Why has the Modern Environmental Crisis Facing the World Today Occurred?

Introduction

Today, the world is facing a number of challenges, such as political conflicts, terrorism, economic slowdown and environmental crisis. The modern environmental crisis is one of the most acute issues that requires finding the proper solutions to avoid its negative consequences.

The fact that the global population rises dramatically means that governments should find the ways of protecting the environment, otherwise humanity will face a more serious environmental crisis which could result in the disappearance of the planet one day. Environmental historians believe that there is a close link between environmental transformations and scientific research and technological progress, social influences and political changes, ongoing land occupation and the extraction of natural resources.1 The new global environmental problems facing humanity are air pollution, destruction of the ozone layer, carbon emissions, global warming and decline of biodiversity. The proper policies should be adopted and implemented at the international level to address the modern environmental crisis. From historical perspective, the age of exploration and the age of empire and conquest influenced the growth of the activities of human beings aimed at extending their reach and increasing their numbers.  In this historical process, human beings were involved in the interventions that had a strong impact in the world’s natural environment. Recognition of the profound impact of humanity on the natural environment allows drawing relevant conclusions on how to resolve environmental problems effectively.

The question that will be discussed in this paper is “Why has the modern environmental crisis facing the world today occurred?” Thesis statement: The modern environmental crisis facing the world today occurred because of the poor management of environmental problems, lack of collaboration between governments and improper attention to the factors that contribute to the growth of climate change and global warming.

Overview of the modern environmental crisis

Identification of the global environmental status

Currently, the global environmental status can be defined as low. John F. Richards, the author of The Unending Frontier, places emphasis on four important global historical processes that contributed to environmental change from the period of 1500 to 1800 c.e, including “intensified human land use along settlement frontiers; biological invasions; commercial hunting of wildlife; and problems of energy scarcity”.2 Historians suggest that these factors are linked to particular activities of human beings, such as the intensified fur trade in North America and Russia, uncontrolled cod fishing in the North Atlantic region, and unregulated whaling in the Arctic, clearing forest areas and draining wetlands, intentional transporting bacteria, insects, and livestock; the growth of hunting species to their complete extinction, and unpredictable reshaping landscapes. These activities completed changed the initial state of the natural environment, or the state prior to human beings’ substantial interference.

There is much historical evidence that each year, a large number of events, such as conferences and meetings are organized with the major goal – to discuss the issues relevant to the modern environmental crisis and find the proper solutions. Many protocols, including  Kyoto protocol, conventions, policies and initiatives have already been adopted to deal with the environmental problems effectively. Some examples include Barcelona Convention for Protection against pollution in the Mediterranean Sea of 1976, Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, Convention on Nature Protection and Wild Life Preservation in the Western Hemisphere of 1940, Nitrogen Oxide Protocol, International Tropical Timber Agreement of 1994, and a number of other legal documents that  help to control the international environmental regime. Nevertheless, the global environment is still under the threat of serious damages caused by air pollution, water pollution and other problems. In fact, environmental issues have always been presented as an essential part in establishing international relations, but the UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment held in 1972 was aimed at identifying the major environmental problems which affected degradation of the natural environment. The Stockholm Conference strengthened recognition of the need for promoting collective responsibility of all countries and governments for preservation of the natural environment.  In 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development allowed all countries to “recognize the transboundary or interdependent nature of environmental degradation and the subsequent implications for international security”3

The major causes of the modern environmental crisis facing the world today

Why has the modern environmental crisis facing the world today occurred? There are several causes that has led to the growth of environmental concerns, including improper response of governments to the problems of burning fossil fuels and deforestation, as well as lack of sufficient financing and other strategies to address the problem of water pollution.

Air Pollution

Burning fossil fuels

Burning fossil fuels, including coal, natural gas and oil, leads to air pollution. Although these natural resources are considered to be valuable sources for development of human activities, they have become potential pollutants for the natural environment. Motor vehicles and power stations are the major users of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil leads to release of high levels of carbon dioxide, which contributes to the growth of the greenhouse effect. Because of the large number of people and motor vehicles, the natural environment is seriously damaged by emission of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases. Chemical reactions of sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen cause acid rain. Researchers suggest that “any developing society demands more energy and for more people”.4 The problem of increased use of fossil fuels remains unresolved because of insufficient involvement of new technology and new policy interventions both in developed and developing countries.

Deforestation

Currently, deforestation is considered to be one of the way to expand the area for survival of humanity. At the same time, it is a serious environmental problem that affects the world today. In fact, in different parts of the world, cutting trees down in a extremely large number points out to the lack of awareness of the long-term effects of deforestation to the natural environment. In their studies, researchers explored the origins of this environmental problem. They state that “it is a common misconception that deforestation is a recent occurrence, gaining momentum in the tropical regions of the world since about 1950”5 The history of deforestation is rather long and the effects of cutting trees down deliberately are adverse for the sustainable development of humanity and preservation of the natural environment. Millions years ago, people started to use fire and, as a result, damaged forest areas. A historian and researcher Michael Williams suggests in his article, “All that has changed since the mid-twentieth century is that an ancient process has accelerated, and that, compared to previous ages, environments more sensitive and irreversibly damaged have been affected”.6  Statistical data on the origins of deforestation shows that 9/10 of all deforestation in the world occurred before the year of 1950.7 The term deforestation is defined as any process which leads to modification of the original tree cover caused by different human activities and non-human factors, such as clear-felling, thinning forest trees and occasional forest fires that emerge from thunderstruck or self burning turf.8  Deforestation is an increasingly serious environmental problem because of the rapid growth of population and increased demands on natural resources. Acceleration of deforestation contributes to changes in the environment as some regions of the world suffering from the damage caused by deforestation. Since the Industrial Revolution which took place in the 1800s, trees have been used at the global scale. Williams found that in central European Russia, people cleared over 67,000 square kilometres of forest areas in he period of 17th century – the 20th century.9 In America, people felled over 460,000 square kilometres of forests by 1850.10 It becomes clear that acceleration of deforestation is caused by poor control of human activities by the relevant environmental and governmental agencies and the lack of collaboration between them.

Water Pollution

The progress of the Industrial Revolution led to the increased water pollution. Many factories and plants used water sources, such as rivers and lakes, as a means of disposal of waste materials, such as hazardous liquids. For example, in China, 70 percent of lakes and rivers are polluted from industrial waste.11 Researchers identify three sources which contribute to water pollution, both surface water pollution and underground water pollution. These are solid waste, liquid waste, and gas waste. The increased level of unprocessed wastes (e.g. household waste and industrial waste) can be explained by poor management of this environmental problem. There is much evidence that the proper technologies were developed to manage the water system of the Earth, applying the processes like storage of water resources, treatment or transfer of water resources. In the beginning of the 21 century, millions of people face the threat of drought because of the lack of water resources, while others face the problem of flooding. However, these environmental problems are not addressed effectively because of the lack of collaboration in certain areas and poor management practices.

Actually, in today’s context, many countries have no access to sufficient water supply systems. They provide investments in desalinization plants which apply sea water for domestic and industrial  purposes. Environmental historians suggest that “technological tools are more and more available to create more drinkable water resources, but they are expensive, discriminating among societies and countries affluent people who can get water even at a high price, and much poorer communities deprived of money necessary to finance such equipments”12 This fact means that there is insufficient financing to deal with the problem of water pollution effectively. Undoubtedly, the growth of population and the ongoing economic growth require new water supplies to address physical and technical needs. Because of unsustainable water management, many developing countries are unlikely to get additional water supplies to meet their needs and demands.

The major consequences of the modern environmental crisis

There is much evidence taken from academic sources that recognition of the major consequences of the modern environmental crisis can help to draw relevant conclusions and develop new approaches to preservation of the natural environment. Historians place emphasis on the fact that lack of ecological stability is an acute issue that should be recognized by all societies and nations. The environmental consequences could be adverse for all  nations because of the environmental impacts on all areas of human activity, including education, health care, science, manufacturing, etc.

Besides, researchers believe that environmental problems faced by developing nations may affect other nations through the growth of globalization, increased pollution and uncontrolled resource exploitation. For example, “China is already the largest contributor of sulphur oxides and chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere; its dust and aerial pollutants are transported eastwards to neighbouring countries and even North America; and it is one of the two leading importers of tropical rainforest timber, making it a driving force behind tropical deforestation”.13

Moreover, environmental researchers consider the negative effect of water shortages on food production. This problem is relevant to the issue of water polluting because  of the dramatical increase of polluted water in many developing countries, including India and China. As a result, these nations may lose the capacity to provide sufficient amount of food needed for their populations. Environmentalists state that “the presence of persistent and pervasive ground water overdraft, the specter of climate change, and the salinization of soils in arid and semiarid areas will exacerbate the problem”.14  Because of the dependence of the economies of developing nations on import of foods, there could significant problems in the nearest future. The growth of water conflicts will have a negative impact on the environment. Researchers state that “the associated economic hardship and likely political unrest may be very difficult to manage”.15

Recommendations on how to address the modern environmental crisis facing the world today

As governments are primary players in the process of developing and implementing ecological reforms and environmental interventions, all nations should be interested in the use of collaborative practices to deal with the modern environmental crisis. From sociological point of view, global environmental problems, such as water pollution and air pollution “can be solved through existing and/or slightly modified social, political and economic institutions, without renouncing economic growth, capitalism and globalization”.16 There is a need for applying the strategies that could help to make a transition to sustainability through the use of new technologies to address the identified environmental issues.

Using alternative sources of energy

The fact that burning fossil fuels not only produces energy, but also leads to air pollution means that governments should promote the use of alternative sources of energy, such as solar power, wind power, and wave power, which are environmentally friendly. From environmentalist perspective, people should be focused on reduction of the amount of energy they use daily. Wastes of electricity caused b leaving on lights and electrical devices should be eliminated. Solar power, can be used both at home and at work. Many developed nations are interested in production of solar electric panels as an alternative source of energy. According to researchers, “replacing world energy with wind, water, and sun (WWS) reduces world power demand 30%”.17

Promoting environmentally-friendly modes of transportation

More and more people across the world should be focused on using public transportation. This strategic approach can help to save energy. Public transportation is less harmful to the environment as  buses and trains are designed to transport large numbers of people at same time, while cars are not environmentally friendly as they carry from one to five passengers. Researchers found that “transport accounts for 26% of global CO2 emissions and is one of the few industrial sectors where emissions are still growing”18 The emergence of car pools allows significantly reduce the number of cars on the roads. New technological innovations, such as new engine technology, can help to replace petrol to cleaner fuels (e.g. hydrogen). Promotion of cycling as an alternative to car driving allows many nations to address environmental problems. Researchers state that “car use, road freight and aviation are the principal contributors to greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector”; therefore, it is critical to use the proper methods aimed at reduction of emissions.19

Buying green products 

People should make rights choices to buy green products because green products help to save the environment. Recent study shows that “The ‘attitude–behaviour gap’ or ‘values–action gap’ is where 30% of consumers report that they are very concerned about environmental issues but they are struggling to translate this into purchases”20 The use of organic products which are produced without harmful substances and pesticides. Pesticides cause harm to the environment and human health. If people start growing organic vegetables and fruits, they will be focused on reduction of air pollution, water pollution and land pollution.

Promoting waste recycling strategies

Promotion of waste recycling strategies can help to reduce the amount of  wastes. Both developed and developing nations should be focused on reduction of large amounts of wastes that are dumped into the natural environment daily. Environmental historians consider historical and theoretical studies on waste recycling in order to prove that many environmental concerns can be  addressed by means of new technologies of recycling waste21 

Developing eco-tourism 

Eco-tourism is one of the ways to save the environment because this type of activity is directed toward  protected small-scale areas. It allows promoting environmental education and ensure funding for conservation of nature. The benefits of eco-tourism are multiple. It helps to unite people from different cultural backgrounds, foster respect for ecology and human rights. Researchers place emphasis on the fact that eco-tourism as a means of survival for local people living in poor countries can benefit both the environment and the economies of these countries.22 

Enhancing educational opportunities

No matter how hard people try to protect the environment, it would not lead to positive outcomes if people lack the proper education. Everyone on the planet  should be recognize the need for   environmental protection. All nations are responsible for addressing the environmental crisis effectively. Environmental education can help to modify social views on the environment, and provide   knowledge to people as the best solution to protect the environment. Environmental education can help to resolve different problems existing in the world due to awareness of the negative impacts of pollution. Green Peace is one of environmental organizations aimed at addressing the issues like climate change, water pollution, deforestation, and others through involvement of people from all over the world.  It was established in 1969. Environmental historians believe that environmental organizations play an important role in promoting environmental values and achieving global environmental goals. The emergence of Environmental Justice Movement in the late 1980s allowed many people to become involved in the struggle for environmental safety and inequity.23 However, these efforts are inconsistent with current environmental concerns which requires joint actions of all governments to reduce air pollution and water pollution across the world. 

Conclusion

Thus, it is necessary to conclude that despite the international community’s awareness of the need for resolving environmental issues collaboratively, current research shows that international environmental security is still insufficient. Environmental historians, scholars and researchers believe that the analysis of global environmental concerns should be more elaborated to improve behaviour of all members of the international community in the existing international environmental realm. Moreover, all governments should be focused on reduction of the negative impacts of the modern environmental crisis through developing and implementing the proper strategies to foster  using alternative sources of energy,  promoting environmentally-friendly modes of transportation, buying green products, promoting waste recycling strategies, developing eco-tourism and enhancing educational opportunities to increase awareness of the need for protecting the environment. The modern environmental crisis facing the world today has occurred because of the insufficient efforts of all governments in addressing global environment problems like water pollution and air pollution.

References

Chapman, Lee. “Transport and Climate Change: a review,” Journal of Transport Geography, vol. 15, no. 5 (2007): 354-367.

Cooper, Tim. “Recycling Modernity: Waste and Environmental History,” History Compass, vol. 8, no. 9 (2010): 1114-1125.

DeGarmo, Denise. International Environmental Treaties and State Behaviour: Factors Influencing Cooperation. Routledge, 2013.

Frioux, Stephane. “Environmental History of Water Resources,” in The Basic Environmental History, ed. by Agnoletti M. and Neri Serneri S. Springer. 2014.

Jacobson, Mark Z. & Delucchi, Mark A. “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials,” Energy Policy, vol. 39, no. 3 (2011): 1154-1169.

Jury, William A. & Vaux, Henry. “The role of science in solving the world’s emerging water problems,” PNAS, vol. 102, no. 44 (2005): 15715-15720.

Judkins, Roddie R.; Fulkerson, William & Sanghvi, Manoj K. “The dilemma of fossil fuel use and global climate change,” Energy Fuels, vol. 7, no. 1 (1994): 14-22.

Liu, Jianguo & Diamond, Jared. “China’s environment in a globalizing world,” Nature, 435 (2005): 1179-1186.

Melosi, Martin V. “Equity, Eco-Racism, and Environmental History,” Environmental History Review, vol. 19, no. 3 (Autumn, 1995): 1-16.

Richards, John F. The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World, University of California Press, 2005.

Romeril, Michael. “Tourism and the environment—towards a symbiotic relationship,” International Journal of Environmental Studies, vol. 25, no. 4 (1985): 215-218.

Williams, Michael. “The History of Deforestation,” History Today, vol. 51, no. 7 (2001): 30-37.

York, Richard; Rosa, Eugene A., Dietz, Thomas. “Footprints on the Earth: The Environmental Consequences of Modernity,” American Sociological Review, vol. 68, no. 2 (April 2003): 279-300.

Young, William; Hwang, Kumju; McDonald, Seonaidh; Oates, Caroline J. “Sustainable consumption: green consumer behaviour when purchasing products,” Sustainable Development, vol.18, no. 1 (2010): 20-31.


1          Denise DeGarmo, International Environmental Treaties and State Behaviour: Factors Influencing Cooperation. (Routledge, 2013), 2.

2          John F. Richards, The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World, (University of California Press, 2005), 1.

3          Denise DeGarmo, International Environmental Treaties and State Behaviour: Factors Influencing Cooperation. (Routledge, 2013), 2.

4          Roddie R. Judkins, William Fulkerson & Manoj K. Sanghvi,“The dilemma of fossil fuel use and global climate change,” Energy Fuels, vol. 7, no. 1 (1994), 14.

5          Michael Williams, “The History of Deforestation,” History Today, vol. 51, no. 7 (2001), 30.

6          Ibid.

7          Ibid.

8          Michael Williams, “The History of Deforestation,” History Today, vol. 51, no. 7 (2001), 31.

9          Ibid.

10        Ibid, 32

11        Jianguo Liu & Jared Diamond, “China’s environment in a globalizing world,” Nature, 435 (2005): 1179.

12        Stephane Frioux, “Environmental History of Water Resources,” in The Basic Environmental History, ed. by Agnoletti M. and Neri Serneri S. (Springer. 2014), 121.

13        Jianguo Liu & Jared Diamond, “China’s environment in a globalizing world,” Nature, 435 (2005): 1180.

14        William A. Jury & Henry Vaux, “The role of science in solving the world’s emerging water problems,” PNAS, vol. 102, no. 44 (2005): 15716.

15  Ibid.

16        Richard York, Eugene A. Rosa, Thomas Dietz, “Footprints on the Earth: The Environmental Consequences of Modernity,” American Sociological Review, vol. 68, no. 2 (April 2003): 285.

17        Mark Z. Jacobson & Mark A. Delucchi, “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials,” Energy Policy, vol. 39, no. 3 (2011): 1154.

18        Lee Chapman, “Transport and Climate Change: a review,” Journal of Transport Geography, vol. 15, no. 5 (2007): 354.

19        Lee Chapman, “Transport and Climate Change: a review,” Journal of Transport Geography, vol. 15, no. 5 (2007): 354

20        William Young, Kumju Hwang, Seonaidh McDonald, Caroline J. Oates, “Sustainable consumption: green consumer behaviour when purchasing products,” Sustainable Development, vol.18, no. 1 (2010): 20.

21        Tim Cooper, “Recycling Modernity: Waste and Environmental History,” History Compass, vol. 8, no. 9 (2010): 1114.

22        Michael Romeril, “Tourism and the environment—towards a symbiotic relationship,” International Journal of Environmental Studies, vol. 25, no. 4 (1985): 218.

23        Martin V. Melosi, “Equity, Eco-Racism, and Environmental History,” Environmental History Review, vol. 19, no. 3 (Autumn, 1995): 11.

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