Environmental issues are harmful effects of human activity on the biophysical environment. Environmental protection is a practice of protecting the natural environment on individual, organizational or governmental levels, for the benefit of both the environment and humans. Environmentalism, a social and environmental movement, addresses environmental issues through advocacy, education and activism.
The carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere has already exceeded 400 parts per million (NOAA) (with total "long-term" GHG exceeding 455 parts per million) (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report). This level is considered a tipping point. "The amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is already above the threshold that can potentially cause dangerous climate change. We are already at risk of many areas of pollution...It's not next year or next decade, it's now." The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has stated "Climate change is not just a distant future threat. It is the main driver behind rising humanitarian needs and we are seeing its impact. The number of people affected and the damages inflicted by extreme weather has been unprecedented." Further, OCHA has stated:
Climate disasters are on the rise. Around 70 percent of disasters are now climate related – up from around 50 percent from two decades ago.
These disasters take a heavier human toll and come with a higher price tag. In the last decade, 2.4 billion people were affected by climate related disasters, compared to 1.7 billion in the previous decade. The cost of responding to disasters has risen tenfold between 1992 and 2008.
Destructive sudden heavy rains, intense tropical storms, repeated flooding and droughts are likely to increase, as will the vulnerability of local communities in the absence of strong concerted action.
Environment destruction caused by humans is a global problem, and this is a problem that is on going every day. By year 2050, the global human population is expected to grow by 2 billion people, thereby reaching a level of 9.6 billion people (Living Blue Planet 24). The human effects on Earth can be seen in many different ways. A main one is the temperature rise, and according to the report ”Our Changing Climate”, the global warming that has been going on for the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities (Walsh, et al. 20). Since 1895, the U.S. average temperature has increased from 1.3 °F to 1.9 °F, with most of the increase taken place since around year 1970 (Walsh, et al. 20).
Major current environmental issues may include climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, and resource depletion etc. The conservation movement lobbies for protection of endangered species and protection of any ecologically valuable natural areas, genetically modified foods and global warming.
The level of understanding of Earth has increased markebly in recent times through science especially with the application of the scientific method. Environmental science is now a multi-disciplinary academic study taught and researched at many universities. This is used as a basis for addressing environmental issues.
Large amounts of data have been gathered and these are collated into reports, of which a common type is the State of the Environment publications. A recent major report was the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, with input from 1200 scientists and released in 2005, which showed the high level of impact that humans are having on ecosystem services.
Environmental issues are addressed at a regional, national or international level by government organizations.
The largest international agency, set up in 1972, is the United Nations Environment Programme. The International Union for Conservation of Nature brings together 83 states, 108 government agencies, 766 Non-governmental organizations and 81 international organizations and about 10,000 experts and scientists from countries around the world. International non-governmental organizations include Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and World Wide Fund for Nature. Governments enact environmental policy and enforce environmental law and this is done to differing degrees around the world.
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|“||The only question is whether [the world's environmental problems] will become resolved in pleasant ways of our own choice, or in unpleasant ways not of our choice, such as warfare, genocide, starvation, disease epidemics, and collapses of societies.||”|
|— Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive|
Sustainability is the key to prevent or reduce the effect of environmental issues. There is now clear scientific evidence that humanity is living unsustainably, and that an unprecedented collective effort is needed to return human use of natural resources to within sustainable limits. For humans to live sustainably, the Earth's natural resources must be used at a rate at which they can be replenished (and by limiting global warming).
Concerns for the environment have prompted the formation of green parties, political parties that seek to address environmental issues. Initially these were formed in Australia, New Zealand and Germany but are now present in many other countries.
There are an increasing number of films being produced on environmental issues, especially on climate change and global warming. Al Gore's 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth gained commercial success and a high media profile.