Environmental Education: Human Impact on the Environment

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The modern man has coexisted with the earth’s inhabitants in relative harmony, for what has been speculated to be around 200,000 years. However, towards and throughout the 20th century, the human population skyrocketed, and the need for food, supplies and desire for the development of the modern world grew with it. Until then, the human existence was relatively benign, however as the population and curiosity grew, the earth’s environment began to in turn be destroyed. The damages done by humans can be direct and indirect, with some of the most significant of these being global warming, habitat destruction and total extinction of a large number of species.

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Arguably the most malignant impact the human population has had on the environment is the fairly new concept of overexploitation, a term used to describe the act of overharvesting a type of wild resource faster than its population can be naturally refilled. This is often due to a high demand of said species on the illegal wildlife trade, or plain human greed. For centuries, it has been common practice to hunt various precious animals, such as the Black Rhino or the Dodo bird, as well as thousands of other species, thus driving them to extinction. The continuous extinction of species poses major stress on both the fauna and flora of the habitat it was once a part of, as well consequently leading to drastic shifts in biodiversity and alterations to the ecosystem. For example, the extinction of a predator on an island, can establish new dominance among the fauna, and hence lead to the death of another species who cant keep up with the change. Similarly, humans have been responsible for the introduction of various invasive species to new habitats such as terrestrial invertebrates. For example, circa 1930s-1940s, a species of ant known as RIFA (red imported fire ant), was introduced to the U.S on ships. The ant native to South America had swarmed over 9.3 million km², and prayed on birds and lizards (Ahmedin Jemal, Martin Hugh-Jones, 1993).

Another form of overexploitation is the large scale harvesting of forests (deforestation), ultimately leading habitat destruction and in turn extinction of more species. Since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, machinery has enabled harvesting to become easier than ever, and the world saw a fast decline in its tree population, with numerous forests being wiped out as we speak all for human consumption, whether to be used in factories, house building or excessive production of paper based items. Deforestation, however, not only leads to changes in biodiversity, but also has a major impact on the overall climate. It has been observed that around one fifth of the global carbon dioxide emissions in the 1990s were due to the cutting down of masses of trees in the tropical areas of the world, which ultimately leads to further habitat loss, such as the decline in polar bear population due to the melting of the ice caps. Similarly, chemicals from factories and farms get into nearby bodies of water, for example by being deposited there as waste. Depending on the harshness of the chemicals, they can be very damaging to both the aquatic life and terrestrial life depending on it for drinking water. Substances such as fertilisers are a major cause of algal bloom forming in rivers.

In recent years, however, humans began to attempt to heal the environment they have broken by establishing laws, wildlife preserves and reforestation. A variety of laws were introduced over time to protect the environment, five of which are seen as the major ones. One of these laws includes the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) brought about in 1976. This law was put in place to control how and where chemical waste from factories is disposed of, thus the environment is being exposed to less hazardous waste. Although controversial, wildlife preserves have proven to be a success when endangered species such as the Giant Panda (who became endangered due to poaching and deforestation), and the Gray Wolf (who were hunted down and killed like pests), have been removed from the official endangered species list in the past few years. As for reforestation, the Forestry Commision of England have created a scheme where funds and/or grants are supplied for applicants who wish to embark on a large scale tree planting project.

When weighed, the human impact on the environment is unmistakingly negative. As the human population continues to thrive, the earth’s biodiversity continues to rapidly decline at an alarming rate. Regardless of efforts, the earth’s once thriving biodiversity continues to suffer under human exploitation. Countless species have gone extinct to never be seen again. Habitats have been and continue to be destroyed. Excessive emissions of carbon dioxide lead to global warming and climate change, worsening and impact more species each year.In just 200 years, both the extinction rate of species and the human population have increased almost 7 times the original number. 

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