Environmental Problems And The Urgent Need To Solve Them

Environment is defined as “the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates”. Just by that definition alone, we can deem the environment as a crucial part of our everyday lives. The environment is the air we breathe, the water we drink, the roads we drive on, the food we have access to, the healthcare, the collectives’ values, the infrastructure, the climate, the nature, the animals, and last but not least, our state of mind. It’s 2019 and our environment is in the worst shape it’s ever been in, could it be because we have neglected the environment that gave us this very life? Global warming, sinking cities (Miami included), deforestation, animal extinction, pollution, plastic crisis, water contamination, ocean depletion, animal agriculture nightmare, overbreeding domestic animals, GMO’s, disease, division, homelessness, and sadly that’s just a few problems Mother Earth is battling, with very little humans on her side. We have no more time to ignore our environment (10 years to be exact according to scientists), so all of us must make drastic changes, to see a thriving planet once more.

I believe that a society based on an Environmental Model would be the most successful one in terms of succeeding as a whole. This model would have been successful in previous societies and can definitely succeed now. First, we would need to instill a sense of urgency (it is urgent) about the state of the planet we’re on. We would broadcast this message on every radio, television, newspaper, social media and ad. Second, laws must be passed with serious consequences and penalties. No littering, no fishing, no more hunting, no more plastic, etc. Due to ethical, environmental and health reasons, all slaughterhouses must be shutdown. People must do community service (as long as they’re physically capable) in the area they live in and recycling is a legal requirement. For this to be the most effective and not just local, leaders of each country should meet and discuss the importance of an environmental model for society. Healthcare would be cheaper because people would finally begin treating food as it’s intended to be, medicine. GMO’s would be banned, and people would be allowed to harvest their own food in their backyards. Instead of slaughterhouses and death, we would have farmer’s markets and life. “We cannot consume death and expect to feel alive”. A healthy diet is a healthy mindset, without people consuming poison, their minds would be clear meaning less crime. People would be happier, more united, coming together for a common cause, our home. As they say, a clean organized home, equals a clean organized mind.

When speaking on the topic of environment in 2019, we must discuss global warming, because unfortunately today, they go hand in hand. What is global warming? It’s a rise in the average temperature of the Earth's climate that has detrimental effects on our environment, long-term. Compared to 50 years ago, the average temperature of the Earth is rising at nearly twice the rate. Scientists has came to the conclusion that is not due to natural cycles of the earth, but rather the effect of greenhouse gases emitted by humans. After fossil fuels, animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Many people are trading in their SUV’s for smaller cars, leaders are moving away from fossil fuels, but none of that is really making a dent in the problem. Majority of the world is overlooking the fact that animal agriculture is he main culprit of global warming. Just one cow, on overage, produces up to 120 kg of Methane per year, multiply that by 1.5 billion cows, that’s a staggering 180,000,000 billion kg total (Anderson & Kuhn, 2014). Methane is a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide, however, its’ negative effect of methane is 23 times higher than the effect of carbon dioxide. The methane is produced from the cows’ farts and burps alone (Anderson & Kuhn, 2014). In America, on average, beef consumption creates 1,984 lbs. of carbon dioxide annually. Replacing beef with plants, would reduce that number by 96 percent, making it just 3 lbs. of carbon dioxide annually. If we stop and look at what’s happening, eating steaks is warming our earth. Why should we care? We shold care because no place in the world is immune. Heatwaves will be stronger, storms will become more intense, droughts will last longer, rainfall will be higher, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, blizzards, and wildfires will be more prevalent. The loss of life will be inevitable.

If still unsure of the urgency, it’s important to know that Miami is one of the cities sinking as of right now, along with New York, New Orleans, London, Tokyo, Jakarta, Venice, Alexandria and many more. Sinking cities are created from sea levels rising, primarily due to the amount of ice on land that melts. As the earth warms, sea levels rise and super-storms become more frequent and intense, causing many of the world’s major coastal cities to soon be under water. Looking at the numbers, in the last five years alone, the U.S. has been hit with 83 hurricanes, causing destruction to cities like New York to Houston (Richards & Melford, 2019). Scientists estimate that sea-levels all over the world will rise of up to 0.6 meters this century and raise chances of disaster significantly in coastal areas. Although posing a great danger to cities, water is not the only element that is impacted by human activity.

18 million acres of forest, comparable to Panama, are cut down each year. This tragic deforestation accounts for about 15% of greenhouse emissions (Climate Nexus, 2018). Since 1600, roughly 90% of United States' indigenous forest has been cut down (Bradford, 2018). Why is deforestation happening and so rapidly? Supply and demand. The main reason for deforestation is to make room for animal agriculture. Acres upon acres of land are chopped down, so that we can build hell-like slaughterhouses, to breed animals into existence and kill for a meal that is unhealthy and unsustainable. Not only does this cause us to lose precious forests that provide us with clean oxygen, but many wild animals are facing extinction due to a loss of their habitat and food resources. Many farmers will poison, electrocute, trap and shoot wildlife to protect livestock, and because of this, some animals are facing extinction. Another food production to blame for the destruction of not only farm animals but the death over 50,000 orangutans, is palm oil (Bradford, 2018). Palm oil is found in many products such as Oreos, certain brands of peanut butter, chips and other snacks. The demand for palm oil has destroyed orangutans’ habitats on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, where it is plentiful and grows on palm trees which are also their home (Bradford, 2018). Due to the inhumane destruction, orangutans often will enter villages and oil plantations in search of food because theirs has been depleted and are captured or killed by farmers who treat them as pests. Deforestation is causing climate change, loss of wild life, extinction and pollution and it’s is all for us to have unsustainable meals.

As a direct result of global warming and deforestation, we are facing a major catastrophic issue: animal extinction. More than 25,000 species, almost a third of species, are in danger of being extinct. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours (Gerken, 2013). According to biologists, this is nearly 1,000 times the “natural” rate. Of all the currently threatened species, 99 percent are at risk because of human activities. Out of all the beautiful animals already extinct such as the West African black rhinoceros, Caribbean monk seal, sea mink, javar tiger, the blue 8î``macaw, thousands are facing extinction as well. Some of the animals facing extinction as of 2019 are sea turtles, orangutans, gorillas, amur leopards, vaquitas, Sumatran elephant and last and most important: the honey bee. To put the caliber of the problem into perspective: if honey bees go extinct, we all go extinct. Honey bees are primarily responsible for the reproduction among plants, because they transfer pollen from the male stamens to the female pistils. Without honey bees, a domino effect of dying species would transpire until it got to us, the most destructive animal on the planet. The reason for honey bees going extinct is humans using excessive pesticides on crops, poisoning them and ultimately ourselves (Daftardar, 2018). The truth is, if bees died, we would die within four years, but if man died, within 50 years the entire Earth would flourish, as if it were untouched.

An untouched earth is spectacular to imagine, but that’s simply not the case especially when it comes to the waste we produce, and the worst is plastic. 12.7 million tons of plastic touch our oceans each year, and sadly, remain there. In 1950, there were 2.5 billion people on earth that created 1.5 million tons of plastic; in 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic. These numbers are predicted to be doubled by 2034, and that’s scary. 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans, each day alone and billions of pounds of plastic can be found on the world's ocean surfaces. The way things are going, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the ocean by the year 2050 . Plastic is deadly to thousands of birds and marine mammals choke or get stuck in plastic. Endangered wildlife like Pacific loggerhead sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals are amongst 700 species that eat the plastic or die from getting caught in it. An incredible 73 percent of fish living in the deepest parts of the ocean have tested positive for plastic so far and the numbers are predicted to keep rising. Not only is plastic threatening our bio diversity in the oceans but, but it is killing us because we eat the fish that eats the garbage and plastic floating around, since a sea turtle cannot tell the different between a jellyfish and a plastic bag.

If that’s not bad enough, plastic isn’t the only thing threatening our oceans, mass-fishing is wiping out our oceans so rapidly that scientists predict fishless oceans by 2048.

Fishing causes a lot of bycatch, which are other species of marine animals such as sharks, turtles and dolphins that get caught in the nets. 40% of marine life that is caught, or 38 million tons, is unintentional and is thrown back into the ocean, dead or getting there (Bycatch- a sad topic). Loss of any species of fish means the automatic loss of all the rest of the marine life that depends on it for their diet. We can predict that without fish, we will no longer have seals, whales, dolphins, penguins or polar bears. Even now, when it comes to orcas, around 40 percent of calves do not survive past the first few years of life, due to lack of food resources, taken by greedy humans (Katz, 2019). A recent painful tragedy broke the hearts of millions, when a mother orca, named Tahlequah was spotted pushing her dead calf through the waters of Puget Sound for 17 whole days, mourning (Katz, 2019). Tragedies like this will leave us breathless and somber but what they should really do is leave us motivated to make changes. This is one out of a million tragic stories, that marine animals could tell us if they could talk. In fact, if any animals could talk, mankind would weep. Humans have affected every single species of animal on the planet with our despicable human greed.

As horrific as humans have treated every species of animals, farm animals that are bred for slaughter, have undoubtedly seen the worst face of humanity. Approximately 25 million animals are slaughtered, every single day, that’s 40,000 every second. When we multiply that by 365 days a year, and even more around holidays, that’s 9,125,000,000 billion animals per year that were bred into horrific existence, we could never imagine in our worst nightmares, just to meet a worse fate. I guess the jokes on humanity, because those same animals are killing us directly and indirectly. Animal agriculture is linked to 55 percent of erosion, 60 percent of nitrogen pollution; and 70 percent of the global dietary phosphorus footprint. 75 percent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest is from animal agriculture alone, as well as a third of biodiversity loss. A more direct effect of us killing animals is linked to our water and air pollution. Farm animals emit seven to nine times more sewage than human beings that runs into our water and seeps into our air, poisoning us inside and out. Slaughterhouses discharge pesticides, anti-biotics, and heavy metals into our water systems that leave people sick and dying, especially in more rural areas. Smithfield Foods, a pork production company was forced to pay $473.5 million to its’ neighbors for the pig stench, sewage, water and air pollution and noise because some of them developed cancer and other disease Animal agriculture’s impact on drinking water doesn’t just stop at pollution however. Half of the water consumed in the entire country goes to eight billion factory farmed animals, instead of humans. Since livestock production requires roughly 80 percent of that agriculture which is polluting the water ways, animal agriculture is a main cause of water issues without a doubt.

Animal agriculture doesn’t just take drinking water away from people, but it’s literally starving them from Mexico to Africa. More than 870 million people in world suffer daily from hunger and this year alone, six million children will die from starvation. But the problem is not food production, since we are producing enough grain globally to feed two times as many people as there are on Earth. In 2011, over 2.5 billion tons of grains was harvested, creating a record, but half of that was fed to animals in the meat and dairy industries. Seventy-seven percent of all coarse grains, such as corn, oats, and barley and over 90 percent of all soy grown in the world was fed to livestock. The crops that are grown overseas where millions are starving, are sent over to the U.S. to feed farm animals. The problem is not how to produce enough food to feed the hungry, because there’s plenty, but rather where all the food that we do produce is going. Should we be adding to our water problem by wasting it on animals instead of saving children from hunger and dying of thirst? Studies prove that being vegan is not unhealthy and it would be smart to move to a plant-based diet. Not only for our healthy but to reduce our usage of water and be able to supply it to kids in third-world countries.

The biggest irony of animal agriculture is that by killing animals, we are killing our environment and we are directly killing ourselves. Cardiovascular disease is America's leading health problem, and the leading cause of death. An estimated 15 million U.S. adults have coronary heart disease, 610,000 die each year making it one in four people. 78 million U.S. adults have high blood pressure, and an estimated 20 million have diabetes. Meat and dairy have been directly linked to diabetes, heart disease, indigestion, obesity, arthritis, erectile dysfunction and cancer. These conditions can easily be cured, stabilized and prevented through a whole-foods plant-based diet. Eating vegan food means higher daily intake of certain beneficial nutrients, it can help you lose weight and improves kidney function. Veganism prevents cancer and lowers blood sugar, reversing diabetes, if done right. Vegans have a 75 percent lower risk of having high blood pressure and 42 percent lower risk of developing heart disease, the number one killer in America. Since cholesterol is mainly made from animal products, eating plant-based can lower cholesterol by almost 50 percent. Incorporating a plant-based diet will not only be beneficial to our health, but the health of the planet, and definitely to those animals whose lives are senselessly taken for meals. I believe that the answer is obvious since a global move to a vegan diet would avert 8.1 million premature deaths per year, and that’s only considering humans, not billions of animals.

It seems that things have gotten so bad, that it’s too late to incorporate the environmental model for a perfect society, but that’s simply not true. There’s never a wrong reason, or wrong time to do the right thing. We have a long way to go but if we change our culture, by each person changing themselves first, we can fix most of our problems. Our main goal as a society should be to go from a materialistic to a non-materialistic-culture, through minimalism. We need to reduce, reuse and recycle. We need to ban plastic and use sustainable products for food, clothing, entertainment and transportation, because there’s nothing we need more than our planet right now. Animal agriculture is unethical to animals and the planet, the government should pass laws banning the exploitation of animals for any reason, which means, no more hunting, no more fishing, no more slaughterhouses. Instead everyone should take a course on learning to grow their own fruits and vegetables and how to use food as a medicine. Because people would start eating better, their minds would be clearer and the world as a whole would become more productive. We would finally be able to end world hunger and millions of kids wouldn’t die from starvation, meaning there would be more people becoming productive members of society, contributing to saving our planet. 

Since some of our key values are science and progress, a class on what’s happening to our environment at the hands of man should be a requirement. This way, the next generation can grow up more consciously and ethically than we did. As the most intelligent species on the planet, we can use technology to figure out how to clean plastic out of oceans, how to shutdown slaughterhouses and regrow our forests. It should be noted that there is so much carbon dioxide in our atmoshphere, that growing trees will no longer help us. We need a cultural change in our attitudes in terms of how we treat mother nature. She is not some endless power house supplier, we can keep taking from and abusing, we have sucked her resources dry. Humans have become less like animals, who only use resources sparingly to live and breed intuitively, and instead more like diseases that eat up all the resources until they’re gone and move on to another location to take from and overbreed. Humans are very small fraction of the world, accounting for 0.01 percent of all life but they have managed to destroy 83 percent of wild mammals, 80 percent of marine mammals, and 50 percent of plants. We have the answer at our fingertips, and we can put it to work right now, because there is no Planet B.  

16 December 2021
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