Environmental Issues

Where is my profit in biodiversity? What is the greenhouse effect? How much drinking water do we need? Why should the landscape be protected? If you ever wonder why to bother with environmental measures, find the answers here:

  • Biological diversity has four aspects that are equally important: 

    • Diversity of natural habitats
    • Diversity of species
    • Diversity of genetic information contained in the species
    • Diversity of durable interactions among species

    Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on earth. Tropical forests and coral reefs harbour the most biodiversity and they are the traditional targets of conservation organizations. Unique manifestations of nature are found in temperate and boreal regions, in deserts and mountain chains, which occur nowhere else on Earth and which risk being lost forever if they are not conserved.

    The range of animals and plants living in an area is a key indicator of environmental health. Biodiversity is of importance concerning the balance of natural environment. It ensures the environment’s ability to adapt to changes caused by anything from volcanic activity to human disruption of the landscape. For the conservation of biodiversity thus the preservation of ecoregions, i.e. the habitats of species are of equal importance. 

    The importance of biodiversity
    Biodiversity is inextricably linked to human health and welfare. The benefits of biodiversity to human society are manifold and include the protection of human life as for example by the plankton in the oceans and green vegetation on land that are the main sources of oxygen. We depend on highly specialised varieties of a tiny number of species for our food. Whenever problems arise with disease or crop failure we usually search for the solution in wild populations. Moreover biodiversity has economical values: For example, biotechnology has begun to indicate the almost inestimable value of the genetic material in plants and animals in every aspect of the commercial world. 

    Convention on Biodiversity
    At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders agreed on a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development. One of the key agreements adopted at Rio was the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Convention establishes three main goals: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.

    The Convention requires all signatories to follow a number of courses that will ensure the continued existence of present biodiversity and, where possible, to work towards the enhancement of biodiversity for the future. 168 Countries signed the Convention, from which most ratified it till today.

  • The earth’s climate is driven by a continuous flow of energy from the sun. We receive our heat through the rays sent to us by the sun. Heat energy from the sun passes through the earth’s atmosphere and warms the earth’s surface. 

    Greenhouse Effect
    As the temperature increases, the earth sends heat energy (infrared radiation) back into the atmosphere. Some of this heat is absorbed by gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and helacarbons. 

    These gases occur naturally and act as a blanket or a greenhouse, and trap in the heat, preventing it from being reflected too far from the earth. They keep the earth’s average temperature warm enough to sustain life for humans, plants and animals. Without these gases it would be too cold for life on Earth. This natural warming effect is also called the greenhouse effect.
    Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most significant of the gases in our atmosphere that keep the earth warm. A natural carbon dioxide cycle keeps the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere in balance. Decaying plants, volcanic eruptions and the respiration of animals release natural CO2 into the atmosphere, where it stays for about 100 years. It is removed again from the atmosphere by photosynthesis in plants and by dissolving in water (for instance in the oceans). The amount of naturally produced CO2 is almost perfectly balanced by the amount naturally removed. Small changes from human activities can have a big impact on this balance. 

    Global Warming
    Human being’s activities emitting greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, boost the natural greenhouse effect and warms up the global temperature, an effect called Global Warming. The extra emissions of greenhouse gases by the human being are like putting an extra blanket over the Earth, therefore heating it more. The more concentrated the greenhouse gases are in the air, the more they heat up the Climate. The man-emitted greenhouse gases derive from power stations and vehicle exhaust pipes, farms and cut forests and they can stick around in the air for decades, even centuries. The consequences of the man-made greenhouse effect, the Global Warming, rise the global temperatures and cause Climate Change. 

    Over the past 100 years, global mean temperature has increased by 0.7 °C, and the 1990s was the warmest decade over the past 150 years. Temperatures are projected to increase further by 1.4 to 5.8°C by 2100, with larger increases in Eastern and Southern Europe. There is increased evidence that most of this warming can be attributed to the emission of greenhouse gases and aerosols by human activities. A small rise in temperature will induce many other changes, for example cloud cover and wind patterns.
    Warming-up of the atmosphere is part of changes in climate and (extreme) weather conditions. Violent weather, rising sea-levels, melting glaciers and severe droughts are the ominous signs of Global Warming, and if it persists, it could influence global water availability, flood hazards, agricultural productivity as well as the spreading of tropical diseases.

  • Landscape is formed by the interactions of organisms, the physical environment, such as climate, geology, and relief, and human activities. Our landscape has been shaped over millions of years by the geological and climatic influence on the environment. Since the human being exists, the so called natural landscapes have been changed into cultural landscapes by human activities. Landscapes and habitats are subject to a permanent process of change. This process is due to natural changes, such as the effects of climate change, as well as to an increasing number of human uses and activities. 

    Landscapes are important for the individual and social well-being and people’s quality of life. It contributes to one’s identity and plays an important public interest role in the cultural, ecological, environmental and social fields and is a valuable resource conducive to economic activity, such as tourism. 

    Landscapes in Danger
    Today, valuable cultural landscapes that have been shaped over the time of hundreds of years are endangered by intensive farming, forestry, industry and in regional planning, town planning, transport, infrastructure, tourism and recreation and, at a more general level, changes in the world economy. In many cases these activities have led to the irreversible destruction of landscapes, or rendered them featureless, within a relatively short period of time. Examples for such destructed landscapes are agricultural monocultures, cleared rain forests, urban and housing sprawl and heavy contamination of land, e.g. by radioactivity. 

    Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage 
    To encourage the identification, protection and preservation of irreplaceable cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) embodied this in the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage in 1972. 

    By regarding heritage as both cultural and natural, the Convention reminds us of the ways in which people interact with nature, and of the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.

    Soil
    Both water and air components of soils are important for plant growth and other life in the soil profile of a particular ecosystem. Soil can restore water in its pores and can make it available for plants time-deferred. The air in the soil is equally important as it grants aeration necessary for important chemical reactions. 
    The filter capacities of soil are of high significance for civilisation. Seepage water is filtered from pollutants on its way to the wellspring and mankind is provided with clean drinking water. 

    It is vital that soil is not harmed through high pressure (trucks!) or oil leakages or other pollutants, so that drinking-water and soil quality can be guaranteed for the future.

  • For people, wildlife and vegetation alike, fresh water means life. But clean fresh water is increasingly becoming scarce, while fresh water consumption is rising around the world. 

    Water Consumption

    The small fraction of fresh water that is accessible to us is extremely unevenly distributed in space and time; so unevenly that society spends billions of dollars every year to move water from wet areas to drier areas or to store it in wet seasons for coming dry periods. These characteristics of freshwater use and distribution lead to a wide range of water-related problems, including interstate conflicts over access and quality, competition between urban, rural, and environmental uses, severe human health problems, and constraints on economic development. 
    While population doubled in the last 50 years the water consumption quadrupled, in the cause of population growth and higher living standards in the rich countries. While today more than 2 billion people in the poorer parts of the world lack access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation, each person in the European Union takes his use of about 120 to 200 litres of clean drinking water per day for granted. Globally, the biggest water use is not from household consumption but from agriculture (irrigation), followed by the industry. 

    Water Degradation

    In the past 40 years, more than half of all natural waters have been mostly irreversible damaged and degraded. And in many parts of the world non-adequate agricultural use of the land lead to serious land damages, such as salinisation of the soil or desertification. Both have an effect which has serious consequences for the natural water household: floods, droughts, and the extinction of species. With population growth and increasing use of water for agriculture, industry and recreation, water is becoming an incredibly valuable resource as well concerning its quantity as well as its quality.

    Sustainable Water Consumption

    To reach a sustainable water consumption level, the industrialized as well as developing countries will have to follow two principles: sufficiency and efficiency. This means that apart from technologies that foster efficiency (e.g. water-saving toilets), water quality and distribution will have to rise in developing countries, while industrialized countries are searching solutions to introduce two water qualities to their plumbing (e.g. for rainwater-fed toilets).

  • Breathing healthy air is one of our most basic needs. Air itself seems abstract and boundless, and air pollution seems both more technical and more nebulous than other environmental problems. Both visible and invisible air pollutants have severe impacts on our environment, our health, and the quality of our lives. It has been well documented that air pollution costs much money through its effects on our forests and crops, our buildings and cities, and our health. 

    Air pollution results from a variety of causes, not all of which are within human control. Dust storms in desert areas and smoke from forest fires and grass fires contribute to chemical and particulate pollution of the air. The source of pollution may be in one country but the impact of pollution may be felt elsewhere. Probably the most important natural source of air pollution is volcanic activity, which at times pours great amounts of ash and toxic fumes into the atmosphere. The major man-made air pollution derives from motor vehicles and industries. 

    Major Air Pollutants

    The major man-emitted air pollutants are carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide emitted as a result of the burning of coal and fossil fuels and sulphur dioxide also by the smelting of metals; Carbon monoxide, produced by the incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels including petrol, diesel, and wood; chloroflorocarbons (CFC) gases that are released mainly from air-conditioning systems and refrigeration; Ozone, with highly toxic effects when occurring at the ground level, is a pollutant produced by industries and vehicles. 

    Particulate Matter

    Particulate Matter (PM) consists of extremely small solids and liquid droplets in the air in the form of smoke, dust and vapour, that can remain suspended for extended periods and are the main source of haze which reduces visibility. PM is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles. 

    Health Problems

    The finer of these particles can cause major health problems in the respiratory tracts as they are so small that they can get deep into the lungs when breathed in and even get into the bloodstream. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, development of chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, nonfatal heart attacks, and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. People with heart or lung diseases, children and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure. However, even if you are healthy, you may experience temporary symptoms from exposure to elevated levels of particle pollution.