9 Major Causes of Environmental Problems (PDF Download Available)
In general, human activities or interferences with the environment and natural factors or processes are the two broad causes of environmental problems in the world; individually, these two broad causes (human and natural) consist of various types of activities or causes under their respective wings. This article focuses on the major human causes of environmental problems.
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Over the ages, nature has been performing quite well in regard to energy utilization, waste and nutrients recycling/reuse, and preservation of biodiversity species by sustaining vital ecosystem services and providing numerous ways for the variety of plant and animal life to continue existing; humans, on the other hand, have been performing quite poorly in the same regard.
As a result, due to mostly human activities, our world has been facing an array of environmental problems that are numerous, serious, and daunting to such an extent that no country in the world is left out in the spatial distribution of environmental problems which are not concentrated in any specific location.
Environmental problems continue to increase and expand as mankind is continuously involved in processes that harness environmental resources for their utilization and welfare. Many enormous environmental problems concerning the environment and biosphere are caused by people contributing little bits or pieces of pollution and problems which, when summed together, degrade the environment.
The environmental problems caused by human activities are inter-connected and inter-related; for example, there are interrelationships between desertification, soil nutrient loss, erosion, biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution (air, water, and land), climate change, and diseases outbreaks. The following are 9 major human causes of environmental problems:
1. Fast and uncontrolled population growth
Although population is an important source of each nation’s development, if it occurs at a fast and uncontrolled rate, it becomes a major cause of environmental problems and environmental degradation, especially when a population’s demand exceeds the limit that their natural resources and support systems are able to supply.
High increases in population lead to increases in demand for water, food, energy, natural resources, and increase in waste generation which, when not properly controlled, causes environmental problems and degradation.
2. Over-exploitation, wasteful and unsustainable use of natural resources
When the opportunity arises, many human beings become affluent by acquiring abundant possessions—more than they could ever need in even ten lifetimes! Thereafter, most of them pollute the environment with their excessiveness; coupled with uncontrolled rises in population, the number of poor and affluent people increases, consequently causing more environmental problems.
Wasteful and unsustainable use of natural resources can be categorized as follows:
- Overharvesting of forests and overgrazing of grasslands; these activities cause nutrient loss, deforestation, and desert encroachment.
- Overhunting of wildlife on lands, and overfishing and depletion of fish populations in rivers and oceans; these activities cause loss of biodiversity and extinction of animal species.
- Overdrawing of water from aquifers and underground water deposits; these activities cause depletion of aquifer and underground water resources.
- Excessive mining, petroleum exploration, and land reclamation; these activities cause environmental problems such as water pollution, air pollution, and degradation due to mining of raw materials that are used to produce usable and consumable products.
Poverty and lack of alternatives increases people’s reliance on natural resources; this in turn increases the use and depletion of resources, and degrades the natural assets which people depend on for survival. For instance, timber harvesting, husbandry, uncontrolled poaching and other human activities that stem from poverty, have caused the disintegration and diminishment of habitats and subsequent disappearance of many plant and animal species.
4. Insufficient understanding of how nature works
The causes of some environmental problems can be easily traced to insufficient understanding of how nature works. Insufficient understanding of nature and natural processes creates misunderstanding and results in uncontrolled interaction between humans and the natural world.
Inadequate monitoring of the environment causes and aggravates some environmental problems to such an extent that humans find it difficult to control or eliminate them. For example, pollution, flooding, and erosion are caused mainly by disregarding urban and regional planning laws and regulations, poor urban planning and design, poor design of drainage systems and dams, and dumping of solid wastes in drainages.
5. Weak legislations & poor application of principles that govern environmental management
Due to lack of proper coordination between environmental institutions, and poor supervision over environmental concerns, the style of environmental management in many countries has to modified or perfected in order to effectively tackle the causes of environmental problems and enhance environmental sustainability.
The weakness in many existing environmental management systems lies in the subpar environmental law enforcement capabilities of respective environmental institutions monitored or supervised by local, state, and federal governments.
In some parts of the world, briberies and corruption have made it difficult for many governments to impose adequate or high tax rates on companies that degrade the environment as a result of their activities; furthermore, many governments aren’t doing enough to ensure that the companies that degrade the environment either remediate it or pay for every bit of damage.
6. Excessive agricultural and aquacultural activities
Population growth and the relentless pursuit of affluence have induced drastic increases in agricultural and aquacultural activities and caused: salination and loss of soil fertility to such an extent that some lands no longer support vegetation; pollution of surface water and groundwater by pesticides, nitrates, and animal and plant remains or wastes generated from vegetation and breeding of livestock and aquatic species; soil erosion due to excessive irrigation of farmlands.
7. Migration of people from villages or rural areas to urban areas
Due to lack of opportunities in villages or rural areas, there has been an ever increasing movement of poor and disenfranchised people and families to urban towns or cities, thus leading to rapid and unplanned expansion of mega cities and urban slums, and consequent increase in environmental problems and degradation of urban environments.
The environmental problems that stem from migration can be traced to the wide gap between the demand for and supply of natural resources and infrastructural services such as water supply and sewerage, housing, transportation, energy, recreational amenities, etc.
Migration increases pressure on urban environments, causes depletion of precious natural resources in many urban towns and cities, and contributes to a growing trend that can be noticed in the deterioration of water and air quality, the exponential increase in solid and noxious waste generation, and the growth of slums.
8. Indifference to or lack of concern for the environment and environmental problems
Many people exhibit care-free attitudes towards the environment and environmental problems. Even in parts of the world where legislations exist to protect the environment, some people still pollute the environment with wastes, use chemicals and inorganic fertilizer indiscriminately, and construct buildings haphazardly and without regard to urban and regional planning laws and regulations.
Generally, the environmental issues and problems that are perceived by some people—on one hand—as annoying and dangerous, are perceived by some other people—on the other hand—as irrelevant or just okay; this care-free attitude is not only noticeable in some laymen, but is also noticeable in some educated people, urban planners, and decision makers too.
9. Excess pollution of water, air, and land environments
Streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans are consistently being overloaded with thrash and runoff that consists of chemicals, pesticides, pollutants, and harmful wastes. Lands, on the other hand, have received oil spills and refuse dumps of solid wastes whose tiny particles have been transported into underground water resources by leaks from municipal and industrial water and wastewater systems.
The air or atmosphere has been continuously polluted by noxious emissions and gases such as methane, nitrogen oxides, sulphur hexafluoride, halogenated hydrocarbons, and carbon dioxide which are all being generated from various sources such as motor vehicles, power plants, and combustion activities in industries and factories.
The gases that pollute the atmosphere have been disrupting the Earth’s thermal balance and partially obstructing thermal radiation from going into outer space; thereby, intensifying the greenhouse effect, impacting climate change, and raising global warming levels which can increase heat, insects, droughts, and melt polar ice, icebergs, and glaciers, and subsequently cause floods.
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