The Environment

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

Climate Change:

  • 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)

Ocean Acidification:

  • 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!

Check out this video from 3:45 to the 4:20 mark!
Population Growth

Learn More About the Loss of Biodiversity!

Check out this video from 3:55 to the 5:05 mark!
Facing the Sixth Extinction

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
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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

Threats to coral reefs include:

  • Coastal development

  • Over fishing

  • Inland pollution

  • Climate Change

  • 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)

Affected Species

  • 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)

  • Climate change

  • Pollution (pollution from nitrogen is most severe in northern areas of our planet)
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Air Pollution and Human Health

How a person is affected by air pollution is determined by how long they are exposed to the pollutants, their genetics, and the concentration of pollutants. Common pollutants in our air include carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide which should actually be avoided by each individual. Pollutants make it hard for us to breathe, they irritate our respiratory systems, and aggravate health conditions such as asthma and angina. There have been an increase in emergency room visits because of pollutant related illnesses. These illnesses have caused 5,800 premature deaths, 16,800 hospital admissions, 59,700 emergency room visits and 29,000,000 minor illness days. Those who are most at risk from pollutants include newborns, pregnant women, and the elderly. Also, participating in physical activity outside causes more air pollution to be brought into your lungs because of the harder breathing one does.

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

Environmental Agreements

Agreement Themes:

  • Air

  • Biodiversity/Ecosystems

  • Chemicals and Wastes

  • Climate Change

  • Environmental Cooperation

  • Fresh water

  • Marine/Oceans

  • Meteorology


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

  • Walk/bike

  • 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

Marx made the term “metabolic rift” to explain the gap between natural and human systems caused by capitalism. This gap leads to an ecological crisis as the environment is exploited. Marx said “man lives from nature, i.e., nature is his body, and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.” Therefore, disrupting natural cycles leads to a buildup of waste and a destruction of our 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.