmental input.

Whether we live with it or not solely depends on the decisions and actions we make next. Mother nature is an unrelenting, unforgiving force, so it is probably best if we treat her well, and maybe, we can make up for the damage already dealt with.

The best time to act was yesterday, the best we can do is today, but if we wait for tomorrow, it may be too late. Society needs to help itself to survive. 

For more about our environment, be sure to stop by here

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