10 Ways Humans Impact the Environment

Since the time of our earliest ancestors, humans and human activities have been making significant impact on the environment.

From the time that Homo sapiens walked the earth, mankind has been changing the planet through travel, agriculture, commercial networks and urbanization.

In fact, at this point of the physical history of Earth, human’s impact on the environment has become so substantial in more ways than one. Scientists even claim that ecosystems that remain untouched by human intervention or the so-called pristine nature don’t exist anymore.

Below are just 10 of the many ways that mankind impacts the planet:

1. Acid Rain

Every time people burn coal, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide are released to the atmosphere. These gases rise up and gather in the clouds, saturating them to form acid rain that can wreak havoc on land.

Acid rain can fall and accumulate in bodies of water that can pose harm to lakes and other small water bodies. The ground that surrounds the water may also soak up the acid that can deplete the soil of vital nutrients. The acid can also be absorbed by the trees, damaging their leaves and resulting to the death of large forest areas.

Acid rain can also wipe out fish species that can lead to a snowball effect of damages to the other ecosystems that rely on them.

2. Genetic Modification, Agriculture, and Domesticated Animals

Advancements in agriculture became necessary to cater to the increased demands of feeding the growing human population. Genetic modification led to the development of new crops. However, there are concerns about the possible effects of these newly developed crops to the environment.

Domestication of livestock as well as other animals such as cats and dogs also caused significant changes to the planet. Grazing animals led depleted native grasses that contributed to soil erosion. Agricultural industrialization for the past centuries also aggravated these effects further.

3. Climate Change and Global Warming

Probably one of the most critical and impactful ways that humans affected the environment is through the consumption and extraction of fossil fuels together with their carbon dioxide emissions.

 Latest research shows that CO2 emissions are the culprit behind the deterioration of the ozone layer of the Earth that contributed to global climate change.

It is particularly true once these emissions combine with the loss of the forest lands’ carbon-sink effect because of deforestation. While there are still heated debates on climate change, it is safe to say that human activity affects the climate of the planet as a whole.

4. Deforestation

The growing population needs more space for building their houses, towns, and cities. It usually requires forests to be cleared to give enough room for suburban and urban development and provide the necessary construction materials. Million acres of trees are claimed to be clear-cut each year to be used for wood products and make room for development.

Deforestation can affect the planet in more ways than one. For instance, it can decrease the levels of oxygen and increase greenhouse gases. It can also destroy animal habitats and elevate the risks of soil erosion.

5. Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean and bonds with seawater that forms carbonic acid. This acid can lower the water’s pH levels, significantly changing the acidity of the ocean by up to 30% for the past 200 years. This level is something that hasn’t occurred in more than 20 million years.

This acidity can deplete concentrations of calcium, making it harder for crustaceans to form their shell, putting them in danger without an armor to protect them. Ocean acidification combined with the rise of global temperature also rendered a quarter of all coral reefs irreparable. The demise of coral reefs is also a serious concern in itself as these serve as a home to a large population of marine life.

6. Overfishing

Overfishing can also cause serious damages to the oceans of the world. Fishing is not all that bad for the bodies of water on the planet. However, without proper regulation, it can have negative effects not only on the oceans themselves but also on mankind.

In just half a century, overfished stocks tripled across the world and right now, about one-third of the assessed fisheries of the planet are being pushed way beyond their natural limits. This is on top of the fact that billions of people consume fish for protein.

7. Ozone Depletion

The Earth’s ozone layer is known to help absorb the dangerous UV rays that would have been harmful to the health of living creatures on the face of the planet. If the ozone layer didn’t exist, it would never be possible for people to walk outside.

Ozone is composed of three bonded oxygen that float to the stratosphere and there, they absorb a significant amount of UV radiation to protect all life forms down below. But, ODS or ozone-depleting substances mainly made up of bromine and chlorine also reach the stratosphere. These can strip off the O3 of oxygen and damage its ability to absorb UV light.

While there are already implemented bans on the use of most chemicals that can deplete the ozone layer, it can take up to 80 years for the chemicals that were already released to get to the upper atmosphere. This means that it will take some time before the protective boundary of the planet becomes fully functional all over again.

8. Air Pollution

Different human activities can also affect the environment as these can contribute to air pollution or emission of dangerous substances to the air. Although it might be hard to understand the pollutants that can affect public or environmental health, there is a general consensus that air pollution can harm animal and plant life and cause public health concerns.

Pollution is not only limited to air as it can also affect waterways or soil, and may also come from industrial chemicals, human wastes, and other sources. The toxins can have detrimental effects on the planet that can lead to environmental degradation and other concerns such as dangerous algal blooms in the oceans and acid rain.

9. Growing Population

For many centuries, human overpopulation has been affecting the planet. Without ongoing and significant technological innovation, the human population may end up outstripping the food supply of the planet. The continuous growth of the population has been considered as the root cause for most of mankind’s impact on the environment.

10. Water Pollution

The ocean has become the final destination of trillions of pieces of plastic debris. Aside from the garbage, large amounts of fertilizer also ends up in the oceans through winds, floods, and rains, or are dumped excessively into the planet’s largest oxygen producer.

Fertilizer has nitrogen content that serves as food to algae and phytoplankton that can lead to the excessive growth of the so-called brown tides or red tides in places with high nitrogen concentrations. Brown tide occurs due to the quick growth of billions of algae that can deplete oxygen levels in water bodies. The poison can then accumulate in all life forms that consume it, including fish and even birds.

The human impact on the environment so far may be mostly negative but it is not too late for people to start making small changes that can lead to large improvements.