Our influence on the environment
We live on this planet not in isolation but within an intricate network of nature.
What this means, is that the way we live and act has an effect, not only on the environment around us, but also on other creatures that share this habitat with us. This is because we are all dependent on an intact ecosystem providing us with resources we need for survival. There are over 7.8 billion people on this planet, increasing the demand and expectation on natural resources. Human influence can also be seen in modern technology which has increased harvesting efficiency rates to a point where nature can hardly keep up.
The animal and plant kingdoms have been grossly exploited by us over the last few decades. We seem to have taken their presence and what they can do for us for granted, and have integrated them into our lives more than we realise. Wildlife trading, food processing, the clothing industry, and research in the medical, cosmetic, and industrial sectors, are just some examples of their continued use. Despite knowing this, it is still surprising and concerning how many products involve some form of derivatives or testing, in places we wouldn’t even have considered.
When thinking of environmental impact and the decrease of biodiversity, we often imagine a major destructive event having taken place. While this can be the case, human influence affects our surroundings a great deal with seemingly small daily decisions. Products we buy will be replaced, so production from suppliers follows the demand from us. Whatever we choose to spend our money on, we thus support.
Not realising the impact we have on everything around us, simply means we will continue to have an impact that we didn’t consciously choose. Take for example the ingredients in the food we consume, when we consider their provenance, we can then decide whether this is something we would like to support. The same principle applies for any other matter, be this plastic packaging, chemical-loaded cleaning products, fast fashion, or responsible waste disposal. The major large-scale negative impacts we have on our Earth include overexploitation, introduction of non-native species, habitat loss and degradation, as well as pollution. These factors have in the past, and continue to severely impact the abundance of biodiversity, and the quality of the Earth’s soil, fresh water, oceans, and air.
These threats not only pose problems individually, but when they then interact the impact is amplified. We are currently facing the sixth mass extinction event on Earth. A combination of factors can weaken our ecosystems and put pressure on them from many angles at the same time, amplifying each other’s effects.
The marine environment as an example...
One of which surrounds our treatment of the oceans. As we continue to overfish our seas, modern fishing practices remove food from the ocean at an unsustainable rate. They also kill many untargeted marine species, such as sharks dolphins and turtles during the process. Some methods even destroy sea floor habitats, which sustain a variety of species that in turn sustain other marine organisms. On top of that, we pollute our seas. Trash including plastics, as well as discharge from aquaculture or land-based agricultural run-off finds its way into our waterways. Top predators, such as sharks are especially vulnerable to accumulating toxins. These species at the top of food chains are also critical in maintaining ocean health. Imagine many species struggling at the same time, where each of them influences the ocean ecosystem in their own way. This will have a knock-on effect on any roles they fulfil or any species that depend on them or that role. Furthermore, rising carbon dioxide levels not only increase ocean temperatures but also lead to its acidification which can greatly interfere with marine organisms. Facing so much adversity, it is no wonder that some ecosystems struggle to thrive and survive. A polluted ocean that not only regularly loses intact habitat, but also species which help it maintain its ecological balance, may not be able to fulfil its ecological task as successfully. As it turns out, a healthy ocean dramatically reduces the impacts of climate change that we provoke. It also produces more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe, as well as providing us with a continuous food supply. Hence we are as much impacted by these consequences as any other life on Earth.