Mitigating the Effects of Human Activities on Earth

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson we'll be focusing on how we can mitigate the negative effects of human activities on Earth. We'll cover the importance of recycling, water treatment facilities and development of marine conservation areas.

Why Are Human Activities a Problem?

Picture a forest ecosystem. Normally, there are lots of plants, like grass and trees, that make energy for the rest of the ecosystem. Herbivores like bunnies or deer graze on the plants. These animals support a few top predators like hawks or foxes. When the ecosystem is in balance, these populations remain relatively stable. If any one population gets too big, they use all of their resources too quickly, and the population collapses.

The human population on Earth has been increasing since the beginning of our species. With the advances of modern medicine, farming, and other technologies, the number of humans has almost doubled in just the past 50 years. In 1960 the world population was about four billion people, but as of 2017 the world population increased to about 7.5 billion people.

This dramatic increase is not without consequences. Just like the forest, our Earth's ecosystems can only support so much, and human activities, such as farming, mining, deforestation, pollution, and burning fossil fuels, are having severe effects on the health of the Earth. So how can we as human beings live a more sustainable life? Let's look at some answers.


Many of us wind up grabbing a soda or a bottle of water somewhere throughout the day. It's easy to forget a water bottle, and everyone needs to drink. But, beyond the dollar it might cost, what is the environmental cost of that bottle? A plastic bottle can stick around for 450 years!

Plastic is a part of our daily life, though, right? So what should we do to limit the impact of this activity? One of the main ways to combat plastic waste is recycling. During the recycling process types of materials like plastic, glass, or aluminum are melted down and then reformed into new materials.

Some materials can be recycled many times, keeping them out of the landfill for a lifetime. About 75% of all aluminum produced in the United States is still in circulation today. Glass can be continuously recycled forever, being melted down and reformed into new materials.

Glass can be recycled indefinitely with no loss in quality

However, certain types of plastics such as PET are recycled into clothing, which cannot be further recycled. Thus, it's advisable to use plastics and dispose of them in moderation to limit the effect of this human activity on the Earth.

Recycling materials can be a huge help in conserving energy and resources as well. To harvest virgin material there is the cost of mining, transportation, and processing, all of which require energy. This energy is usually derived from burning fossil fuels, which creates pollution and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Water Treatment

How many times do you flush the toilet per day? What about washing your face, or taking a shower? Although it seems like our water supply is infinite, many places on Earth are experiencing droughts and water shortages like never before. As we continue to change our planet through global warming, weather patterns are likely to become even more extreme, leading to more intense droughts and other severe weather.

A person flushing the toilet only 6 times per day uses 18 gallons of water. Now, think about how many people are in the world, and how many gallons that adds up to per year. Clearly, there's a problem here.

So, how can we help mitigate this human activity to protect the Earth? Although trying to conserve water individually is important, a systemic intervention is water treatment facilities. Water treatment facilities purify waste water and release it back into the environment to natural reservoirs that are not used for drinking, and this water is often used for irrigation. However, this process does not create more drinking water, which eventually could lead to water shortages.

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