The environment is everything around us – living things, like animals and plants, and non-living, like the atmosphere and the oceans. Interactions between different parts of the environment are what makes life on Earth possible – plants produce oxygen, and animals breathe it in, for example.
Though we sometimes like to think we are special, us humans are part of the environment. Long ago we gave up our natural lifestyle of “hunter gatherer”, as new technologies made our lives easier. The trouble is, since we are so successful a species, with huge numbers on every continent but Antarctica, other species are struggling to survive.
Habitat loss is the main threat to our fellow Earthlings at present. There are 8 billion humans on the planet, and they all need feeding. To make way for crops and grazing lands, we are chopping down forests at an alarming rate. Since three-quarters of land species live in forests, that is not good news for them!
Our oceans are also in trouble. Plastic pollution kills millions of sea creatures a year, and overfishing to feed billions of ravenous humans has put some species of fish in danger of extinction. Even coral reefs, those beautiful marine cities where so many amazing creatures dwell, are under threat. Rises in sea temperature are killing them and, by the year 2050, scientists predict that 90% of all coral reefs will be dead.
Why are the seas warming? You guessed it – it’s because of us humans again. Since the Industrial Revolution more than 200 years ago, we’ve been pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Normally, nature would clean this from the air via the carbon cycle. But we’ve put so much carbon dioxide into the environment that nature just can’t keep up.
The sheer amount of carbon dioxide in the air is warming the planet. That’s because it is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gasses trap heat like a blanket. Some people think this is a good thing. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’d love it if the weather was warmer!”? But a rise of just a few degrees is enough to tip the balance of nature and drive species to extinction – as is the case with coral reefs.
Speaking of extinction, did you know we are currently undergoing a “mass extinction event”? These are times when 75% or more species die out over a short period. The last one of these happened 66 million years ago when an asteroid collided with the Earth, killing the dinosaurs. This time there is no asteroid – the cause of the mass extinction is us.
Humans are damaging our environment in so many ways – overpopulation, deforestation, air pollution, ozone depletion, water pollution, and of course global warming. If we carry on as we are then the future looks bleak – not just for other species, but for us as well.
But it’s not too late. If governments act soon, reducing carbon emissions to zero and protecting natural habitats, then we can stop it. We can even make a difference ourselves as individuals, by choosing a more eco-friendly lifestyle. But the main way we can change things is to protest and lobby our MPs.
And now, onto the quizzes. We’ve written six on climate change, deforestation, plastic pollution, species extinction, sustainable resources and environmental treaties. How well do you know the problems facing the world? Have a go and find out. For even the greenest person, there may be surprises and things to learn along the way.