Threats to the global environment
The global environment integrates a wide scope of factors commonly linked to the overall wellbeing of populations within nation states. In recent years, the sustained deterioration of the global environment has prompted policy-makers to draw particular attention to nascent emerging threats and their possible impact. Organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (U.N.E.P) have periodically presented data from Global Risk Perception Surveys to identify the most immediate threats to the global environment. Such efforts seek to identify the self-styled “green diamonds” within the latitude of global environmental threats as a prelude to developing a robust collective response. UNEP has been at the forefront of sustained efforts to identify threats to the global environment and accompanying impact through the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) (UNEP – UN Environment Programme, 2020).
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Such efforts are fundamental in providing an elaborate evaluation of the current status of the global environment, potential threats, their bearing, and appropriate intervention strategies. This is typically done with exceptional contemplation of native familiarity and cultural dimensions when aspiring to charter a course towards a sustainable future. The following is a presentation on prominent threats to the global environment; focusing on energy sources, poor health of entire populations, cultural taboos, and the inappropriate use of technology as the main areas of focus.
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All energy sources in use globally have been found to have a certain degree of impression on the environment. However, fossil fuels and bio-fuels are widely regarded as the most harmful sources of energy owing to their influence on the air, water, terrestrial domains, and public health. The notion positing that fossilized remains of organisms were capable of producing energy upon exposure to heat was first proposed by Andreas Libavius in the summer of 1597. By 1759, Libavius’ idea was widely accepted in Europe where competing imperial powers were keen on capitalizing on the widespread adoption of fossil fuels as a revolutionary source of energy. It was later proven that the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter is responsible for the formation of natural gas and petroleum, often buried under dense stratums of inorganic sediment. The photosynthetic combustion of non-renewable fuels results in the release of energy which has been harnessed by humanity for over 200 years. There current scientific consensus among experts links the rapid rate of climatic change to the release of greenhouse gas emissions when burning major sources of fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal. It is currently estimated that 33 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide had been released to the atmosphere by 2013 as a consequence of the widespread use of coal, natural gas, and petroleum (Behnassi & McGlade, 2017, p. 76).
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Similarly, the use of bio-fuels such as bio-diesel and kindling as major sources of energy has a sweeping impact on the global environment. The growing need for bio-diesel and firewood has occasioned a sudden paradigm shift in the use of land; ultimately resulting in deforestation, inadequate topsoil cover, and causing direct harm to biodiversity. China, U.S.A, India, Russia, and Japan are the top five countries impacted negatively by fossil fuels due to their prevalence. The transportation of fossil over land and water bodies increases the risk of accidental spills such as the witnessed at 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico. This causes the contamination of vital sources of water, demise of aquatic life, and the contamination of terrestrial arable land designated for farming. Similarly, an increase in the use of bio-fuels in African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C), Chad, and South Sudan is linked to the clearing of tropical forest (Brauch et al., 2015). Both fossil and bio-fuels pose an immediate risk to the world population. While fossil fuels occasion elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the growing need for biofuels leads to an increase in the rate of deforestation and a successive inability to serve as “carbon sinks.”
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Poor health of entire populations
Health promotion has taken center stage globally and is typically regarded as one of the most important functions of any legitimate governing administration. This is primarily due to the fact that the general health of entire populations within a specific jurisdiction is linked to economic development and improved outcomes for the global environment. Focus on the health of entire populations can be traced back to 1796 when Edward Jenner first developed a vaccine for small pox using a groundbreaking inoculation approach. Such efforts were later renewed after the end of the Second World War in 1945 after the adoption of a grand resolution establishing the United Nations. Over the years, poor health among entire populations has been attributed to exposure to environmental hazards which have grown to become somewhat of a global phenomenon (Lorey, 2016).
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Industrialization now plays a central role in determining shifts in land use and levels of air and water pollution. Experts on matters relating to the global environment now contend that human activities are transforming the natural climatic systems at one of the highest rates ever recorded in recent history. What is even more worrying is the link between climatic systems and key life processes connected to the wellbeing of the entire populations. The United Nations (U.N) has long been aware of the urgency of this issue and strived to identify the connection between environmental degradation and poor health (Kahime et al., 2019, p. 45). This is mainly due to its adverse impact on malnutrition, the rapid spread of infectious diseases, climatic immovability, and ecological support. The management of infectious diseases is particularly problematic when dealing with a compromised climatic system. Populations in low-income countries such as Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, and Burkina Faso are left grappling with urbanization and industrialization as predictors of environmental degradation and poor health. Exposure to heavy metals such as mercury and polluted air causes an increase in enteric pathogens which exacerbates the situation further with regard to the global environment. The effects of poor health on the world population eventually cause an additional environment related burden of disease and compromised wellbeing.
Cultural taboos have long existed as a defining hallmark of humanity. The growing dependence on natural resources for sustenance is archetypally linked to this phenomenon. Cultural taboos are, therefore, grounded in the idea that man has a profound impact on the environment, hence the need to manage such activities carefully. Although sections of the general community such as hunter-gatherers have a minimal impact on the environment, others rely heavily on their exploitation for economic gain. In particular, industrial societies in Europe, Asia, and the Americas have impacted the environment greatly as a direct consequence of an unrelenting drive to acquire resources. Initially, cultural taboos played a central role in establishing clear guidelines on the use of resources and lifestyles to adopt. They were embraced soon after the transition from hunter-gather societies and the subsequent population explosion which made it increasingly difficult for the ecosystem to support exponential growth.
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Cultural taboos, thus, sought to reduce the impact of human activity on the environment which had previously been responsible for the extinction of mega-fauna as was the case in the Australian continent. It soon became apparent that this strategy caused the population to burgeon further; increasing the demand for scarce resources and pollutants in the environment. New-age cultural taboos such as avoiding topical issues relating to environmental degradation, as is the case in China and India, has caused considerable damage to the surroundings. The systematic clearing of land for commercial purposes destroys habitats for thousands of native species of plants and animals, which decreases their diversity while stressing the environment. Designating climate change as an emotive and taboo subject is also contributing to the negative consequences of the human impact on the environment. For instance, the Dust Bowls witnessed in United States soon after the Great Depression (1929-31) was as a result of an emerging avoidance culture where the impact of poor farming practices and large livestock operations was disregarded (Rosa, 2010). The effect of this threat on the world population as a whole is increase in the severity of pollution due to certain cultural attitudes which fail prioritize the environment.
Inappropriate use of Technology
The use and application of modern technology has come to be regarded as a trademark of development globally. It is deeply intertwined with man’s need to use new tools and approaches to boost productivity. However, complex technology emerged during the early 1980s where scientific endeavors were introduced to improve the overall wellbeing of society (Prins, 2013). These technologies have been responsible for allowing man to harness the full potential of the discoveries made while aiding them in a myriad of scientific discoveries. The foremost objective of technology was to harness and manage energy within the environment. This later shifted to domesticated animals as an ideal source of energy. Today, technology has made it possible to use natural resources such as coal and natural gas in addition to nuclear energy.
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Industrialized powers such as Japan, China, India, and the United States have been forced to grapple with the negative effects of technology on the environment. This is mainly due to the development of innovations to solve specified problems without considering the environmental impact and sustainable solutions for disposal. Air, water, and terrestrial pollution are a direct consequence of utilizing technology. Furthermore, the manufacture of technological devices such as electronics and computers results in the production of hazardous “technotrash” which pose a threat to the environment. The effects of this threat on the world population as a whole include global warming due to carbon emissions, health hazards due to exposure to carcinogenic materials, and a disruption of the ecology to build industries.
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Threats to the global environment encapsulate factors likely to result in its continual deterioration in the event they are not addressed by relevant parties. Leading organizations such as U.N.E.P have highlighted the growing need to address threats to the global environment for posterity. Energy sources such as fossil fuels and biofuels, poor health of entire populations, cultural taboos, and the inappropriate use of technology are some of the leading threats to the global environment. Addressing them will, thus, require concerted efforts by nation states, governing bodies, corporations, and the public to help stem emerging threats to the global environment while opting for sustainable solutions.
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