Issues it Faces, Agreements to Help it, and Civilian Action
HDI and Quality of Life
Created by the United Nations: Human Development Index
Ranks countries social and economic development
Criteria: life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling, expected years of schooling and gross national income per capita.
Quality of Life: the standard of health, comfort, and happiness experienced by an individual or group.
The HDI should also take into account for its criteria the environmental issues that can affect a person’s life. Negative situations such as a lack of clean water in towns or pollutants filling the air of cities can shorten a person’s life or cause an individual to suffer greatly throughout their time on this planet.
Global Environmental Issues
The world’s largest environmental issue
We have already passed the tipping point (we cannot undo the damage we have done but we can work to do better for the future)
With global warming on the increase and species and their habitats on the decrease, chances for ecosystems to adapt naturally are diminishing
Tripled in the last 60 years
More land is developed on (less natural resources ie trees)
Demand for fresh water increases as the population does and by 2025 it is estimated that 1 in 3 people will be affected by water shortages
Increasing food production for the population creates a negative chain effect of ecological destruction (machinery is used to collect food which then destroys the land in which it comes from leading to the absence of animal habitats and future resources)
Loss of Biodiversity:
Humans destroy habitats of other species daily
When one species is exterminated that affects the entire food chain (ecosystems depend on each other)
There was a mass extinction of dinosaurs and other species after a meteor hit our planet, but now extinctions are being caused by humans themselves
This is being named “The Sixth Extinction”
Our everyday activities cause other species that have been evolving for millions of years to become extinct
Phosphorus and Nitrogen Cycles:
120 million tons of nitrogen are converted a year into reactive forms of nitrates which are used to fertilize crops and food additives
The nitrates that come off of the crops and end up in the ocean affect phytoplankton (which produces most of our oxygen)
The ocean absorbs 25% of all carbon dioxide emissions (these gases combine with other compounds such as carbon acid)
30% increase of acidity in the last 250 years (expected to increase 150% by 2100)
Acid effects sea creatures like osteoporosis affects humans, it dissolves their skeleton
Ways to Help With Population!
Learn More About the Loss of Biodiversity!
Canadian Environmental Issues
Did you know that Canada's oil industry is the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions according to Environment Canada? The high carbon process of extracting oil sand deposits in Northern Alberta contributes to climate change because oil accounts for one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. As oil companies grow, they continue to extract more oil which in return increases their shipping methods. This brings about concerns with global climate change, pipeline leaks, First Nations treaty rights and oil tanker spills.
A pipeline posing great threat to our environment would have been the Keystone XL. The original plan in 2015 was to have this pipeline ship oil from refineries in Canada to the United States. Fortunately, President Obama did not sign the presidential permit for this to occur. Other pipelines are still in environmental assessment stages, like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burrard Inlet near Vancouver for example.
Oil however is not the only substance posing a great threat to Canada's environment. Coal exports are essentially shipping greenhouse gases to Canada, Japan and India. The eventual burning of coal in these countries contributes to the issue of coal being the largest source of greenhouse gases globally. Once burned, it can produce toxins like mercury. In Canada, coal is used domestically for electricity and by having coal exporting facilities on Canada’s Pacific coast there is an issue with local pollution on top of the global emissions of greenhouse gases.
Environmental Issues of the Arctic
Sea levels have risen because of melting ice (temperatures are rising globally)
As ice melts, more of the ground is exposed to the sun and as this ground heats, the ice melts faster
Ozone hole has developed which is ultra violet light going through the earth’s atmosphere over the South Pole
There is an increase in illegal fishing
Sewage and food waste is occupying the ocean (garbage can cause animals to get tangled in lines, nets, and plastic bands)
Organic material takes decades to decay in the cold, ie American McMurdo research center contains flame retardant materials which have been found in penguins, fish, sponges and marine worms
These flame retardant materials can affect brain development and metabolism in fish and rats
- Oil is disposed of in Antarctica, on top of oil spills that occur
Environmental Issues of Coral Reefs
Coral reefs cover an area of over 280,000 km2 and support thousands of species in what many describe as the “rainforests of the seas”.
Their benefits to people and the environment include:
Protecting shores from the impact of waves and from storms
Providing benefits to humans in the form of food and medicine
Providing economic benefits to local communities from tourism
“Approximately 40% of the 16% of the world’s reefs that were seriously damaged in 1998 are either recovering well or have recovered” - Clive Wilkinson, Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2004 [PDF format], World Wildlife Fund, p.7
Threats to coral reefs include:
Ocean acidification caused by some of the excess carbon dioxide emissions being absorbed by the world’s oceans
(60% of reefs are affected by human activity)
There is an estimated 5 to 15 millions species of plants, animals, micro-organisms on our planet
However, only 1.5 million have been named
About 23% (1,130 species) of mammals and 12% (1,194 species) of birds are considered as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
Problems Species Face:
Changes in land use (land conversion by humans in mainly evident in tropical forests)
Unsustainable use of natural resources
Invasive alien species (alien species are brought on from human activities (ie transferring fish for habitat reductions)
- Pollution (pollution from nitrogen is most severe in northern areas of our planet)
Air Pollution and Human Health
Corporate Businesses and the Environment
With the increase in consumerism has come the increase in a request for environmentally friendly products
However, a cover story, of Down To Earth magazine from Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment warns that the latest craze in green and ethical consumerism may just be another way for corporations to exploit people and make money by misrepresenting facts
Many energy companies are contributing to our problems of pollution ie Chevron
After merging with Texaco in 2001, Chevron dumped millions of gallons of toxic waste in Ecuador, spreading toxins throughout the Amazonian rivers and unlined pits
Large delivery companies such as UPS, FedEx, and DHL trucks give off a lot of carbon dioxide emissions however, these companies also have initiatives to aid these matters
DHL has deployed couriers on bicycles in nine European countries so far which reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 152 metric tons per year
FedEx began piloting electric tricycles in Paris as early as 2010
- UPS expanded its use of electric Cargo Cruisers since 2012 to now include several European cities
Chemicals and Wastes
There's an agreement between Canada and US where their objective is to reduce transboundary pollution, discuss sources of this pollution and create biennial progress reports
International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture- objective is to conserve plant genetic resources for food/agriculture and fair sharing.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)- objective is to "stabilize greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."
How to Help
Canada is financially supporting climate change initiatives in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America and Caribbean
Canada’s participation in the Green Climate Fund is aimed at supporting projects, programs, policies, and other activities to address climate change in developing countries. (pledges so far amount to over USD $10 billion and the fund is now operational)
Canada also works with scientists to find ways for citizens to help!
Their suggestions include:
Reduce energy use
Insulate your home so that you do not overuse heaters or air conditioning systems
Make every use of water count
Wash clothes in cold water then hang to dry,
Use high efficiency appliances
“Green Power”: encourage your power provider to use renewable resources
Recycle and repurpose (gently used clothing can be donated),
Plant a tree
Ontario alone is a world leader for climate change as the province has enforced transit friendly cities which have cut down vehicle emissions and coal-fired electricity has been ended in the province
Globally the UN is a large help!
Its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brings together 2,000 leading climate change scientists, issues comprehensive scientific assessments every five or six years
- The Stockholm convention from the UN targets 23 toxic chemicals that can end a person’s life, damage nervous and immune systems, cause reproductive disorders and cancer, plus interfere with child development
Marx and the Environment
As more people moved into urban cities, the less likely they were to consider how the environment would suffer from their actions. Also, as work increased in these cities, Marx noted that businesses would try to reduce costs by going outside of them. Today, more than half of our world’s population resides in cities so companies are branching out to developing countries to reduce costs. This is causing what is referred to as a “brain train” where educated people from developing countries are being taken away from their homes for businesses.
An example of a large metabolic rift was when Great Britain and other nations lost soil fertility in the 19th century due to food transfers from early industrialized agricultural farms. Soil had lost nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This lead to a division between towns and countries. Another example of a metabolic rift comes from people’s reliance on fossil fuels today. Greenhouse gas emissions (as mentioned earlier on the webpage) are causing large increases in global temperatures. This has disrupted the natural carbon cycle of the planet.
Capitalism is not sustainable as people strive for constant growths in money. With Marx’s theory he stated that to solve this problem we must see a “complete transformation” in society. If we do not make a change, gaps will grow larger and our environment will not prosper.