Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes to biophysical environments and ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming, environmental degradation (such as ocean acidification), mass extinction and biodiversity loss, ecological crises, and ecological collapse. Modifying the environment to fit the needs of society is causing severe effects, which become worse as the problem of human overpopulation continues. Some human activities that cause damage (either directly or indirectly) to the environment on a global scale include human reproduction, overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation, to name but a few. Some of the problems, including global warming and biodiversity loss pose an existential risk to the human race, and overpopulation causes those problems.
The term anthropogenic designates an effect or object resulting from human activity. The term was first used in the technical sense by Russian geologist Alexey Pavlov, and it was first used in English by British ecologist Arthur Tansley in reference to human influences on climax plant communities. The atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen introduced the term “Anthropocene” in the mid-1970s. The term is sometimes used in the context of pollution emissions that are produced from human activity but also applies broadly to all major human impacts on the environment.
David Attenborough described the level of human population on the planet as a multiplier of all other environmental problems. In 2013, he described humanity as “a plague on the Earth” that needs to be controlled by limiting population growth.
Some deep ecologists, such as the radical thinker and polemicist Pentti Linkola, see human overpopulation as a threat to the entire biosphere. In 2017, over 15,000 scientists around the world issued a second warning to humanity which asserted that rapid human population growth is the “primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats.”
Overconsumption is a situation where resource use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem. A prolonged pattern of overconsumption leads to environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases.
Humanity’s overall impact on the planet is affected by many factors, not just the raw number of people. Their lifestyle (including overall affluence and resource utilization) and the pollution they generate (including carbon footprint) are equally important. In 2008, The New York Times stated that the inhabitants of the developed nations of the world consume resources like oil and metals at a rate almost 32 times greater than those of the developing world, who make up the majority of the human population.
The effects of overpopulation are compounded by overconsumption. According to Paul R. Ehrlich:
Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event A world population of around a billion would have an overall pro-life effect. This could be supported for many millennia and sustain many more human lives in the long term compared with our current uncontrolled growth and prospect of sudden collapse If everyone consumed resources at the US level – which is what the world aspires to – you will need another four or five Earths. We are wrecking our planet’s life support systems.
Humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants The world’s chickens are triple the weight of all the wild birds, while domesticated cattle and pigs outweigh all wild mammals by 14 to 1.
The applications of technology often result in unavoidable and unexpected environmental impacts, which according to the I = PAT equation is measured as resource use or pollution generated per unit GDP. Environmental impacts caused by the application of technology are often perceived as unavoidable for several reasons. First, given that the purpose of many technologies is to exploit, control, or otherwise “improve” upon nature for the perceived benefit of humanity while at the same time the myriad of processes in nature have been optimized and are continually adjusted by evolution, any disturbance of these natural processes by technology is likely to result in negative environmental consequences. Second, the conservation of mass principle and the first law of thermodynamics (i.e., conservation of energy) dictate that whenever material resources or energy are moved around or manipulated by technology, environmental consequences are inescapable. Third, according to the second law of thermodynamics, order can be increased within a system (such as the human economy) only by increasing disorder or entropy outside the system (i.e., the environment). Thus, technologies can create “order” in the human economy (i.e., order as manifested in buildings, factories, transportation networks, communication systems, etc.) only at the expense of increasing “disorder” in the environment. According to a number of studies, increased entropy is likely to be correlated to negative environmental impacts.
The environmental impact of agriculture varies based on the wide variety of agricultural practices employed around the world. Ultimately, the environmental impact depends on the production practices of the system used by farmers. The connection between emissions into the environment and the farming system is indirect, as it also depends on other climate variables such as rainfall and temperature.
There are two types of indicators of environmental impact: “means-based”, which is based on the farmer’s production methods, and “effect-based”, which is the impact that farming methods have on the farming system or on emissions to the environment. An example of a means-based indicator would be the quality of groundwater that is affected by the amount of nitrogen applied to the soil. An indicator reflecting the loss of nitrate to groundwater would be effect-based.
The environmental impact of agriculture involves a variety of factors from the soil, to water, the air, animal and soil diversity, plants, and the food itself. Some of the environmental issues that are related to agriculture are climate change, deforestation, genetic engineering, irrigation problems, pollutants, soil degradation, and waste.
The environmental impact of fishing can be divided into issues that involve the availability of fish to be caught, such as overfishing, sustainable fisheries, and fisheries management; and issues that involve the impact of fishing on other elements of the environment, such as by-catch and destruction of habitat such as coral reefs.
These conservation issues are part of marine conservation, and are addressed in fisheries science programs. There is a growing gap between how many fish are available to be caught and humanity’s desire to catch them, a problem that gets worse as the world population grows.
Similar to other environmental issues, there can be conflict between the fishermen who depend on fishing for their livelihoods and fishery scientists who realize that if future fish populations are to be sustainable then some fisheries must reduce or even close.
The journal Science published a four-year study in November 2006, which predicted that, at prevailing trends, the world would run out of wild-caught seafood in 2048. The scientists stated that the decline was a result of overfishing, pollution and other environmental factors that were reducing the population of fisheries at the same time as their ecosystems were being degraded. Yet again the analysis has met criticism as being fundamentally flawed, and many fishery management officials, industry representatives and scientists challenge the findings, although the debate continues. Many countries, such as Tonga, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and international management bodies have taken steps to appropriately manage marine resources.
The environmental impact of irrigation includes the changes in quantity and quality of soil and water as a result of irrigation and the ensuing effects on natural and social conditions at the tail-end and downstream of the irrigation scheme.
The impacts stem from the changed hydrological conditions owing to the installation and operation of the scheme.
An irrigation scheme often draws water from the river and distributes it over the irrigated area. As a hydrological result it is found that:
the downstream river discharge is reduced
the evaporation in the scheme is increased
the groundwater recharge in the scheme is increased
the level of the water table rises
the drainage flow is increased.
These may be called direct effects.
Effects on soil and water quality are indirect and complex, and subsequent impacts on natural, ecological and socio-economic conditions are intricate. In some, but not all instances, water logging and soil salinization can result. However, irrigation can also be used, together with soil drainage, to overcome soil salinization by leaching excess salts from the vicinity of the root zone.
Irrigation can also be done extracting groundwater by (tube)wells. As a hydrological result it is found that the level of the water descends. The effects may be water mining, land/soil subsidence, and, along the coast, saltwater intrusion.
Irrigation projects can have large benefits, but the negative side effects are often overlooked. Agricultural irrigation technologies such as high powered water pumps, dams, and pipelines are responsible for the large-scale depletion of fresh water resources such as aquifers, lakes, and rivers. As a result of this massive diversion of freshwater, lakes, rivers, and creeks are running dry, severely altering or stressing surrounding ecosystems, and contributing to the extinction of many aquatic species.
Agricultural land loss and soil erosion
Lal and Stewart estimated global loss of agricultural land by degradation and abandonment at 12 million hectares per year. In contrast, according to Scherr, GLASOD (Global Assessment of Human-Induced Soil Degradation, under the UN Environment Programme) estimated that 6 million hectares of agricultural land per year had been lost to soil degradation since the mid-1940s, and she noted that this magnitude is similar to earlier estimates by Dudal and by Rozanov et al. Such losses are attributable not only to soil erosion, but also to salinization, loss of nutrients and organic matter, acidification, compaction, water logging and subsidence. Human-induced land degradation tends to be particularly serious in dry regions. Focusing on soil properties, Oldeman estimated that about 19 million square kilometers of global land area had been degraded; Dregne and Chou, who included degradation of vegetation cover as well as soil, estimated about 36 million square kilometers degraded in the world’s dry regions. Despite estimated losses of agricultural land, the amount of arable land used in crop production globally increased by about 9% from 1961 to 2012, and is estimated to have been 1.396 billion hectares in 2012.
Global average soil erosion rates are thought to be high, and erosion rates on conventional cropland generally exceed estimates of soil production rates, usually by more than an order of magnitude. In the US, sampling for erosion estimates by the US NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) is statistically based, and estimation uses the Universal Soil Loss Equation and Wind Erosion Equation. For 2010, annual average soil loss by sheet, rill and wind erosion on non-federal US land was estimated to be 10.7 t/ha on cropland and 1.9 t/ha on pasture land; the average soil erosion rate on US cropland had been reduced by about 34% since 1982. No-till and low-till practices have become increasingly common on North American cropland used for production of grains such as wheat and barley. On uncultivated cropland, the recent average total soil loss has been 2.2 t/ha per year. In comparison with agriculture using conventional cultivation, it has been suggested that, because no-till agriculture produces erosion rates much closer to soil production rates, it could provide a foundation for sustainable agriculture.
Environmental impacts associated with meat production include use of fossil energy, water and land resources, greenhouse gas emissions, and in some instances, rainforest clearing, water pollution and species endangerment, among other adverse effects. Steinfeld et al. of the FAO estimated that 18% of global anthropogenic GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions (estimated as 100-year carbon dioxide equivalents) are associated in some way with livestock production. A more recent FAO analysis estimated that all agriculture, including the livestock sector, in 2011 accounted for 12% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions expressed as 100-year carbon dioxide equivalents. Similarly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that about 10% to 12% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions (expressed as 100-year carbon dioxide equivalents) were assignable to all of agriculture, including the livestock sector, in 2005 and 2010. The amount due to livestock must be some fraction of the amount due to agriculture. The amount due to meat production is some fraction of that due to livestock. FAO data indicate that meat accounted for 26% of global livestock product tonnage in 2011. However, many estimates use different sectoral assignment of some emissions. Environmental specialists Jeff Anhang and Robert Goodland with the IFC and World Bank, have put the GHG associated with livestock at 51%, pointing out the FAO report failed to account for the 8,769 metric tons of respiratory CO2 produced each year, undercounted methane production and land use associated with livestock, and failed to properly categorize emissions related to the slaughtering, processing, packaging, storing and transporting of animals and animal products.
Considerable water use is associated with meat production, mostly because of water used in production of vegetation that provides feed. There are several published estimates of water use associated with livestock and meat production, but the amount of water use assignable to such production is seldom estimated. For example, “green water” use is evapotranspirational use of soil water that has been provided directly by precipitation; and “green water” has been estimated to account for 94% of global beef cattle production’s “water footprint”, and on rangeland, as much as 99.5% of the water use associated with beef production is “green water”. However, it would be misleading simply to assign that associated rangeland green water use to beef production, partly because that evapotranspirational use occurs even in the absence of cattle. Even when cattle are present, most of that associated water use can be considered assignable to production of terrestrial environmental values, because it produces root and residue biomass important for erosion control, stabilization of soil structure, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, support of numerous primary consumers, many of which support higher trophic levels, etc. Withdrawn water (from surface and groundwater sources) is used for livestock watering, and in some cases is also used for irrigation of forage and feed crops. Whereas all irrigation in the US (including loss in conveyance) is estimated to account for about 38% of US withdrawn freshwater use, irrigation water for production of livestock feed and forage has been estimated to account for about 9%; other withdrawn freshwater use for the livestock sector (for drinking, washdown of facilities, etc.) is estimated at about 0.7%. Because of the preponderance of non-meat products from the livestock sector only some fraction of this water use is assignable to meat production.
Impairment of water quality by manure and other substances in runoff and infiltrating water is a concern, especially where intensive livestock production is carried out. In the US, in a comparison of 32 industries, the livestock industry was found to have a relatively good record of compliance with environmental regulations pursuant to the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, but pollution issues from large livestock operations can sometimes be serious where violations occur. Various measures have been suggested by the US Environmental Protection Agency, among others, which can help reduce livestock damage to streamwater quality and riparian environments.
Data of a USDA study indicate that, in 2002, about 0.6% of non-solar energy use in the United States was accounted for by production of meat-producing livestock and poultry. This estimate included embodied energy used in production, such as energy used in manufacture and transport of fertilizer for feed production. (Non-solar energy is specified, because solar energy is used in such processes as photosynthesis and hay-drying.)
Palm oil, produced from the oil palm, is a basic source of income for many farmers in Southeast Asia, Central and West Africa, and Central America. It is locally used as a cooking oil, exported for use in many commercial food and personal care products and is converted into biofuel. It produces up to 10 times more oil per unit area as soyabeans, rapeseed or sunflowers. Oil palms produce 38% of vegetable oil output on 5% of the world’s vegetable-oil farmland. Palm oil is under increasing scrutiny in relation to its effects on the environment.
Introductions and invasive species
Introductions of species, particularly plants into new areas, by whatever means and for whatever reasons have brought about major and permanent changes to the environment over large areas. Examples include the introduction of Caulerpa taxifolia into the Mediterranean, the introduction of oat species into the California grasslands, and the introduction of privet, kudzu, and purple loosestrife to North America. Rats, cats, and goats have radically altered biodiversity in many islands. Additionally, introductions have resulted in genetic changes to native fauna where interbreeding has taken place, as with buffalo with domestic cattle, and wolves with domestic dogs.
The environmental impact of energy harvesting and consumption is diverse. In recent years there has been a trend towards the increased commercialization of various renewable energy sources.
The environmental impact of biodiesel includes energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and some other kinds of pollution. A joint life cycle analysis by the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Energy found that substituting 100% biodiesel for petroleum diesel in buses reduced life cycle consumption of petroleum by 95%. Biodiesel reduced net emissions of carbon dioxide by 78.45%, compared with petroleum diesel. In urban buses, biodiesel reduced particulate emissions 32 percent, carbon monoxide emissions 35 percent, and emissions of sulfur oxides 8%, relative to life cycle emissions associated with use of petroleum diesel. Life cycle emissions of hydrocarbons were 35% higher and emission of various nitrogen oxides (NOx) were 13.5% higher with biodiesel. Life cycle analyses by the Argonne National Laboratory have indicated reduced fossil energy use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions with biodiesel, compared with petroleum diesel use. Biodiesel derived from various vegetable oils (e.g. canola or soybean oil), is readily biodegradable in the environment compared with petroleum diesel.
Coal mining and burning
The environmental impact of coal mining and -burning is diverse. Legislation passed by the US Congress in 1990 required the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a plan to alleviate toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants. After delay and litigation, the EPA now has a court-imposed deadline of March 16, 2011, to issue its report.
The environmental impact of electricity generation is significant because modern society uses large amounts of electrical power. This power is normally generated at power plants that convert some other kind of energy into electricity. Each such system has advantages and disadvantages, but many of them pose environmental concerns.
The environmental impact of nuclear power results from the nuclear fuel cycle processes including mining, processing, transporting and storing fuel and radioactive fuel waste. Released radioisotopes pose a health danger to human populations, animals and plants as radioactive particles enter organisms through various transmission routes.
Oil shale industry
The environmental impact of the oil shale industry includes the consideration of issues such as land use, waste management, and water and air pollution caused by the extraction and processing of oil shale. Surface mining of oil shale deposits causes the usual environmental impacts of open-pit mining. In addition, the combustion and thermal processing generate waste material, which must be disposed of, and harmful atmospheric emissions, including carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. Experimental in-situ conversion processes and carbon capture and storage technologies may reduce some of these concerns in future, but may raise others, such as the pollution of groundwater.
The environmental impact of petroleum is often negative because it is toxic to almost all forms of life. Petroleum, a common word for oil or natural gas, is closely linked to virtually all aspects of present society, especially for transportation and heating for both homes and for commercial activities.
The environmental impact of reservoirs is coming under ever increasing scrutiny as the world demand for water and energy increases and the number and size of reservoirs increases. Dams and the reservoirs can be used to supply drinking water, generate hydroelectric power, increasing the water supply for irrigation, provide recreational opportunities and flood control. However, adverse environmental and sociological impacts have also been identified during and after many reservoir constructions.
Compared to the environmental impact of traditional energy sources, the environmental impact of wind power is relatively minor. Wind powered electricity generation consumes no fuel, and emits no air pollution, unlike fossil fuel power sources. The energy consumed to manufacture and transport the materials used to build a wind power plant is equal to the new energy produced by the plant within a few months. While a wind farm may cover a large area of land, many land uses such as agriculture are compatible, with only small areas of turbine foundations and infrastructure made unavailable for use.
There are reports of bird and bat mortality at wind turbines, as there are around other artificial structures. The scale of the ecological impact may or may not be significant, depending on specific circumstances. Prevention and mitigation of wildlife fatalities, and protection of peat bogs, affect the siting and operation of wind turbines.
There are conflicting reports about the effects of noise on people who live very close to a wind turbine.
Artificial light at night is one of the most obvious physical changes that humans have made to the biosphere, and is the easiest form of pollution to observe from space. The main environmental impacts of artificial light are due to light’s use as an information source (rather than an energy source). The hunting efficiency of visual predators generally increases under artificial light, changing predator prey interactions. Artificial light also affects dispersal, orientation, migration, and hormone levels, resulting in disrupted circadian rhythms.
The environmental impact of cleaning agents is diverse. In recent years, measures have been taken to reduce these effects.
Nanotechnology’s environmental impact can be split into two aspects: the potential for nanotechnological innovations to help improve the environment, and the possibly novel type of pollution that nanotechnological materials might cause if released into the environment. As nanotechnology is an emerging field, there is great debate regarding to what extent industrial and commercial use of nanomaterials will affect organisms and ecosystems.
Leather produces some environmental impact, most notably due to:
The carbon footprint of cattle rearing
Use of chemicals in the tanning process (e.g., chromium, formic acid, mercury and solvents)
Air pollution due to the transformation process (hydrogen sulfide during dehairing and ammonia during deliming, solvent vapors)
The environmental impact of paint is diverse. Traditional painting materials and processes can have harmful effects on the environment, including those from the use of lead and other additives. Measures can be taken to reduce environmental impact, including accurately estimating paint quantities so that wastage is minimized, use of paints, coatings, painting accessories and techniques that are environmentally preferred. The United States Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and Green Star ratings are some of the standards that can be applied.
The environmental impact of paper is significant, which has led to changes in industry and behaviour at both business and personal levels. With the use of modern technology such as the printing press and the highly mechanised harvesting of wood, paper has become a cheap commodity. This has led to a high level of consumption and waste. With the rise in environmental awareness due to the lobbying by environmental organizations and with increased government regulation there is now a trend towards sustainability in the pulp and paper industry.
Some scientists suggest that by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans.
The environmental impact of pesticides is often greater than what is intended by those who use them. Over 98% of sprayed insecticides and 95% of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species, including nontarget species, air, water, bottom sediments, and food. Pesticide contaminates land and water when it escapes from production sites and storage tanks, when it runs off from fields, when it is discarded, when it is sprayed aerially, and when it is sprayed into water to kill algae.
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products
The environmental impact of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) is largely speculative. PPCPs are substances used by individuals for personal health or cosmetic reasons and the products used by agribusiness to boost growth or health of livestock. PPCPs have been detected in water bodies throughout the world. The effects of these chemicals on humans and the environment are not yet known, but to date there is no scientific evidence that they affect human health.
The environmental impact of mining includes erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. In some cases, additional forest logging is done in the vicinity of mines to increase the available room for the storage of the created debris and soil. Besides creating environmental damage, the contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals also affect the health of the local population. Mining companies in some countries are required to follow environmental and rehabilitation codes, ensuring the area mined is returned to close to its original state. Some mining methods may have significant environmental and public health effects.
The environmental impact of transport is significant because it is a major user of energy, and burns most of the world’s petroleum. This creates air pollution, including nitrous oxides and particulates, and is a significant contributor to global warming through emission of carbon dioxide, for which transport is the fastest-growing emission sector. By subsector, road transport is the largest contributor to global warming.
Environmental regulations in developed countries have reduced the individual vehicles emission; however, this has been offset by an increase in the number of vehicles, and more use of each vehicle. Some pathways to reduce the carbon emissions of road vehicles considerably have been studied. Energy use and emissions vary largely between modes, causing environmentalists to call for a transition from air and road to rail and human-powered transport, and increase transport electrification and energy efficiency.
The environmental impact of aviation occurs because aircraft engines emit noise, particulates, and gases which contribute to climate change and global dimming. Despite emission reductions from automobiles and more fuel-efficient and less polluting turbofan and turboprop engines, the rapid growth of air travel in recent years contributes to an increase in total pollution attributable to aviation. In the EU, greenhouse gas emissions from aviation increased by 87% between 1990 and 2006. Among other factors leading to this phenomenon are the increasing number of hypermobile travellers and social factors that are making air travel commonplace, such as frequent flyer programs.
The environmental impact of roads includes the local effects of highways (public roads) such as on noise, light pollution, water pollution, habitat destruction/disturbance and local air quality; and the wider effects including climate change from vehicle emissions. The design, construction and management of roads, parking and other related facilities as well as the design and regulation of vehicles can change the impacts to varying degrees.
The environmental impact of shipping includes greenhouse gas emissions and oil pollution. In 2007, carbon dioxide emissions from shipping were estimated at 4 to 5% of the global total, and estimated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to rise by up to 72% by 2020 if no action is taken. There is also a potential for introducing invasive species into new areas through shipping, usually by attaching themselves to the ship’s hull.
General military spending and military activities have marked environmental effects. The United States military is considered one of the worst polluters in the world, responsible for over 39,000 sites contaminated with hazardous materials. Several studies have also found a strong positive correlation between higher military spending and higher carbon emissions where increased military spending has a larger effect on increasing carbon emissions in the Global North than in the Global South. Military activities also affect land use and are extremely resource-intensive.
The military does not solely have negative effects on the environment. There are several examples of militaries aiding in land management, conservation, and greening of an area. Additionally, certain military technologies have proven extremely helpful for conservationists and environmental scientists.
As well as the cost to human life and society, there is a significant environmental impact of war. Scorched earth methods during, or after war have been in use for much of recorded history but with modern technology war can cause a far greater devastation on the environment. Unexploded ordnance can render land unusable for further use or make access across it dangerous or fatal.
Source from Wikipedia