If you are reading this then it is likely you are concerned with environmental issues.
It is easy to feel helpless when you read about polar ice caps melting, the sheer tons of plastic waste, or the loss of important species. As an individual, faced with these enormous challenges, what on earth can one person possibly do? Environmental issues concern all of us, and if you feel as passionate as I do, you’ll want to do something.
And I believe that an individual can do amazing things. They can convince others, they can set examples, they can pressure governments, set up litter-cleaning groups and so much more.
Just look at Surfers Against Sewage (SAS). This UK-based group started off with a few surfers who were sick of seeing sewage in Britain’s coastal seas. Their constant campaigning, alongside EU legislation, made it finally possible for people to surf in British waters without becoming ill.
Something that no-one previously knew was even happening before they got involved. Now they are recognised as a leading marine conservation charity. This group didn’t back away from the huge environmental issues facing them. They tackled them head-on.
SAS is an inspiration to us all. They prove that just a few people can make an incredible difference.
So what are the biggest environmental issues the earth is facing today?
Whether you believe in climate change or not, there is evidence to suggest that temperatures on earth are getting much warmer. The reason for this is most likely an increase in CO2 emissions. Too much CO2 in the atmosphere acts as a blanket and holds in the heat from the sun.
The earth can cope with gradual rises in CO2 but rates have increased incredibly quickly in the last few decades. Plants and wildlife simply cannot adapt to this sudden increase. Nor can the planet. Sudden rises such as this lead to drought in some areas and flooding in others.
Practical Ways to Solve Climate Change
This is one of those environmental issues where little things can add up and make a difference. Think about what energy you use and where you can make changes. The pollutants to avoid are oil, coal, and gas.
Starting with your house, can you change the fuel you use to heat up your home? Or could you supplement it with solar panels or a wind turbine?
As for your car, swap a gas-guzzler for a more eco-friendly type. Or use public transport wherever possible. Car share where you can or start riding a bike to work. When flying, try to offset your carbon footprint in some way that benefits the planet.
If you can’t do this there are still ways to stop carbon emissions. Watch the amount of energy you are using.
- Use the lowest setting on your washing machine when doing laundry
- Never do anything less than a full load of laundry
- Buy low energy light bulbs
- Thaw frozen food in fridge, not the microwave
- Cook food in the microwave, not the oven
- Keep the thermostat low
- Keep doors shut and curtains closed to retain heat
- Turn off lights, TVs, radios, other appliances when not using them
My water was turned off the other day and it is not until you don’t have access to clean water that you realise how important it is. I, like many others, take clean water for granted. However, there are around 11 billion people in the world that do not have access to it.
As the temperatures continue to rise, droughts are becoming more and more commonplace. We might be a planet covered in water but only 3% is fresh and therefore suitable to drink.
Practical Ways to Solve Water Scarcity
I have become a water ninja and save every last drop. Here are some of my favourite water-saving tips:
- Only boil the exact amount of water in the kettle you need to make your hot drink
- Alternate between baths and showers and only run the bath halfway to full
- Don’t run water down the drain until it is hot for washing up, catch it in a bowl or jug and use later for watering plants
- Use the water from hot water bottles to water your plants
- Re-use the water from hot water bottles to boil up again
- Stop the tap running when brushing your teeth
Plastic pollution is one of those environmental issues that drives me to despair. Whenever I am out walking I see countless discarded plastic water bottles dropped without a thought. I don’t understand what possesses people to be so nonchalant about the planet we live on.
For instance, did you know that an estimated 2.5 billion plastic coffee cups are thrown away in the UK each year? Not only that but 99.75% are not recycled.
There are some truly horrific facts about plastic pollution. I could tell you about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for one. A giant, swirling, disgusting mass of discarded plastic waste, floating in the Pacific Ocean, nearly four times the size of France.
Or how about the 147 ‘dead zones’, patches of water that contain low or zero oxygen? There has been no marine life detected in these areas, the longest being 70,000 square km. These dead zones are caused by oceans warming up, as warm water can’t hold onto oxygen as well as cold water.
There is also the problem of run-off from fertilizer factories. This run-off causes algal blooms that drain oxygen when they die. Currently, there’s an algae bloom the size of Mexico in the Arabian Sea.
We get approximately half our oxygen from the oceans, but this is not the only problem. Low oxygen levels in our oceans can also cause the release of dangerous gases such as nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas 300 times more toxic than CO2.
Practical Ways to Solve Plastic Pollution
Before you buy a single item, look at what it is made of, what it is packaged in and ask yourself, can I do better? Do I really need it? Can I get it second-hand? Every single thing we throw away goes into landfills. Furthermore, 80% of litter on the streets ends up in our oceans.
- Don’t buy single-use items like disposable razors or lighters
- Do not buy items with plastic where there are other alternatives, such as cotton buds with cardboard stems
- Don’t buy plastic water bottles, instead use a refillable one designed for multiple uses.
- Do not use takeaway coffee cups from coffee houses. Bring your own. Even big retailers such as Waitrose are banning plastic coffee cups in their stores.
- Recycle as much as you can. If you have recycling bins then use them. If not, save up your recycling and go to a recycling plant once a week.
- Re-use as much as possible. So if you can find another use for something you’d normally discard, all the better. Turn a pair of old wellies into plant pots, or chop a rotting old fence down for firewood in the winter
LOSS OF SPECIES
Every time I turn on the TV it seems another species is doomed to extinction. When you live so far away from African beasts or Asian giants it can be hard to know what to do to help. Every species is as important as the next one. So if one becomes extinct, it can have a devastating effect on our wildlife.
For example, if an insect species dies out, the animals that predate on those insects are now themselves at risk.
Practical Ways to Solve Loss of Species
Be consumer-savvy and watch what you buy. Look for products that do not harm the environment or use harsh chemicals. Labels such as Fair Trade, Green Seal and Marine Stewardship. Or buy from eco-friendly companies, there are more than you think, including Nike, Panasonic, Adobe, and Ikea.
Donate to causes like the World Wildlife Fund, use local farmer’s markets and subscribe to organisations that plant trees and flowers for bees etc.
You can also make your own garden a haven for wildlife:
- Plant flowers that encourage a wide range of insects and birds
- Put up bird boxes or bird feeders
- Make a safe space for hedgehogs in the winter
- Leave out food for foxes and other wild animals
- Plant-specific bushes for bees
- Start a compost heap
What do you think are the biggest environmental issues facing us today? We’d love to hear your opinion!
By Michelle L.