Research Paper

In today’s society, the idea that there are many environmental issues that currently exist is one that has essentially become common sense. However, although the discourse surrounding current environmental issues is quite vast, it does not highlight the seriousness that underlies each of the problems. Furthermore, there are certainly some environmental issues that have been more widely popularized, such as global warming and the fresh water crisis, but there are many others that warrant equal attention. One of the environmental issues that people tend to neglect concerns the increase in endangered species, ranging from animals, to insects, to plants. The endangerment of various species is extremely interesting because it illustrates the butterfly effect that stems from human pressures, including both global climate change and the loss of biodiversity. Because human activity is directly linked to many of the environmental issues that society is currently experiencing, steps must be taken, with urgency, toward making changes in human lifestyle in order to ensure the safety of future life on earth.

Although the changes in the environment may not seemingly appear to be the result of human activity, much research suggests that many of the existing environmental issues have, in fact, resulted from the impact humans have made on the planet. Over the years, researchers have found that human population growth is the major contributor to the changes in the natural world. In an article titled “Entering the Century of the Environment: A New Social Contract for Science” by Jane Lubchenco, she discusses the idea that humans have engaged in activities that have significantly altered various aspects of the environment, including “land clearing, forestry, grazing, urbanization, mining, trawling, dredging, … [altering] the major biogeochemical cycles … [and adding] or [removing] species and genetically distinct populations” (Lubchenco, 491). This quotation is highly relevant in explaining the connection between human activity and existing environmental issues because it illustrates how humans essentially create a chain consisting of changes in global climate, which cause transformations in biological associations, which lead to loss of biodiversity, ultimately resulting in the endangerment of various species. Lubchenco continues to explain: “between one third and one-half of the land surface has been transformed by human action” (Lubchenco, 492). Lubchenco’s point is one that is extremely important in that it demonstrates just how much the human population has already impacted the environment, and suggests that as population continues to grow, effects on the natural world will most likely intensify. In the following paragraphs, Lubchenco’s points will be expanded upon and further explored.

Global climate change, which is widely known in today’s society as global warming, is the result of human activity that impacts and alters the “atmospheric composition” (Karl, et al, 1719). As a result of various human activities, there is a high level of environmental pollutants released into the earth’s atmosphere on a daily basis, which ultimately causes the planet to undergo major changes. Environmental pollutants are emitted by greenhouse gases, such as water vapor and carbon dioxide, and are harmful to the natural world because they have “long atmosphere lifetimes” and prevent radiation from moving back and forth between the Earth and space, therefore causing the earth’s temperature to rise (Karl, et al, 1719). If not for such greenhouse gases, a much larger percentage of the planet’s radiation would be able to flow freely between the earth’s atmosphere and space. There are multiple elements that, when put together in equal levels, work to maintain the earth’s surface temperature. However, when there is an imbalance between these components, the planet’s temperature will either increase or decrease. William R. Cotton provides an example in his book in which he explains that if all the greenhouse gases that currently contribute to the issue of global climate change were removed from the earth’s atmosphere, the “amount of longwave energy emitted to space would be greatly enhanced” (Cotton, 161). In other words, the planet would be better equipped to manage its radiation levels, which would ultimately result in the Earth’s surface temperature being approximately 30 °C cooler than it currently is today. Furthermore, beyond global climate change being a major environmental issue on its own, it also greatly impacts the existence of biodiversity on the planet.

Although there are several factors that affect existing ecosystems, the idea that climate change will eventually become the leading cause of loss of biodiversity by the end of the century is one that is shared by many of today’s researchers. Global climate change is a threat to earth’s biodiversity because it will “limit the capability of some species to migrate and therefore will accelerate species loss” (“Biodiversity and Climate Change”, 4). In other words, climate change has and will most likely continue to cause habitat fragmentation, meaning that species will be forced to migrate to other habitats in which they would not normally live. This is problematic for species because habitat fragmentation ultimately reduces the availability of various types of environments suitable for certain animal and plant groups. Habitat fragmentation can lead to two different outcomes. The first forces species that are capable of doing so to migrate to other habitats and compete with other species for what little environmental space and resources are available. The other consists of species, usually plants, having to basically remain in their natural habitat, which eventually becomes so altered by human activity that it no longer is suitable for those species, therefore causing them to become endangered or extinct. The chain of reactions between the human population, global climate change, and the loss of biodiversity illustrates how detrimental some human activity can be on the natural world.

In addition to global climate change significantly impacting the planet’s existing ecosystems, there are several other impacts caused by humans that greatly contribute to the loss of biodiversity. According to Thomas E. Lovejoy and Lee Hannah, “human development has transformed and fragmented the natural landscape on which biodiversity depends, creating altered conditions and ‘islands’ of isolated habitats in the [biodiversity hotspots] and many other areas” (Hannah, et al, 3). This quotation illustrates the same connection between humans and loss of biodiversity that Jane Lubchenco discusses in her article mentioned earlier. As previously mentioned, Lubchenco explains that human activity, such as “land clearing” and “forestry,” has been instrumental in causing loss of biodiversity within the earth’s environment. For example, many researchers have linked agricultural practices with activities harmful to the environment, such as land clearing and forestry, both of which threaten the existence of biodiversity on the planet. Because agriculture requires a great deal of land, humans often turn to land and forest clearing.

Land and forest clearing are not the only ways in which humans transform the natural state of the environment, but they are two of the most important. The main reason land and forest clearing is so harmful for the environment is because it disturbs the natural ecosystem and creates major alterations in the landscape of the particular areas, both of which lead to habitat fragmentation. Furthermore, this issue relates to rising human population, as well, in that “we continue to clear the land for more agriculture to feed more people,” which suggests that the human population continues to displace many species that cannot survive in environments people alter as a result of their every-day activity. Lastly, humans are attributed with introducing exotic species “beyond their natural biogeographic boundaries” (Hannah, et al, 3). Scientists and researchers explain that introducing non-native species to new habitats is dangerous for both the species being introduced, as well as those that are native to the area. The reason such acts pose a threat to the environment and its living species is because all species involved, native and non-native, must find ways to adapt to their new and unfamiliar surroundings. Furthermore, introducing exotic species to a new environment can cause competition for survival, which ultimately results in a win-lose situation, in which one species will prosper, while the other becomes endangered or extinct. The combination of global climate change and other human activities essentially affect every aspect of biodiversity, so it is essential that humans find ways to flourish without damaging the natural environment around them.

Human-caused impacts, including global climate change and loss of biodiversity, have caused many animal species to become endangered and, in some cases, extinct. The polar bear is one animal that has experienced a great deal of suffering as a result of human activity on earth. In fact, many scientists believe that polar bears will become extinct within the next century if humans continue to cause global warming at the rate they have been in the past. Polar bears are currently on the threatened species list under the Endangered Species Act due to that fact that their natural habitat, the Arctic, has experienced observable negative consequences as the result of global climate change, more specifically the increase in surface temperature on the planet. As a result of global warming, the Arctic is experiencing “warmer winters, early spring breakup, and thinner ice than usual” (“Vanishing Kingdom,” 4). This increase in temperature can potentially, and most likely will, result in major consequences for the polar bear population in the Arctic. One reason global warming poses a threat to the Arctic polar bear population is because sea ice is beginning to melt much earlier in the spring, but is forming far later into the fall than usual. Therefore, “the time bears have on the ice, storing up energy for the summer and autumn when there is little available food, is becoming shorter” (“Vanishing Kingdom,” 5). Because the polar bears are forced to withstand longer periods of time without food, their bodies undergo serious changes, which ultimately comes at the expense of their physical health. Additionally, global warming is expected to increase annual rainfall in places throughout the world, including the Arctic. According to an article titled “Vanishing Kingdom: The Melting Realm of the Polar Bear,” which was released by the World Wild Life organization, Ringed seals, which are polar bears’ man source of food, protect their young in snow lairs on the sea ice (6). Unfortunately, increased precipitation causes those sea lairs to melt, thus making the pups susceptible to predators. Moreover, as a result of the decline of Ringed seals, polar bears will lose their major source of prey, making their chances of survival far less likely. Finally, because polar bears depend on sea ice for hunting, they also rely on the ice for breeding and denning. In other words, polar bears use the sea ice as dens for protecting pregnant female bears and cubs that are otherwise incapable of defending themselves against predators. It is important for the human population to recognize the major impacts it is having on the natural world, from the temperature of the planet to the survival of various species, otherwise more of the earth’s population will only continue decrease as time goes on.

In addition to causing endangerment within animal species, human-caused impacts, specifically global warming, also lead to threatened, endangered, and extinct plant species. According to a recent study by Dr. Jan Henning Sommer of Bonn University’s Nees Institute for Biodiversity of Plants, “climate change is set to produce worldwide changes in the living conditions for plants … thus today’s cool, moist regions could in future provide habitats for additional species, and in arid and hot regions the climatic prerequisites for a high degree of plant diversity will deteriorate” (“Global Warming Threatens Plant Diversity”). The study further explains that many researchers are expecting the changing global temperature to create more living environments for various species, but although this may appear to be seemingly beneficial, this change may actually be a major consequence for the planet’s ecosystem. The reason more habitat space may potentially be harmful for the environment is because “the intensified redistribution of plant species will promote worldwide uniformity in the regional composition of species at the expense of unique species which have adapted to special habitat conditions” (“Global Warming Threatens Plant Diversity”). In other words, plant species may eventually become more similar to one another, which decreases the chances of success of the planet’s ecosystem. Furthermore, many scientists also believe that global warming will alter the plant life cycles, meaning that plants will begin to undergo seasonal changes later than usual. For example, trees whose leaves fall and change color in the autumn are expected to experience such changes much later into the fall than they normally do. Additionally, spring changes are also presumed to occur earlier than usual. These phenological changes will cause major alterations in how the ecosystems to which these plant species belong will operate, which could then result in many other aspects of the ecosystem undergoing significant modifications as well. In addition to the necessity for humans to recognize the impacts they have on different animal species, humans also cause major changes, possibly detrimental ones, to the earth’s plant species as well.

Despite the fact that environmental issues do not appear to have a direct impact on the human population, in reality, humans do actually experience many negative consequences from the problems that exist within the natural world, and should therefore make improving the condition of the environment a main priority to be addressed in the near future. According to E.O. Wilson, author of “The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth,” the human population should be concerned about the well-being of the environment because:

“Earth provides a self-regulating bubble that sustains us indefinitely … This protective shield is … the totality of all life, creator of all air, cleanser of all water, manager of all soil … Upon its delicate health we depend for every moment of our lives” (Wilson, 27).

Wilson’s quotation is incredibly important because it demonstrates the dependence humans have on the natural world, regardless of whether they are aware of it or not. Damaging other life forms has and will continue to cause major implications for humans in the future, so it is vital for them to find ways to protect what is left of the natural world. Furthermore, it is essential for humans to learn to recognize that harming the environment simply creates more troubles for the human population, and without nature, humanity will fail. For example, harming the ecosystem can threaten the existence of the human population because people rely on the earth’s ecosystems to regulate various activities in which humans take part. Agriculture is one aspect of human life that depends on the well-being and health of the environment and the animals and plant life within the planet’s ecosystems. In fact, “people around the world utilize over 40,000 species every day – and most of these are plants” (Eldredge, VIII). Furthermore, there are many wild species that provide the means to produce certain medicine essential for maintaining human health. For example, aspirin is an extremely common drug that is used by millions of people all over the world, and comes from the bark of willow trees.

Lastly, humans depend on ecosystems in incredibly obvious ways. Eldredge explains that ecosystem services, including the prevention of soil erosion, the production of oxygen, and the cycling of freshwaters, all strongly rely on functions that are carried out by the planet’s ecosystems. The well-being of the environment and of the aspects within it contribute to the health of the human population. Without a healthy environment, the human population would most likely collapse, so it essential for people to find ways to protect the natural world.

Although the problem of animal endangerment, global climate change, and loss of biodiversity seem irreversible, there are actually many steps that can be taken that would significantly improve the environment and the well-being of earth’s living species. As previously discussed, human population growth plays a major role in altering the status of the natural world. If people worked towards stabilizing the human population, the environment would significantly improve. The reason lower human population would benefit the environment is because people would use less natural resources, such as land, water, and animals. Additionally if the human population decreased, then less of the environment would be disrupted by human activity, therefore creating a better atmosphere for the existing species on the planet. Another solution to some of the environmental issues that currently pose a threat to the natural world is to support policies that protect endangered animals, take steps toward slowing global warming, and aim to preserve the planet’s biodiversity. Laws like the Endangered Species Act is a perfect example of a policy that greatly benefits the environment, specifically endangered species. The Endangered Species Act was passed during the 1970s and aimed to protect animals that were near extinction. Over time the act has proven to be effective; since it was put into effect, approximately fifty species have been removed from the list. Another law that has been implemented to improve the condition of the environment is the Assembly Bill 32, more formally known as the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. In 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill, which officially made the 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal into a law. This law will put into effect at the start of the year 2011. Supporting such laws and government officials that support bills that aim to improve environmental health is one way that the human population can make a major difference in changing the environment for the better.

While the world slowly becomes increasingly more aware of the environmental issues that exist in today’s society, being “environmentally friendly” is seemingly just the latest trend. Although any social awareness that educates society about the steps that can be taken towards becoming a more environmentally conscious community is beneficial, any hope for a significant change requires much more than following environmentally friendly trends, such as recycling or conserving energy in one’s home. In order to make the improvements necessary for the health of our planet, society must find ways to teach future generations to care about the well-being of the earth, and only then can we ensure the safety of all existing species. Teaching society to be environmentally friendly can occur in a number of ways, and all of them will benefit the environment and all of the species living within it.

Works Cited:

1. “Biodiversity and Climate Change.” Convention on Biological Diversity . UNEP, n.d. Web. 7 May 2010. http://www.cbd.int/doc/bioday/2007/ibd-2007-booklet-01-en.pdf

2. Cotton, William R., Roger A. Pielke, and Sr.. Human Impacts on Weather and Climate. 2 ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.

3. Eldredge, Niles. Life in the balance: Humanity and the biodiversity crisis. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. Print.

4. “Endangered Species Program: Species Information.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2010. <http://fws.gov/endangered/wild

5. Hannah, Lee , and Thomas Lovejoy E. . Climate Change and Biodiversity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. Print.

6. (Health, 2020, and Safety Code (HSC) §38561).. “Assembly Bill 32 – California Global Warming Solutions Act.” Welcome to the California Air Resources Board. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2010. <http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/ab3

7. Lubchenco, Jane. “Entering the Century of the Environment: A New Social Contract for Science.” Science 23 Jan. 1998: n. pag. sciencemag.com. Web. 8 May 2010.

8. R. Karl, Thomans, and et al. “Modern Global Climate Change.” Science 27 Oct. 2008: n. pag. sciencemag.com. Web. 7 May 2010.

9. Sommer, Jan Henning. “Global warming threatens plant diversity.” Science Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2010. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/rel

10. “Vanishing Kingdom: The Melting Realm of the Polar Bear.” WWF Climate Change (2008): n. pag. http://www.wordwildlife.org. Web. 6 May 2010.

11. Wilson, E.O. The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006. Print.

Works Consulted:

1.Goudie S., Andrew. The Human Impact on the Natural Environment: Past, Present and Future. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. Print.

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