Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Humans started appearing only 250,000 years ago. Let this be clear; we can’t destroy our planet. It’s been here long before us and it will continue to be here after we go extinct. But we will destroy its ability to keep us alive if we continue this trend of carelessly polluting it.
The planet will shake us off like a parasite and revive itself as it has done many times before. The following are some of the more extreme examples of how we’re destroying our planet’s habitability.
Open cast mining is the most widely used method in the world for extracting minerals and is the most jarring visual representation of human destruction. It requires the removal massive amounts of rock and soil to access the ore and the mineral layers. This destroys the vegetation and the animal habitats in and around the area of the mine.
On the other hand, conventional underground mining removes only the ore bearing rock and enough soil to reach the minerals. However, it’s inherently more dangerous and more costly to mine this way. Profit is prioritized over the environment. This is an example of destruction of natural resources due to human factors.
Despite some corporations promising to mitigate the impact on the environment such as restoring the area to replicates pre mining conditions, there are far too few corporations who are committed to this.
The largest source of emissions of carbon dioxide is our collective burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is one of the major greenhouse gases that allow radiative forcing and contributes to global warming. But this is the long term effects of fossil fuel burning. Presently they pollute the air around the plants that have them.
China is a clear case study of the effects of rapid industrialization without regard for the environmental consequences. Nearly every major city in China is devoured in smog —which describes a fog or haze combined with smoke and other atmospheric pollutants. In 2013, researchers determined that burning coal has caused 366,000 deaths in that year alone and has the worst health impact of any source of air pollution in China.
THE DYING OCEAN
The mass production of plastic has led to a situation where the world needs an unbelievably large amount of plastic, yet after their use there’s no universally accepted method on how to dispose them properly. Most plastics don’t decompose for a thousand years.
Plastics are especially harmful for the animals that call the ocean home. We’ve all seen the videos of an entire straw lodged inside a turtle’s nostril, and the insides of a beached whale filled with cellophane bags it probably mistook for food.
Human sewage is a major contributor to ocean pollution. Unlike throwing plastic into the ocean which we can prevent, the construction of pipelines that directly leads to open waters is done by major companies, with (usually) a permit from the government allowing them to do so.
In 2016, it was found that humans have destroyed a tenth of the planet’s remaining wilderness over an alarmingly short period of 25 years. Researchers say if the trend continues there might not be any unspoiled places left in this century.
Between 1993 and 2016 a vast area the size of two Alaskas, 3.3 million square kilometers, has been damaged by human enterprises. This is a significantly large number and should be taken as wake up call.
A third of the loss can be attributed to the Amazon jungle, despite the Brazilian government’s concerted efforts that slowed deforestation in recent years. Jungles in Africa account for 14% of the loss which endanger thousands of species who rely on these areas for their habitat. This is an example of destruction of ecosystem by human activities.
The loss of these untouched areas is not only destructive for the wildlife but also contributes to global warming, as the forests store massive amounts of carbon that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere.
In 2016 the United States Strategic Command tracked 17, 852 artificial objects in orbit above Earth which includes 1,419 operational satellites. Collision with these objects have become a hazard to spacecraft and must be put into consideration during space travel.
Most of these objects are dead spacecraft such as the US spacecraft Vanguard 1 which has been in orbit since 1958. Destruction of these spacecraft in turn creates more debris objects so outright destroying doesn’t seem like a viable option. Boosters which help to propel the spacecraft past the Earth’s gravity also make up a large number of debris. A few explode in orbit thus creating more debris clouds.
These not only pose a direct threat to manned mission to outer space, as they must maneuver to avoid collision with debris, but also threaten the population in Earth as well. Most of the debris burns up in the atmosphere but larger objects can remain intact and crash into the ground and can cause destruction of human life. For now there has been no significant property damage from the larger debris.
It’s a testament to our hubris that we’ve polluted an area few humans are able to visit. Climate change affects the whole planet. We need to curb our current trajectory or we risk losing the only home we’ve ever known.
There’s nowhere else for us to go.