Causes and Effects of Environmental Degradation Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

negative effects of degradation of the environment. It will first discuss human population as a cause for environmental degradation by also relating to afferent effects. It will then bring into equation urbanization and industrialization which are closely linked. Ultimately, the general effects of global warming, as both a cause and an effect in itself, will be considered.

Key terms: environment, population density, urbanization, industrialization, global warming.

Man has impacted the environment since the beginning of times but, unlike nowadays, the effects were then negligible. As the number of population increased and spread around the globe, so did changes in the environment. Defining the environment has taken many forms throughout the years. The broader and most common understanding is that it represents the sum of conditions and natural factors that influence human activity. The environment is understood in terms of a dynamic system with a well defined structure where its components, the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and the biosphere, interrelate and collaborate to form the equilibrium of the planet. Earth however was not always perceived such as we are able to nowadays given that new technologies have made it possible to view the planet in perspective only since the 1960s. Space explorations have indeed allowed researchers to gain more insight as to the interdependent components of Earth and to reaffirm that its constitution is that of a changing system. The planet thus is subjected to transformational processes which come about as the result of units in motion: the thin shell of gas surrounding the planet which forms the atmosphere is in constant motion, the Earth's interior layers change due to internal heat causing a change also on its surface, etc. It is important to understand that changes in a particular unit will thus affect other components as well and, ultimately, the overall environment. A similar parallel can be drawn to reflect the effects of changes in the environment that have not produced naturally but as a result of human interference. If we take for example China's case of smog pollution which unfolds at this very moment, this is believed to have repercussions worldwide on a long-term basis. In fact, pollution as the result of industrialization has become a recurring and more concerning issue than even before in our societies. In such a context, industrialization becomes the cause for environmental degradation and pollution the effect, contributing thus to a vicious circle that jeopardizes different other domestic policies.

Environmental degradation is thus a complex process, within which the quality of the environment is altered due to a conglomeration of factors of economic, technological, denseness, consumerism, urbanization, etc. nature. Socially, growth of population is considered to contribute to environmental degradation due to limitations of life support. This assumes that multiplied population density will lead to an increase of exploitation of natural resources. As such, production processes will cause an increase in the number of waste, further leading to environmental stress. In 1798, Thomas Malthus, a scholar from England who was also preoccupied with demography, anticipated that the rate of growth population far exceeded the ratio of food production and will continue to do so. Further, the U.S. National Research Academy of Sciences (1965) drew attention that merely between 1963 and 1965 there was an explosion of population density with an increase of 130 million people between that timeline ("Preface"). According to the Population Reference Bureau (2013), there will be a continuation of multiplying population, with less developed countries having to support, by 2050, most of the growth (p. 1). Thus, the increase in population number will inevitably lead to the necessity of producing larger quantities of food with effects on the environment. Some of these effects are in relation to biodiversity which suffers as a result of these processes; habitat areas being destructed will subsequently affect species, etc. With an increase of population, energy consumption is also expected to grow, causing thus more gas emissions and extensions of polluted air and areas. In fact, ?several indicators of consumption have grown at rates well above population growth in the past century. (Sherbinin et al., 2007, ?Global Trends in Population and Consumption?)

Agricultural proceedings will determine pollution of soil given that various chemicals and biological agents are used to produce crops in a relative shortage of time and space. Moreover, irrigation schemes with an effect on the interior layers of the earth as well as its surface will contribute to environmental degradation. Because, in the following decades, population increase is expected to occur predominantly in less developed countries, this constitutes yet another cause for gradual degradation. Because countries such as China, India, and Africa already number substantial poverty setting, it is understood that most of the population here relies more on natural resources and, consequently, depletes them rapidly. This is acknowledged by various researchers who seek linkages between population growth and environmental degradation. For example, Firdos Ahmad (2012), member at the Department of Economics at the Aligarh Muslim University in India, has noted that natural resources are the most common type which Indian people have access to and utilize accordingly (p. 61).

However, to say that poverty is the underlying cause for environmental degradation is an exaggeration, much as it would be exaggerated to state that high rates of consumerism in urban areas where individuals with substantial income reside represent the sole cause for environmental degradation. It is understood that the majority of poor people in any of the countries above will have limited technical resources and will produce a minimum of waste. However, agricultural proceedings do lead to a degradation of the soil. In the 1990s, it was estimated ?that 25 million tons of top fertile soil are lost annually due to soil erosion in India alone. (as cited in Duraiappah, 1996, p. 11) Therefore, while there would be a minimum of waste to contribute to environmental degradation, in countries such as the above, changes in the environment occur as the result of people overly exploiting the soil. It is not just the nutrients in the soil that the earth is depleted from but as well other natural resources such as forest and water. Deforestation is being implemented on larger scales with purposes of converting certain areas in human habitat zones, agricultural lands, etc. This leads to a destabilization of the ecosystem which further contributes to hazardous flooding. Environmental degradation can be regarded as a domino effect, creating one disaster after another. Phong Tran and Rajib Shaw (2012) have noted, ?Environment and disasters have a close relationship. Environmental change causes disasters or enhances the frequency or intensity of disasters. (p. 3) In 2011 alone, 302 disasters were registered with both human and financial casualties (Beck et al., 2012, p. 6). But, the most concerning and recurring issue is the fact that more and more such disasters occur not as a result of natural environmental settings but due to the various human interventions in nature.

Humanity faces the challenges of its own development. Evolution has always been to ascend to other discoveries in a continual process. We are facing thus a contemporary century that is defined by man's pursuit of knowledge in terms of technological development and life standards. Accentuated development techniques are marked by the explosive character of an increased and diverse level of production processes, economic upheavals, and more competitive technologies. This scientifically technical progress relates to the notion of ?urbanism. Progress has determined the development of cities and has intensified the socio-economic activities. If, at first, it yielded positive outcomes, such as industrialization, cultural benefits, income increase, time has demonstrated the far outstretching negative impacts. As more and more people left their homes to come and live within urban settlements, a gap was created between the demands and the power to supply which generated unemployment, lack of housing and food, etc.

The balance of human resources thus becomes locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally unstable as a result of massive movements of the rural population into urban areas. Moreover, because of human activity within the field of industry, agriculture, transport, tourism, etc., the urban ecosystem falls prey to the deterioration of air, water scarcity and water pollution, etc. Attention has been drawn to the fact that such issues, if not responded to in an effective manner, will come to represent the ?major environmental problems of the next century. (Uttara et al., 2012, p. 1638) The industry, as economic activity, releases into the air chemical substances, particles and gases (i.e. carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, ammonia), industrial waste. Furthermore, industrial residues are spilled in water as on soil, posing potential threats to both people and animals. Carbon dioxide emissions have increased constantly and it is considered that emissions will continue to grow in the years to come unless societies are able to create and develop sustainable programs to batter these negative effects.

Industrialization in fact has a twofold impact on the environment both of which are responsible for degradation. Firstly, the modern individual is consuming oxygen in greater proportions nowadays in order to sustain…

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