There’s no question that human activity has negative environmental consequences. How we live our lives, the things we produce and consume, and how we move around affect Earth. With damage to the environment ranging from ozone depletion to acid rain, human-induced soil degradation from deforestation, pollution, and loss of biodiversity, the impacts of humans on our environment are widespread — in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. To save our planet, we need to be aware of these impacts and work to reduce them as much as possible. That’s not always easy, but it’s vital if we want to protect the Earth for future generations. Let’s take a closer look at the human impact on the environment and what we can do to protect it.
The ozone layer is a thin band of gas that surrounds Earth and protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. Life on Earth would be severely impacted and maybe even impossible without it.
Over the past few decades, human activity has caused a dramatic decrease in the size of the ozone layer. The production of chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and halons has been a major contributor to this problem. These chemicals are used in refrigeration, air conditioning, spray cans, and various other products and when they’re released into the atmosphere, they break down the ozone molecules. The Montréal Protocol, an international treaty signed in 1987, was designed to phase out the production of CFCs, HCFCs, and halons to protect the ozone layer. There has been some success, and the ozone hole’s size is slowly beginning to stabilize.
However, it will likely take many years for the ozone layer to fully recover, and efforts are being hampered by research that indicates some countries are not abiding by the Montreal Protocol and are continuing to use CFCs. There have also been additional complications, various industries have replaced CFCs and HCFCs with other chemicals that continue to harm the ozone layer.
Great strides have been made in repairing the hole in the ozone layer, but if we aren’t careful and do not prioritize the health of our planet, we could undo the progress we’ve made under the protocol.
Acid rain is one of the most visible and well-known negative effects of human activity on the environment. It occurs when pollutants from power plants or other factories react with the atmosphere and produce acid that falls back to Earth in rain, snow, or fog. There are a lot of factors that can cause acid rain, so let’s break it down further.
Acid rain is most commonly caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. When these materials are burned, they release sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air. These gases rise up into the atmosphere and react with water vapour to form sulfuric and nitric acids. When the acids fall back to Earth in precipitation, they can wreak havoc on the environment.
While there are a few natural causes of acid rain, such as wildfires, decaying vegetation, and other biological processes within the environment, most acid rain is caused by human pollution, particularly from power plants as they burn fuel to produce energy.
When it falls, acid rain can have a devastating effect on plant life, wildlife, and even humans. It creates tiny particles in the air and can also create a layer of highly irritating gas just above the Earth’s surface (ground-level ozone), both of which can cause respiratory problems and even permanent lung damage when inhaled. Acid rain can also damage buildings and monuments, peeling paint and making stone appear aged and worn. As well, it can lower the pH level of many lakes and streams, which makes that water unsafe to drink and unfit to sustain marine life.
Air pollution is a broad term that refers to the many different chemicals and particles that can be found in the air. These pollutants can come from a variety of sources, including cars, factories, power plants, and even outdoor fires.
The most common type of air pollution is caused by burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. When burned, these materials release harmful chemicals into the air, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulphur dioxide. Other air pollutants include lead, ground-level ozone, and particulate matter – tiny pieces of solids found in the air (e.g. dirt and soot).
These gases and pollutants can cause many health problems for humans, from heart disease to various respiratory issues, including asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. Looking at the negative environmental impacts, birth defects, lower reproductive rates, and increases in diseases in the animal kingdom have all been linked to air pollution. The chemicals in air pollution can also damage and kill crops, leading to food shortages. Similarly, air pollution can cause food scarcity for animals, as it damages the plant life and biodiversity they depend on for survival. Finally, like acid rain, it can also corrode buildings and other infrastructure by eating away at materials such as metals, sandstone, and limestone.
Water pollution is the contamination of bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and oceans. It can be caused by a variety of things, including runoff from agricultural lands, discharges from factories and wastewater treatment plants, seepage from landfills, and plastic waste from fishing nets in the ocean.
The different types of water pollution can have a devastating effect on the environment and on human health. It can cause problems with the quality of drinking water, which can lead to water scarcity when the water is unsafe to drink. It can lead to the spread of disease, as contaminated water can contain harmful bacteria. It can also cause an increase of microplastics in the human body, the effects of which are currently being researched by scientists but are believed to include hormone disruption, low antioxidant levels, DNA damage, and inflammation.
The effects of water pollution aren’t just experienced by humans. The build-up of plastics in the ocean is having a devastating effect on aquatic ecosystems, as microplastics can be mistaken for food by animals and can cause them to choke to death. Or they can become entangled in larger pieces of plastic that affect their ability to find food and avoid predators. Additionally, harmful chemicals found in the water can make it harder for fish to survive; fish that are exposed to water pollutants have to work 30 percent harder to stay alive than those who aren’t exposed. “It means they won’t have as much energy available to support the other important things that a fish needs to do like move around and interact with other fish whether it be for defending territories or for finding mates,” says Graham Scott, a biologist at McMaster University. And when predator fish, birds and other animals eat these contaminated fish, they too are ingesting high levels of toxins.
Deforestation is the clear-cutting of trees in an area where forests once thrived. It’s driven primarily by logging, agriculture, and urban development and the effects on the environment are wide-reaching. It can lead to soil deterioration, stunting the growth of new trees and it can increase flooding and landslides because trees are no longer there to absorb water or anchor the ground in place with their roots.
Deforestation is also a major contributor to global climate change, as trees play a vital role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When trees are removed, they can no longer absorb and filter out carbon dioxide. This leads to an increase in greenhouse gases which traps heat and causes our climate to rise at a faster than normal rate. What’s more, cutting down trees releases even more carbon dioxide, creating more greenhouse gases.
Deforestation is also detrimental to our forests’ native species. When trees are removed, animals lose their homes and their food sources, leading to a decline in populations — potentially wiping out entire species of animals.
Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth and the natural ecosystems that support it. It includes the vast array of plant species and animal species that occupy the planet, as well as the genes that they contain. It’s what allows for natural ecosystems to function and thrive, and it’s essential for human survival as well. But human activities have radically altered biodiversity, with millions of species now at risk of extinction.
Habitat destruction, caused by deforestation, pollution, and other human activities, is the primary reason for this decline in biodiversity. As habitats are destroyed, species are losing their homes and their food sources, and they’re unable to adapt to the changes in their environment. This is leading to a dramatic decline of different species. And when one species disappears, it can mean the loss of a food source for another, causing a higher likelihood of various animals going extinct.
This can ultimately lead to the collapse of an entire ecosystem, which would have devastating consequences for all life on Earth, including humans. Humans depend on local biodiversity for a variety of resources, including nutrition. Take, for example, wild bees. In recent years, the bee population has decreased significantly because of habitat loss, pollution, and the use of pesticides. However, they are responsible for 1 in 3 bites of food we take at our dinner tables. Without their pollinating abilities, many of the foods we rely on would not be able to grow (e.g. apples, cranberries, and broccoli). Maintaining biodiversity is incredibly important as it allows us to continue eating the many foods that are necessary for our daily lives.
Noise pollution is a type of pollution that results from overexposure to noise. It can be caused by things like traffic, construction, and aircraft, and it has a number of adverse effects on the environment.
Noise pollution can negatively impact an animal’s ability to use sounds found in nature to navigate, find food, mate, and avoid predators. This affects many species’ capacity for survival. For example, bluebirds have been documented to have fewer chicks when noise pollution in an area is high, and caterpillars have been observed with increased heart rates. These symptoms and others can put populations in danger.
Even marine animals can’t escape unscathed from noise pollution. Higher noise levels can affect animals that use echolocation to navigate or that use calls to communicate with each other. Due to this, it can hamper their ability to communicate with mates, group members, or their children.
Light pollution is a type of pollution that results from the overuse of artificial light. It’s created by things like streetlights, headlights, and advertising billboards, and it has a number of negative effects on the environment.
The most obvious effect of light pollution is that it disrupts the natural rhythms of day and night. This can have a number of consequences for both humans and animals. For humans, it can lead to sleep disorders and fatigue, which can increase the risk of accidents. For animals, it can decrease populations. Light pollution can cause confusion and disorientation, such as migratory birds mistaking artificial light for the moonlight they usually use to navigate at night and veering off-course or colliding with buildings – often dying. For prey animals who use darkness for cover at night, they no longer have a place to hide from predators in areas that are highly lit.
Light pollution also has an impact on the environment itself. Artificial light can disrupt the growth and reproduction of plants that only grow or bloom at night. It can also disrupt the rate at which trees lose their leaves and go dormant for winter, shortening their lifespan.
We all have a responsibility to take care of our planet and its resources. Each of us can make a difference, even if it’s something as simple as turning off the lights when we leave a room or recycling our plastic bottles.
Reduce your carbon footprint by making an effort only to consume local and seasonal products, prioritize purchasing from sustainable businesses, and avoid buying more than you need. You can also invest in environmentally friendly products, carpool, and commit to zero-waste meals.
By getting involved with different environmental groups that contribute to reforestation and other causes that support our ecosystems, we can play a more meaningful role in the preservation of the environment. We can also call upon corporations and our governments to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel resources, increase environmental regulations around industrial waste, and invest in renewable energy sources on a nationwide level.
Donating to organizations that are saving our planet is another excellent option. They are creating amazing programs that are helping to reverse the damage that’s been done to our ecosystems and preserve the health of the Earth for generations to come.
Taking individual actions to protect our environment is great. But you can also fuel the collective work of charities across Canada by donating to the Protect the Environment Fund. Support hundreds of programs aimed at preserving and conserving our parks and forests. This includes natural parks, trails, watersheds, forest conservancies, wildlife societies, and much more. Your donation to the Unite for Change Protect the Environment Fund will help ensure the survival of our environment and nurture the health, diversity, and sustainability of our planet.