Given the planet's struggling economic and social conditions, the exploding population, the spreading plague of violence, the increasing depletion of natural resources (forests, etc.) and the urgent need for new energy resources, the ignorance towards conservation and sustainability, and the heating up of the planet, there is every reason to believe that the deterioration of the world's environment will indeed continue. That is not to say the planet is destined to be degraded to the point that it will be uninhabitable for human existence. The health of the environment certainly doesn't have to continue to spiral downward. But to the question posed for this paper, yes, the global environment is -- and will continue to be for the foreseeable future -- on a path of dramatic deterioration.
Why is the environment deteriorating? Description of historical / social background
There are many reasons why the environment of Planet Earth is deteriorating. It does not come down to one particular issue, but a combination of many important ecological, political, scientific and sociological issues. And the problems that are now enormous did not happen overnight, but instead have been building since the Industrial Revolution and the building of giant electrical generating plants that burn fossil fuel. One reason that the problem has growing and there has been no serious attention to it is because of the complexity of the myriad problems that are driving the degradation of the planet. Indeed, there are various environmental and conservation issues that are difficult to grasp for many citizens and leaders, so they tend to either ignore the problems or rely on someone else to find a solution.
Another reason that the deterioration of the planet has continued is the propaganda put out by those in denial, those who minimize the problems and the far right wing conservative movement that asserts -- through media, through politics, and through the written word -- that environmental problems are exaggerated by the left, and that global climate change is some kind of conspiracy launched by liberals to harm business. This paper will identify the major reasons for this unprecedented deterioration of the that planet humans share with the natural world, notwithstanding the loud propaganda campaign led by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and others like Glenn Beck, that have adopted anti-environmental positions purely out of ideological leanings.
The deterioration of the environment -- approaching the topic through realism
There is only one way to approach the topic of the sad but dangerous ongoing despoliation of Earth, and that is through the realistic, honest evaluation, based on science, and not on political ideology or rhetoric. Launching into a philosophical discussion is an interesting approach to this topic, but that kind of dialogue is more suited to a think tank-type dynamic, and likely not very helpful in laying out the reality of what the planet is facing.
Being realistic, and eschewing theory and rhetoric, one good place to start, when looking at an honest perspective as to why the earth's environment is deteriorating, is the world's oceans. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is among the most visible, active and authoritative conservation advocacy organizations in the United States. The NRDC reports that "…about a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the earth's oceans" and that impact is just beginning to be understood, according to the NRDC. What is known is that over the past ten years, scientists have discovered that "excess CO2 is actually changing the chemistry of the sea" and in the meantime it is proving harmful to "many forms of marine life"; the process is called "ocean acidification" (NRDC).
The corrosive impacts on sea life, the NRDC reports, includes the fact that increased acidity reduces the mineral used to form the skeletons and shells of many corals and shellfish. This effect can be compared to osteoporosis in humans: acidification causes slow growth and makes shells weaker. Another result of acidification is the loss of coral reefs, a condition that is occurring in many oceans throughout the world.
Also very harmful to the world's oceans is oil pollution, which unfortunately frequently happens as part of the process of drilling for oil offshore, especially in deep water. It is not just the process, but the spillage and pollution that results from mistakes during the drilling process that is the real killer of the environment. Before going into the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April, 2010, a quick review of the strange relationship between big oil companies and the U.S. government.
The benefits oil companies receive from taxpayers are worthy of mentioning. Indeed, the irony within the context of offshore oil drilling is that while oil companies are raking in record billions of dollars in profits, they are receiving enormous tax breaks and other perks from the government. While many Americans are out of work, or have had their homes foreclosed, or are ill and can't afford health insurance, the oil companies reap enormous profits and benefits, most of the perks and benefits result from the sweat and toil of the average American worker.
President Barack Obama recently pointed out (2011, The White House Blog) that over the past five years, the big five oil companies have each earned at least $75 billion and at most $125 billion. Each year the oil industry receives $4 billion in tax breaks and other benefits. "Four billion dollars a year are going to companies that are making record profits -- even during the recession they were making big profits," the president explained to a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada, on April 21, 2011.
But as a sign of just how important oil production is to America's economy, and to the daily lives of citizens -- and due to the lour public outcry due to the rapid rise of gasoline prices around the United States -- the president on May 13 announced he will allow "new drilling in Alaska's national petroleum reserve" (Schwartz, 2011). The cleanup from the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still ongoing, and yet the president has authorized new oil drilling. The lease sales Obama authorized (in the 23.5 million-acre Alaskan reserve) are in the environment where "millions of migratory birds, two caribou herds, gray wolves, and other wildlife" now thrive, Schwartz writes.
It is apparent that even though Obama has been the most vocal president in recent history in promoting (and funding) renewable energy sources -- to get the U.S. off the addiction to crude oil, which contributes to global warming, and in particular foreign crude oil -- he is also sensitive to criticism that he's not doing enough about high gas prices (albeit, there is absolutely no proven link between less offshore oil drilling and the price of a gallon of gasoline; it's all in the public's perception of the problem, not in the reality of the problem).
Meantime, as to the question -- will the global environment continue to deteriorate? -- the answer is a resounding yes if international economies continue to rely exclusively on fossil fuel products (oil, gas, and coal) to power their electricity production plants. The huge explosion at British Petroleum's "Macondo" oil well in the Gulf of Mexico killed eleven workmen, sank the drilling rig and sent "4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico" (NY Times). It did a lot more damage than just pouring oil into the natural environment and killing thousands of birds, turtles and other sea creatures -- the oil spill put "thousands of people out of work," the New York Times reports. The Obama Administration "…correctly saw the spill as a chance to underwrite a huge restoration effort" in the gulf, the Times explains, referencing the fact that "one-third of Louisiana's marshes, wetlands and barrier islands disappeared over the last century, victims of industrial development and levee-building along the Mississippi River" (NY Times).
Will the global environment -- including the wildlife that the human race should be providing solid stewardship for -- continue to be degraded? Of course it will, given that future oil catastrophes are inevitable, and that the destruction of habitat for our wildlife continues as cities sprawl out into the natural world and industry continues to build along the coastlines.
The actual toll on sea life resulting from the gulf oil spill is horrendous. According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) reports, "As lease 102 species of birds are known to have been harmed by the oil spill," the CBD explains. Among those species: brown pelicans, black skimmers, common loons, northern gannets and a number of species of terns. Birds covered with crude oil have been found from west of Galveston, Texas, to south of Fort Myers, Florida.
The toll on sea turtles was also horrendous; some 6,000 deep sea turtles have been "harmed" by the spill; the five sea turtles that are the most prominent turtles in the gulf (Kemp's ridley, hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead…