Environment: Did You Know?
In this module you’ll learn about the factors that are endangering our environment. You’ll hear more about global warming, pollution and the threats to species around the world. Discover the devastating effects. Learn what others are doing to fight them then find out what you can do to help.
The environment is everything around us—land, water, air and wildlife—from the birds in the trees, the ground we stand on, to the water we drink. In the last 200 years, mankind has upset our relationship with the environment. Our machines and the products they make have emitted chemicals and gases that are changing the planet in almost every way. Species of animals are disappearing around the world. The poisons we’ve washed into our surroundings (like mercury) have entered the food we eat and have now found their way inside of us. In the past 40 years, a growing number of people have come to understand that it is our responsibility to protect the environment. Polluting ultimately harms humanity—our health, our sources of food and our ability to survive. You’ll need some basic rules to join the fight to save the environment.
Rule #1: Everything in the world is connected.
It’s as if we’re part of a web. Disturb one part and it’s felt in all parts. Not sure what this means? Here’s an example. You might not pay much attention to the honeybee, but honeybees carry pollen to flowers, which allows them bear fruit. In the last decade, the bees have mysteriously died in large numbers in North America. Though just a small insect, their disappearance has greatly disturbed the entire web of life. Fruit trees—apples, apricots, strawberries, peaches, and more—are all under threat because they cannot bear fruit and cannot reproduce without the bees. We humans are only one step removed. We cannot harvest fruit we eat and lose sources of sustenance—all because of a small bee. This leads directly to rule #2.
Rule #2: Every change in the environment affects mankind directly or indirectly.
Our health and our ability to survive depend on the health of everything around us. Over hundreds of thousands of years our species has adapted to survive in almost any environment—from the deep jungles to the Arctic tundra. That said, a toxic environment limits our ability to thrive. After all, we still need healthy food, clean water, fresh air, and shelter from the elements. One of the biggest challenges facing our generation is a phenomenon called global warming. Like all animals, every time we breathe out, we release carbon dioxide. Luckily for us, plants absorb carbon dioxide in order to grow, and creating a natural cycle of carbon dioxide on this planet. However, in the last century our vehicles, factories and farms have begun producing carbon dioxide too, causing an imbalance in the cycle. The plants can’t keep up.
The extra carbon dioxide floats to the top of our atmosphere, about 85 kilometers in the sky, and blocks heat from escaping the planet. The change has warmed the planet by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 150 years. That’s much too fast for animals to adapt, and many are disappearing. Scientists aren’t sure how different regions will be affected by the change, but most agree that the world’s weather will become less predictable and more violent. In the last year, Russia experienced its worst heat wave and drought on record, twenty percent of Pakistan was flooded with rain, and scientists recorded the hottest summer in history. Don’t lose hope…
Rule #3: We can all do our part to help preserve the environment.
Acts like conserving water, or cleaning beaches, or taking public transportation each play a small part in keeping our environment healthy. Explore other sections of this site to learn what more you can do.
Lesser Known Facts
- Of 1.5 million known species, 16,118 species are in danger of disappearing.
- Each year, mankind consumes 40 percent more resources than nature can restore.
- Every year an area of natural forest the size to Greece disappears.
- A million tons of paper is used worldwide in a single day.
- Twenty-four trees are saved for every ton of recycled paper used.
- Compact fluorescent light bulbs save 80 percent of electricity used by a standard bulb and last up to eight times longer.
- Most of the world’s creatures live in the sea. There are still millions of species to be discovered.
- On the average, there are 27 oil spills per day in the world’s oceans.
- Three out of four of the world’s fisheries are fully or over fished.
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the ocean will rise by 18-59 centimeters by the year 2100 because of melting of glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. About 10 percent of the world’s population lives in danger of being flooded.
- China, The United States and India produce about half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
- China is building six enormous wind farms that will be able to produce 105,000 megawatts—roughly the same capacity of France.
- 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
- The trails left by airplanes make up almost half of the greenhouse warming caused by the airline industry.
- Almost all the plastic ever made still exists today. A plastic milk jug, for example, takes a million years to decompose.
- Only one to two percent of plastic used in the United States is recycled—the country produces 10.5 million tons a year.
- The World Health Organization estimates that 160,000 people die each year because of the indirect causes of climate change.
- More than 8,000 people die a day from breathing polluted air—mainly from coal particles in their lungs.
- Carbon dioxide produced by burning fossils fuels is the primary greenhouse gas warming the earth. The levels today are higher then they have been for hundreds of thousands of years!
- Plankton are tiny creatures that serve as food for many sea animals. In sections of the Pacific there are six times more particles of plastic then plankton.
- Worldwide levels of plankton organisms have dropped 40 percent since the 1950s. The drop has been linked to rising ocean temperatures.
- The town of Chernobyl in the Ukraine is still one of the most toxic places to live because of a nuclear power plant meltdown in 1986.
- About 4 million pounds of trash are currently in space orbiting the earth debris from satellites that have gone offline.
- Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are most at risk from shocks to food supplies such as droughts or floods and other extreme weather conditions linked to climate change.
- Fuels produced by plants like sugar cane are a viable solution to petroleum-based fuels.
- Hooker Chemical disposed of about 22,000 tons of mixed chemical wastes into the Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagra Falls, New York, from 1942 – 1953. Love Canal was declared a threat to human health in 1978, and so the area had to be evacuated.