Environmental degradation

Environmental degradation

Overview

Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment
Environment (biophysical)
The biophysical environment is the combined modeling of the physical environment and the biological life forms within the environment, and includes all variables, parameters as well as conditions and modes inside the Earth's biosphere. The biophysical environment can be divided into two categories:...

 through depletion of resources such as air, water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 and soil
Soil
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

; the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of wildlife
Wildlife
Wildlife includes all non-domesticated plants, animals and other organisms. Domesticating wild plant and animal species for human benefit has occurred many times all over the planet, and has a major impact on the environment, both positive and negative....

. It is defined as any change or disturbance to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.

Environmental degradation is one of the Ten Threats
Ten threats
The ten threats identified in 2004 by the High Level Threat Panel of the United Nations are these:# Poverty# Infectious disease# Environmental degradation# Inter-state war# Civil war# Genocide...

 officially cautioned by the High Level Threat Panel
High Level Threat Panel
The High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change of the United Nations, chaired by former Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun and including former United States National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and several former heads of government and foreign ministers as members, produced in...

 of the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

. The World Resources Institute
World Resources Institute
The World Resources Institute is an environmental think tank founded in 1982 based in Washington, D.C. in the United States.WRI is an independent, non-partisan and nonprofit organization with a staff of more than 100 scientists, economists, policy experts, business analysts, statistical analysts,...

 (WRI), UNEP (the United Nations Environment Programme), UNDP (the United Nations Development Programme) and the World Bank
World Bank
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programmes.The World Bank's official goal is the reduction of poverty...

 have made public an important report on health
Health
Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living being. In humans, it is the general condition of a person's mind, body and spirit, usually meaning to be free from illness, injury or pain...

 and the environment worldwide on May 1, 1998.

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction defines environmental degradation as “The reduction of the capacity of the environment to meet social and ecological objectives, and needs”.

Environmental degradation is of many types.
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Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment
Environment (biophysical)
The biophysical environment is the combined modeling of the physical environment and the biological life forms within the environment, and includes all variables, parameters as well as conditions and modes inside the Earth's biosphere. The biophysical environment can be divided into two categories:...

 through depletion of resources such as air, water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 and soil
Soil
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

; the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of wildlife
Wildlife
Wildlife includes all non-domesticated plants, animals and other organisms. Domesticating wild plant and animal species for human benefit has occurred many times all over the planet, and has a major impact on the environment, both positive and negative....

. It is defined as any change or disturbance to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.

Environmental degradation is one of the Ten Threats
Ten threats
The ten threats identified in 2004 by the High Level Threat Panel of the United Nations are these:# Poverty# Infectious disease# Environmental degradation# Inter-state war# Civil war# Genocide...

 officially cautioned by the High Level Threat Panel
High Level Threat Panel
The High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change of the United Nations, chaired by former Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun and including former United States National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and several former heads of government and foreign ministers as members, produced in...

 of the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

. The World Resources Institute
World Resources Institute
The World Resources Institute is an environmental think tank founded in 1982 based in Washington, D.C. in the United States.WRI is an independent, non-partisan and nonprofit organization with a staff of more than 100 scientists, economists, policy experts, business analysts, statistical analysts,...

 (WRI), UNEP (the United Nations Environment Programme), UNDP (the United Nations Development Programme) and the World Bank
World Bank
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programmes.The World Bank's official goal is the reduction of poverty...

 have made public an important report on health
Health
Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living being. In humans, it is the general condition of a person's mind, body and spirit, usually meaning to be free from illness, injury or pain...

 and the environment worldwide on May 1, 1998.

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction defines environmental degradation as “The reduction of the capacity of the environment to meet social and ecological objectives, and needs”.

Environmental degradation is of many types. When natural habitats are destroyed or natural resources are depleted, environment is degraded.

Environmental Change and Human Health, a special section of World Resources 1998-99 in this report describes how preventable illness
Illness
Illness is a state of poor health. Illness is sometimes considered another word for disease. Others maintain that fine distinctions exist...

es and premature deaths are still occurring in very large numbers. If vast improvements are made in human health, millions of people will be living longer, healthier lives than ever before. In these poorest regions of the world
World
World is a common name for the whole of human civilization, specifically human experience, history, or the human condition in general, worldwide, i.e. anywhere on Earth....

 an estimated 11 million children, or about one in five, will not live to see their fifth birthday, primarily because of environment-related diseases. Child mortality
Child mortality
Child mortality, also known as under-5 mortality, refers to the death of infants and children under the age of five. In 2010, 7.6 million children under five died , down from 8.1 million in 2009, 8.8 million in 2008, and 12.4 million in 1990. About half of child deaths occur in Africa....

 is larger than the combined populations of Norway
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 and Switzerland
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

, and mostly due to malaria
Malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

, acute respiratory infections or diarrhea
Diarrhea
Diarrhea , also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having three or more loose or liquid bowel movements per day. It is a common cause of death in developing countries and the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide. The loss of fluids through diarrhea can cause dehydration and...

 — illnesses that are largely preventable.

Water Deterioration


One major component of environmental degradation is the depletion of the resource of fresh water on Earth. Approximately only 2.5% of all of the water on Earth is fresh water, with the rest being salt water. 70% of the fresh water is frozen in ice caps located on Antarctica and Greenland, so only 30% of the 2.5% of fresh water is available for consumption. Fresh water is an exceptionally important resource, since life on Earth is ultimately dependent on it. Water transports nutrients and chemicals within the biosphere
Biosphere
The biosphere is the global sum of all ecosystems. It can also be called the zone of life on Earth, a closed and self-regulating system...

 to all forms of life, sustains both plants and animals, and molds the surface of the Earth with transportation and deposition of materials. Water also redistributes energy and heat through the oceans and atmosphere, and is an important greenhouse gas that controls the Earth’s energy budget. Human health, agriculture, and world economics all depend on this resource, and as time passes, the demand for it increases.

The current top three uses of fresh water account for 95% of its consumption; approximately 85% is used for irrigation
Irrigation
Irrigation may be defined as the science of artificial application of water to the land or soil. It is used to assist in the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, and revegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall...

 of farmland, golf courses, and parks, 6% is used for domestic purposes such as indoor bathing uses and outdoor garden and lawn use, and 4% is used for industrial purposes such as processing, washing, and cooling in manufacturing centers. It is estimated that one in three people over the entire globe are already facing water shortages, almost one-fifth of the world’s population live in areas of physical water scarcity, and almost one quarter of the world’s population live in a developing country
Developing country
A developing country, also known as a less-developed country, is a nation with a low level of material well-being. Since no single definition of the term developing country is recognized internationally, the levels of development may vary widely within so-called developing countries...

 that lacks the necessary infrastructure to use water from available rivers and aquifers. Water scarcity is an increasing problem due to many foreseen issues in the future, including population growth, increased urbanization, higher standards of living, and climate change.

Climate Change and Temperature


Climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 affects the Earth’s water supply in a large number of ways. It is predicted that the mean global temperature will rise in the coming years due to a number of forces impacting the climate, the amount of atmospheric CO2 will rise, and both of these will influence water resources; evaporation
Evaporation
Evaporation is a type of vaporization of a liquid that occurs only on the surface of a liquid. The other type of vaporization is boiling, which, instead, occurs on the entire mass of the liquid....

 depends strongly on temperature and moisture availability, which can ultimately impact the amount of water available to replenish groundwater
Groundwater
Groundwater is water located beneath the ground surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. A unit of rock or an unconsolidated deposit is called an aquifer when it can yield a usable quantity of water. The depth at which soil pore spaces or fractures and voids in rock...

 supplies.

Transpiration
Transpiration
Transpiration is a process similar to evaporation. It is a part of the water cycle, and it is the loss of water vapor from parts of plants , especially in leaves but also in stems, flowers and roots. Leaf surfaces are dotted with openings which are collectively called stomata, and in most plants...

 from plants can be affected by a rise in atmospheric CO2 , which can decrease their use of water, but can also raise their use of water from possible increases of leaf area. Temperature increase can decrease the length of the snow season in the winter and increase the intensity of snowmelt in warmer seasons, leading to peak runoff of snowmelt earlier in the season, affecting soil moisture, flood and drought risks, and storage capacities depending on the area.

Warmer winter temperatures cause a decrease in snowpack
Snowpack
Snowpack forms from layers of snow that accumulate in geographic regions and high altitudes where the climate includes cold weather for extended periods during the year. Snowpacks are an important water resource that feed streams and rivers as they melt. Snowpacks are the drinking water source for...

, which can result in diminished water resources during the summer. This is especially important at mid-latitudes and in mountain regions that depend on glacial runoff to replenish their river systems and groundwater supplies, making these areas increasingly vulnerable to water shortages over time; an increase in temperature will initially result in a rapid rise in water melting from glaciers in the summer, followed by a retreat in glaciers and a decrease in the melt and consequently the water supply every year as the size of these glaciers get smaller and smaller.

Thermal expansion
Thermal expansion
Thermal expansion is the tendency of matter to change in volume in response to a change in temperature.When a substance is heated, its particles begin moving more and thus usually maintain a greater average separation. Materials which contract with increasing temperature are rare; this effect is...

 of water and increased melting of oceanic glaciers from an increase in temperature gives way to a rise in sea level, which can impact the fresh water supply of coastal areas as well; as river mouths and deltas with higher salinity
Salinity
Salinity is the saltiness or dissolved salt content of a body of water. It is a general term used to describe the levels of different salts such as sodium chloride, magnesium and calcium sulfates, and bicarbonates...

 get pushed further inland, an intrusion of saltwater results in an increase of salinity in reservoirs and aquifers. Sea-level rise may also consequently be caused by a depletion of groundwater, as climate change can affect the hydrologic cycle in a number of ways. Uneven distributions of increased temperatures and increased precipitation around the globe results in water surpluses and deficits , but a global decrease in groundwater suggests a rise in sea level, even after meltwater
Meltwater
Meltwater is the water released by the melting of snow or ice, including glacial ice and ice shelfs over oceans. Meltwater is often found in the ablation zone of glaciers, where the rate of snow cover is reducing...

 and thermal expansion were accounted for, which can provide a positive feedback
Positive feedback
Positive feedback is a process in which the effects of a small disturbance on a system include an increase in the magnitude of the perturbation. That is, A produces more of B which in turn produces more of A. In contrast, a system that responds to a perturbation in a way that reduces its effect is...

 to the problems sea-level rise causes to fresh-water supply.

A rise in air temperature results in a rise in water temperature, which is also very significant in water degradation, as the water would become more susceptible to bacterial growth
Bacterial growth
250px|right|thumb|Growth is shown as L = log where numbers is the number of colony forming units per ml, versus T Bacterial growth is the division of one bacterium into two daughter cells in a process called binary fission. Providing no mutational event occurs the resulting daughter cells are...

. An increase in water temperature can also affect ecosystems greatly because of a species’ sensitivity to temperature, and also by inducing changes in a body of water’s self-purification system from decreased amounts of dissolved oxygen in the water due to rises in temperature.

Climate Change and Precipitation


A rise in global temperatures is also predicted to correlate with an increase in global precipitation, but because of increased runoff, floods, increased rates of soil erosion, and mass movement of land, a decline in water quality
Water quality
Water quality is the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of water. It is a measure of the condition of water relative to the requirements of one or more biotic species and or to any human need or purpose. It is most frequently used by reference to a set of standards against which...

 is probable, while water will carry more nutrients, it will also carry more contaminants.
While most of the attention about climate change is directed towards global warming and greenhouse effect
Greenhouse effect
The greenhouse effect is a process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and is re-radiated in all directions. Since part of this re-radiation is back towards the surface, energy is transferred to the surface and the lower atmosphere...

, some of the most severe impacts of climate change are likely to be from changes in precipitation, evapotranspiration
Evapotranspiration
Evapotranspiration is a term used to describe the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the Earth's land surface to atmosphere. Evaporation accounts for the movement of water to the air from sources such as the soil, canopy interception, and waterbodies...

, runoff, and soil moisture. On average, it is generally expected that global precipitation will increase, with some areas receiving increases and some decreases.

Climate models show that while some regions should expect an increase in precipitation, such as in the tropics and higher latitudes, other areas are expected to see a decrease, such as in the subtropics; this will ultimately cause a latitudinal variation in water distribution. The areas receiving more precipitation are also expected to receive this increase during their winter and actually become drier during their summer, creating even more of a variation of precipitation distribution. Naturally, the distribution of precipitation across the planet is very uneven, causing constant variations in water availability in respective locations.

Changes in precipitation affect the timing and magnitude of floods and droughts, shift runoff processes, and alter groundwater recharge rates. Vegetation patterns and growth rates will be directly affected by shifts in precipitation amount and distribution, which will in turn affect agriculture as well as natural ecosystems. Decreased precipitation will deprive areas of water, causing water tables to fall and reservoirs and wetlands, rivers, and lakes to empty, and possibly an increase in evaporation and evapotranspiration, depending on the accompanied rise in temperature. Groundwater reserves will be depleted, and the remaining water has a greater chance of being of poor quality from saline or contaminants on the land surface .

Population Growth


The available fresh water being affected by climate is also being stretched across an ever-increasing global population. It is estimated that almost a quarter of the global population is living in an area that is using more than 20% of their renewable water supply; water use will rise with population while the water is also being aggravated by decreases in streamflow and groundwater caused by climate change. Even though some areas may see an increase in freshwater supply from an uneven distribution of precipitation increase, an increased use of water supply is expected.

An increased population means increased withdrawals from the water supply for domestic, agricultural, and industrial uses, the largest of these being agriculture, believed to be the major non-climate driver of environmental change and water deterioration. The next 50 years will likely be the last period of rapid agricultural expansion, but the larger and wealthier population over this time will demand more agriculture.

Population increase over the last two decades, at least in the United States, has also been accompanied by a shift to an increase in urban areas from rural areas, which concentrates the demand for water into certain areas, and puts stress on the fresh water supply from industrial and human contaminants. Urbanization
Urbanization
Urbanization, urbanisation or urban drift is the physical growth of urban areas as a result of global change. The United Nations projected that half of the world's population would live in urban areas at the end of 2008....

 causes overcrowding and increasingly unsanitary living conditions, especially in developing countries, which in turn exposes an increasingly number of people to disease. About 79% of the world’s population is in developing countries, which lack access to sanitary water and sewer systems, giving rises to disease and deaths from contaminated water and increased numbers of disease-carrying insects.

Agriculture


Agriculture is dependent on available soil moisture, which is directly affected by climate dynamics, with precipitation being the input in this system and various processes being the output, such as evapotranspiration, surface runoff, drainage, and percolation into groundwater. Changes in climate, especially the changes in precipitation and evapotranspiration predicted by climate models, will directly affect soil moisture, surface runoff, and groundwater recharge.

In areas with decreasing precipitation as predicted by the climate models, soil moisture may be substantially reduced. With this in mind, agriculture in most areas needs irrigation already, which depletes fresh water supplies both by the physical use of the water and the degradation agriculture causes to the water. Irrigation increases salt and nutrient content in areas that wouldn’t normally be impacted, and damages streams and rivers from damming and removal of water. Fertilizer enters both human and livestock waste streams that eventually enter groundwater, while nitrogen, phosphorus, and other chemicals from fertilizer can acidify both soils and water.
Certain agricultural demands may increase more than others with an increasingly wealthier global population, and meat is one commodity expected to double global food demand by 2050, which directly affects the global supply of fresh water. Cows need water to drink, more if the temperature is high and humidity is low, and more if the production system the cow is in is extensive, since finding food takes more effort. Water is needed in processing of the meat, and also in the production of feed for the livestock. Manure can contaminate bodies of freshwater, and slaughterhouses, depending on how well they are managed, contribute waste such as blood, fat, hair, and other bodily contents to supplies of fresh water.

The transfer of water from agricultural to urban and suburban use raises concerns about agricultural sustainability, rural socioeconomic decline, food security, an increased carbon footprint
Carbon footprint
A carbon footprint has historically been defined as "the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person.". However, calculating a carbon footprint which conforms to this definition is often impracticable due to the large amount of data required, which is...

 from imported food, and decreased foreign trade balance. The depletion of fresh water, as applied to more specific and populated areas, increases fresh water scarcity among the population and also makes populations susceptible to economic, social, and political conflict in a number of ways; rising sea levels forces migration
Migration
Migration, Migratory behavior, or Migratory may refer* Gene migration, a process in evolution and population genetics* Animal migration, the travelling of long distances in search of a new habitat...

 from coastal areas to other areas farther inland, pushing populations closer together breaching borders and other geographical patterns, and agricultural surpluses and deficits from the availability of water induce trade problems and economies of certain areas.

Water Management


The issue of the depletion of fresh water can be met by increased efforts in water management. While water management systems are often flexible, adaptation to new hydrologic conditions may be very costly. Preventative approaches are necessary to avoid high costs of inefficiency and the need for rehabilitation of water supplies, and innovations to decrease overall demand may be important in planning water sustainability.

Water supply systems, as they exist now, were based on the assumptions of the current climate, and built to accommodate existing river flows and flood frequencies. Reservoirs are operated based on past hydrologic records, and irrigation systems on historical temperature, water availability, and crop water requirements; these may not be a reliable guide to the future. Re-examining engineering designs, operations, optimizations, and planning, as well as re-evaluating legal, technical, and economic approaches to manage water resources are very important for the future of water management in response to water degradation. Another approach is water privatization; despite its economic and cultural impacts, service quality and overall quality of the water can be more easily controlled and distributed. Rationality and sustainability is appropriate, and requires limits to overexploitation and pollution, and efforts in conservation.

See also

  • Environmental issue
    Environmental issue
    Environmental issues are negative aspects of human activity on the biophysical environment. Environmentalism, a social and environmental movement that started in the 1960s, addresses environmental issues through advocacy, education and activism.-Types:...

  • Ecological collapse
    Ecological collapse
    Ecological Collapse refers to a situation where an ecosystem suffers a drastic, if not permanent, reduction in carrying capacity for all organisms, often resulting in mass extinction...

  • Ecologically sustainable development
    Ecologically sustainable development
    Ecologically sustainable development is the environmental component of sustainable development. It can be achieved partially through the use of the precautionary principle, namely that if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not...

  • Exploitation of natural resources
    Exploitation of natural resources
    Main article: OverexploitationSome exploitation of natural resources is an essential condition of the human existence. This refers primarily to food production and necessities...

  • High Level Threat Panel
    High Level Threat Panel
    The High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change of the United Nations, chaired by former Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun and including former United States National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and several former heads of government and foreign ministers as members, produced in...

     of the United Nations
    United Nations
    The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

  • Ten Threats
    Ten threats
    The ten threats identified in 2004 by the High Level Threat Panel of the United Nations are these:# Poverty# Infectious disease# Environmental degradation# Inter-state war# Civil war# Genocide...

     identified by the United Nations
  • United Nations Decade on Biodiversity
    United Nations Decade on Biodiversity
    The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011-2020 the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity . The UN Decade on Biodiversity serves to support and promote implementation of the objectives of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, with the goal of significantly...

  • United Nations Development Programme
    United Nations Development Programme
    The United Nations Development Programme is the United Nations' global development network. It advocates for change and connects countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. UNDP operates in 177 countries, working with nations on their own solutions to...

     (UNDP)
  • United Nations Environment Programme
    United Nations Environment Programme
    The United Nations Environment Programme coordinates United Nations environmental activities, assisting developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices. It was founded as a result of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in June 1972 and has its...

     (UNEP)
  • World Resources Institute
    World Resources Institute
    The World Resources Institute is an environmental think tank founded in 1982 based in Washington, D.C. in the United States.WRI is an independent, non-partisan and nonprofit organization with a staff of more than 100 scientists, economists, policy experts, business analysts, statistical analysts,...

    (WRI)

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