Impacts of Environmental Degradation

Sally Painter
Smog is a big concern.

You do not have to look far to see the impacts of environmental degradation on the Earth. Pollution is the most obvious sign of environmental degradation but there are many other signs.

What Is Environmental Degradation?

Environmental degradation is a result of socioeconomic, technological and institutional activities. Degradation occurs when Earth's natural resources are depleted. These resources which are affected include:

  • Water
  • Air
  • Soil

The degradation also impacts people's:

  • Wildlife
  • Plants
  • Animals
  • Micro-organisms

How Environmental Degradation Occurs

Land, water and soil are compromised when people exhaust resources or release harmful chemicals into the air. These environmental changes are based on many factors. The causes of environmental degradation include:

  • Urbanization increases the need for water and other valuable resources.
  • Population growth requires the clearing of land, more industry and more infrastructure to support the influx of people.
  • Economic growth is followed by urbanization and population growth in cities and communities.
  • Intensification of agriculture is required of agricultural ecosystems to sustain a growing population.
  • Increase in energy use follows urbanization, population growth and the supporting systems required to sustain and support more people and industry.
  • Increase in transportation is required whenever there is an expansion in industry and population.
Cutting down massive forests impacts our biosphere.

Deforestation and the Wasting of Resources

Deforestation, wasting resources, and pollution all add to the demise of an environmentally sound and safe planet. For example, when trees in forests are cut down in large quantities, so that more homes can be built on the land, the birds and wildlife who lived in the forest must find a new place to live.

  • The vegetation that once grew on the land is destroyed.
  • Trees that absorbed carbon dioxide to help the biosphere are now unable to do so.
  • However, sometimes trees are just cut down and burned. This is what is known as slash and burn, a practice that only destroys forests and all that live in them.
  • If the wood from the trees is used to make products and those products (such as paper) are later recycled, that is one hopeful aspect for the planet.

Unfortunate Impacts of Environmental Degradation

When factories produce harmful chemicals and toxic waste into bodies of water, humans suffer. Pesticides and fertilizers can also get into a region's water system and pollute it. Drinking water is contaminated.

Air Pollution Devastating Impact on Human Health

Some people residing in third-world countries are highly affected by the degradation of the planet. These unhealthy practices cause severe health crises. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 4.2 million premature deaths are linked to just air pollution.

Deaths of Children from Air Pollution

The WHO also attributes air pollution as the cause of acute respiratory infections in children that often leads to death. The WHO reports, "It [polluted air] puts their health and development at serious risk.

  • The WHO also reported that 600,000 children died in 2016 from acute lower respiratory infections attributed to air pollutions.
  • In 2018, WHO reported that 1.8 billion, nearly 93% of all children in the world under the ages of 15 breath polluted air.
  • Worldwide, air pollution is responsible for nearly 1 in 10 deaths of children under the age of five years.

Pollution Caused Illnesses and Deaths of Adults

The Who further reports that other pollutions cause a wide range of illnesses that lead to death. These health issues manifest as heart disease, lung diseases, such as cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in adults. US News reports that over 100,000 Americans die each year of related air pollution illnesses, such as heart attacks and strokes, as well as other air pollution relation illnesses.

Poverty Caused by Environmental Degradation

In many countries in Africa, crop harvests are falling as consumption increases. People are finding less nutritious food to eat. One argument held is that while fields in wealthier nations are used to grow crops for fuel, poorer countries, especially those around the Equator, are vulnerable to weather changes, water shortages, and urbanization.

Utilizing Non-Food Waste

All of these factors are increasing and the health and lives of thousands are impacted. Some scientists and environmentalists are asking that non-food items and agriculture waste be used as an alternative fuel for vehicles instead.

Degradation and Increase in Poverty

When the natural resources are degraded, the surrounding communities can suffer from poverty. Conservation Institute uses the 1992, the Newfoundland cod fishing industry collapse as an example of how environmental degradation creates poverty. 30,000 fishermen found themselves unable to provide for their families.

Losing Earth's Coastal and Marine Beauty

As humans dump waste products, use chemicals, and over fish in the oceans and seas, areas of beauty such as coral reefs are damaged. At times the destruction is so great that it cannot be reversed. Humans are killing the planet and the consequences are tremendous.

Risks to Marine and Coastal Resources

One example of this lies within the coast lands of Thailand. Here marine and coastal resources at risk. Vast areas of mangrove wetlands have been lost. Coral reefs continue to suffer degradation, and the total fish available for catching is declining.

Economic Ramifications

Not only was the degradation causing marine and coastal resources to be lost, but this issue held large economic problems. When there isn't enough fish to catch, fishermen are without income to support themselves and their families. The Bangkok Post reports, the shores are eroding at a rate of three to five meters per year. This results in an annual loss of more than six billion baht ($150 USD million) in economic terms.

Development along Coastal Shorelines

National Institutes of Health reports shoreline developments have habitat degradation on common species of coastal fish with an average of 0.5% destruction of available habitats annually.

Natural Causes of Environmental Degradation

While humans cause a portion of environmental degradation, many aspects of erosion are cause by natural events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, earthquakes, wildfires, and flooding rain.

Natural Erosion Degradation

Accroding to the Bangkok Post, the natural erosion of Thailand shorelines over the past 30 years has resulted in the loss of land mass. Efforts to regain the land mass include restoration projects using bamboo-made barriers at a cost of four million baht (around $130,000 USD) per one kilometer.

Restoring Natural Marine Ecosystems

In 2015, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) joined forces to create a new law that designated Thailand Mangrove conservation areas, and marine and coastal resources protected areas. Critics, such as Mapping Ocean Wealth, state more efforts are needed to protect larger areas than the current designated ones.

Overconsumption of Resources

Overconsumption of resources is another factor that should be included in environmental degradation. Water supplies can be taxed by overuse and threaten cities and communities.

Every Growing Landfills

Another form of environmental degradation revolves around the gluttony of consumption found in a one-use, throw away culture. Landfills have to be created or extended to accommodate the resulting waste. By choosing foods and products that come in reusable or compostable containers and practicing recycling, much of the throw away refuse can be eliminated.

Overuse of Water

Humans waste a lot of water. This can be from taking too many baths, overly long showers or simply wasting water with inefficient washing machines, hot water heaters, dishwashers, sprinkler systems, shower heads, toilets, etc. As communities expand, the need for water increases, often creating shortages or placing a strain on natural resources that weren't present before the expansion.

How to Stop Degradation

There are ways which you can help to decrease degradation in the environment. Individual impact on local communities can be stopped when observing good stewardship. Some of these include:

  • Purchase recycled products
  • Conserve water
  • Do not litter or toss waste into inappropriate places
  • Conserve energy
  • Join an awareness group
  • Talk with others about the impacts of environmental degradation
  • Be an advocate to save the planet!

Examining Impacts of Environmental Degradation

The impact that humans have on the environment can be remedied when different choices are made that lessen the impact. Around the world, people are taking steps to counter and restore eco-systems degraded due to human and natural impacts.

Impacts of Environmental Degradation