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Written by Jonas Martonas
Humans impact the environment in several ways. Common effects include decreased water quality, increased pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, depletion of natural resources and contribution to global climate change. Some of these are the direct result of human activities, whereas others are secondary effects that are part of a series of actions and reactions.
One of the biggest impacts humans have on aquatic systems is excess nutrient inputs. Nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, are essential to the health and survival of aquatic plants and animals. However, humans introduce large quantities of nutrients, primarily through overuse of fertilizers. Too many nutrients can rapidly reduce water quality by causing overgrowth of certain bacteria and algae that use the oxygen necessary for other species to survive. Even more problematic is that these nutrients can be transported downstream to other streams, rivers and bays. Therefore, nutrients can reduce water quality in places far removed from where they were first introduced.
The majority of air pollution is the result of human activities. For example, increased fossil fuel combustion from motor vehicles, industrial factories and power plants all pump large quantities of air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, ozone and nitrous oxides, into the atmosphere. Other air pollutants, such as lead-based compounds, can lead to serious health effects like cancer, or other types of reproductive effects and birth defects.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, human activities are largely responsible for an increase in temperature around the globe, primarily due to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. This increase in temperature is leading to changes in where crops can grow and where certain fish or animals can be found, all vital for feeding an increasing human population. The rise in global temperatures is also causing glaciers to melt, releasing water that causes sea levels to rise and threaten coastal communities and economies that rely on coastal resources.
There are several simple things that people can do on a daily basis to minimize their impact on the environment. For example, taking public transportation, biking or walking instead of driving will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Reducing the amount of fertilizer applied to lawns, gardens and vegetables will lessen the likelihood of water pollution nearby, which is also beneficial for drinking water and human health. Using less energy in the home can lessen the amount of pollution put into the air by coal burning power plants. Any activity which reduces water and energy consumption can lead to positive impacts on our environment.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Nutrient Pollution
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: About Air Toxics
- Society for Ecological Restoration
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Climate Change Basics
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images