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Human Impacts on the Environment

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  • 0:06 Humans Are Destructive
  • 1:19 Global Climate Change
  • 2:50 Habitat Loss
  • 4:07 Overharvesting
  • 5:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

The human population continues to grow, but the size of Earth and the resources available for our use are limited. Humans greatly impact the world around them, and our actions can and often do have dramatic and long-lasting consequences.

Humans Are Destructive

With over seven billion people on Earth, there's simply no way that humans can exist without impacting our surroundings. We have come a long way from our primitive ancestors, and with such evolutionary changes have come new tools and technologies, but also new ways in which we affect the ecosystems of Earth.

Everything we do, make, or use comes from nature in one way or another. We cut down trees so we can build houses of wood. We remove water from lakes and aquifers for drinking and cleaning. We extract oil, coal, and natural gas from deep underground to power our cars, cell phones, and computers. And we fulfill our dietary needs with both wild and farmed plants and animals.

The use of all these resources is not without consequence. We are very good at utilizing Earth's resources for our own benefit, sometimes too good in fact! Through various means we have altered, destroyed, and even reconstructed ecosystems and habitats all over the globe. And since everything on Earth is connected to everything else, the effects of our actions often go beyond what we initially see.

Global Climate Change

You have probably heard about climate change because this is a hot topic right now for environmentalists, politicians, business, and even homeowners. There is much scientific evidence showing that Earth's climate is changing at an unprecedented rate. Global temperatures are rising, storms are becoming more frequent and intense, the glaciers and polar ice caps are melting, and species extinction rates are on the rise.

While these are all natural processes, much of the change that we are currently observing is due to human activity. For example, emissions from cars, planes, and power plants put large amounts of greenhouse gases into the air. When present in the right amounts, greenhouse gases are beneficial because they trap heat under the atmosphere and keep Earth warm enough to sustain life.

However, in the past century, greenhouse gas emissions have risen to extraordinary levels in the atmosphere. The problem with this is that the current concentrations are far too high and are trapping too much heat on Earth. This leads to an overall increase in the temperature of the planet, which affects many other components of our global climate system. This creates issues for Earth's living organisms because each is adapted to a certain range of environmental conditions. Climate change isn't just temperature change - it involves precipitation, drought, atmospheric conditions, and more, and all of these affect the survival of plants and animals on Earth.

Habitat Loss

The human population continues to grow, but Earth can only hold so many people. There is a finite amount of available natural resources for our use and only so much land we can inhabit. But there are billions of other organisms that we need to share these resources and land with as well. We build new homes, cities, and roads to accommodate the growing number of people living on our planet, all of which require consumption of natural resources.

Unfortunately, this human alteration of habitats poses the single greatest threat to biodiversity on Earth. Farming, development, deforestation, mining, and environmental pollutants are extremely destructive to natural habitats. Roads are often built without consideration to wildlife, and they tend to break or fragment larger contiguous habitats into smaller disconnected ones.

Aquatic habitats are also at risk. Dams along rivers alter the natural hydrology, which can do great damage to surrounding wetland and other freshwater ecosystems. Marine habitat loss is on the rise due to increasing development along coastal areas, and oil spills and ocean cargo accidents create an enormous amount of dangerous pollution and garbage in our seas.

Overharvesting

Another issue with our use of natural resources is that we consume much more than we actually need. This is especially true for industrialized nations. This also poses a threat to our natural environment because we harvest organisms and resources faster than their populations can recover, an issue called overharvesting.

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