Everyone keeps talking about protecting the environment, and how important it is.
But you might have found yourself wondering, “why?”
This is a perfectly valid question, and you’re not alone. You want to understand what’s truly at stake if we don’t follow these people’s advice.
So let’s break it down and have a look at what will happen in the future if we don’t protect the environment.
What have we done to the planet so far?
First of all, what exactly does “not protecting the environment” mean?
Well, basically it means continuing to do what we’ve been doing until now.
Humans have evolved way past the environment that we were created in. Most animals participate in the cycle of life, eating food, having babies, being eaten as food by others, being decomposed, and turning into minerals and nutrients for other life forms.
But humans are the first and only being to start radically altering our environment to suit our own needs.
We started building houses, then cities, and clearing large areas of nature to pave out parking lots and make space for more commercial ventures.
We started making objects to make life easier and entertain ourselves, including clothes, household appliances, toys, and electronics.
We invented new materials to create those items with, from bubble wrap to plastic and aluminum foil.
Just look at the difference between the street where you live and any place shown on the Nature Channel, and you’ll immediately see the start contrast.
But these changes that we’re making are much, much bigger than we can see with our own eyes.
Research shows that:
- We have altered more than 75% of the world’s ice-free land
- Over half of the planet’s habitable surface is now used to produce food for us
- Wildlands make up less than 25% of Earth
- In the last hundred years, 90% of large fish have been removed from the sea, with 63% of stocks overfished.
This is an enormous impact, and it’s not even close to ending.
If we don’t make a chance, the dent we’re leaving on the planet will continue to get bigger and bigger, until it leads to some tragically disastrous consequences.
Here is what will happen if we don’t start protecting the environment.
1) Global temperature will rise
Or rather, “continue to rise”, as this is something that’s already well underway.
According to the World Wildlife Foundation, Earth is already 1.1° C (1.9° F) hotter than it was between 1850 and 1900.
And if we continue on this course, a climate scenario by NASA shows that by 2050 the global temperature could rise by an additional 1.5 degrees Celsius.
By the end of the century, the total increase in temperature would be 2-4 °C (3-7 °F).
If you consider this purely from a “warm weather” perspective, it might not seem so bad — after all, what are a couple degrees?
Well, in the grand scheme of things, they’re the heck of a lot. Here are some of the consequences of a rising global temperature.
2) There will be shortages of food and famine
Some crops are able to grow even in higher temperatures, but others like rice and wheat cannot survive.
Experts estimate that by 2050, the amount of food we can produce will drop by one-fifth. This means we won’t be able to grow enough food to feed the growing global population.
3) Areas will become uninhabitable
The World Wildlife Foundation shows some of the consequences of the rise in temperatures: sea levels will rise, heatwaves will become more common, and more areas will be flooded.
Naturally, these things will make some areas impossible to live in anymore.
Studies show that effects like these could displace 100 million people just in the next 30 years.
4) The air will get worse
Our effects on the planet are not limited to just increasing temperature and changes in water.
The quality of our air is also undergoing some serious changes.
By 2050, outdoor air pollution and ground-level ozone is projected to be the number one cause of environmentally related deaths worldwide.
A study even calculated that if we don’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the consequences will be 1,126,000 premature mortalities are expected each year due to ozone.
5) Species will go extinct
So far we’ve been talking about the disastrous effects of environmental changes on humans.
But we cannot forget that we are not the only ones living on the planet. There are around 9 million species of plants and animals we share Earth with.
These are crucial to us, as they keep ecosystems and the natural cycle of life going, and provide some of us a source of food. Not to mention, all life is sacred and should be protected for its own sake.
And unfortunately, our actions are destroying their lives and habitats, leading to mass species extinction.
It would take millions of years for Earth to recover the depth of biodiversity.
6) It will affect the economy too
If there are any economically-minded readers on this page, know that our activity on the planet has consequences on the economy as well.
Though the planet doesn’t ask for any money from us, it sure gives us a lot. National Geographic’s explorer-in-residence Enric Sala says nature provides $125 trillion per year worth of ecosystem services to humans.
We can’t afford to lose this — not to mention that if we do, no amount of money will be able to give us clean air or water.
7) People’s lives will be at risk
Even before we reach some of the disasters described above, not protecting the environment will affect us in many smaller ways.
As heat waves and air pollution become more intense, it will no longer be safe for some people to work. Particularly for those who have to work outside.
Some will find their health suffering as a result, and others will lose their jobs. Either way, this puts their lives at risk.
8) There will be natural disasters
If it wasn’t clear already, failing to protect the environment will lead to some pretty big-scale natural phenomena.
We’ve already spoken about floods and heatwaves, but there’s more.
The effects could also lead to intense storms, droughts, and many other disasters. These types of events would become both more common and more extreme.
And that, in turn, would lead to more frequent and extreme health crises and environmentally caused deaths.
Is it hopeless to stop climate change?
Reading all the above, it might sound like the situation is past all hope.
But the good news is that climate change is not an unsolvable problem. With scientists around the world studying the issue, everyday we know more and more about what causes it.
This means we also know more about how we can stop it.
It’s an ambitious goal, and it will require a lot of effort across all of humanity. But if we are prepared to join together and act now, we can significantly reduce the rate of global warming and stop the worst impacts of climate change from happening.
Thankfully, increasingly more politicians and governments are waking up to the urgency of the issue, and pushing for positive change.
Over time, we are seeing more and more policies that help protect our environment, including reducing plastic bags at the supermarket by making them paid, and returning empty soda cans to recycle the materials in exchange for a couple cents back.
Even restaurants are taking small steps, including going for paper or metal straws, and having biodegradable takeout packaging.
A single straw may not make much of a difference but think of the enormous impact over the thousands of customers and many years!
And let’s not forget the power of the individual: you!
Though your impact might seem small given the size of the planet and its population, know that you can make a big impact. Little actions compound into big change, and you can influence dozens and hundreds of others around you to follow suit.
Here are some ways you can start protecting the environment today:
- Walk, bike, or use public transportation instead of taking your car
- Reduce food waste by only buying what you need and eating it
- Reduce the amount of water you use with our 10 tips
- Install solar panels on your roof, or use solar-powered devices
- If you have a garden or good conditions, grow some of your own food
- Be mindful of the brands you buy from and their manufacturing practices
- Go for plastic-free or waste-free products