The global warming debate minimizes the impact human activities inflict on various environmental systems. Changes in natural resources, species populations, and floral growth create chain reactions within the many interconnected ecological systems which benefit the health of planet Earth.
Inspired by a Discover Magazine article entitled 30 Ways the World Could End, in which Corey S. Powell imagines a planetary demise caused by information overload, genetically modified humans, and alien plagues, here are 10 ways the world could end through human induced global environmental change.
10 Depletion of Water (Global dehydration, Loss of Food Chains, and Global War): According to the World Water Council, the increasing population of the world, coupled with the increased industrialization and urbanization of communities, will significantly strain an already exhausted clean water source world-wide. States in the United States are already beginning to see an impact from water depletion in the western states, and they could experience serious water depletion within the next 50 years. A depletion of water will not only burden communities in need of water, but agricultural demise; wildlife reduction; and international wars over water supplies would coalesce into global despair.
9 Extinction of Certain Species (Eventual Loss of all Planetary Life): In 1992, The New York Times published an article entitled, “Silence of the Frogs,” by Emily Yoffe, which posed the question, “What would happen if all the frogs died off?” The answer to that question is that the extinction of frogs would trigger an ecological chain reaction that could potentially lead to the end of life on Earth. If frogs die, for example, mosquitoes increase, malaria increases, and competing species flourish until all of their energy sources are depleted. Such a chain reaction could have far reaching effects. If all the frogs suddenly left wetlands, the diversity in those habitats would eventually decline, resulting in fauna extinction in the oceans. In short, if all the frogs die, theoretically, we could all die.
8 Loss of Wetlands (Fresh Water Scarcity, Flooding, and Oceanic Death): According to the wetland conservation agency, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Canada has lost 70% of its wetlands. Wetlands are vital ecosystems that absorb and filter rainwater and reduce flooding. Wetlands also store massive amounts of carbon, and when wetlands are impacted by industry, they release additional carbon into the atmosphere. Wetlands also serve as nurseries for fish and other wildlife. In short, losing wetlands negatively impacts our infrastructure, our food sources, and our fresh water sources.
7 Genetic Manipulation (Global Food Shortage and Mass Special Extinction): Some seed companies have been genetically engineering seeds to resist certain herbicides. Other types of genetic modifications include creating seeds that have “terminator genes,” or the inability to produce offspring. Should cross pollination interfere with neighboring farms and with other related plant species, an ecological chain reaction in reduction of flora could prove devastating to the ecological balance. If neighboring plant relatives inherit pesticidal genes, for example, the natural predators of those pests would begin competing with other species for new food sources. If that ecological change happens, an imbalance of species would arise, causing the eventual extinction of many species. While major seed companies are claiming not to commercialize terminator seeds now, the technology to do so does exist. With the right timing and the right motivation, major seed companies can monopolize food while potentially creating a global ecological disaster.
6 Disruption of Oceanic Ecology (Mass Oceanic Extinction): Major oil spills, lost nuclear vessels, and industrial waste pose a threat to the chemistry of the ocean. The salinity, pressure and temperature of the ocean all direct the ocean currents, which in turn, affect the climate. The constant dispersal of waste into the oceans interferes with those oceanic attributes. Furthermore, the flora and fauna of the ocean rely on a specific water chemistry to function and reproduce. In August of 2012, the ARC Center for Coral Reef Studies published shocking revelations about the state of the world’s oceans. They reported that past mass oceanic extinctions occurred during periods of global warming, which we are now facing; however, human created pollution and human hunting has greatly exacerbated the decline of life in the oceans. The scientists warned that the oceans are now on the brink of another massive extinction.
5 Chemical Poisoning Through Waste (Pollution-Induced Pandemic and Food Source Contamination): Throwing one battery or one compact florescent light bulb in the trash may have little impact on the global environment, but if millions of people do it, such waste would seriously impact a multitude of environmental systems. Chemicals in landfills and other waste areas enter the atmosphere through the rain cycle, and they enter our aquifers through the natural water process. Over time, contaminated soil and aquifers build up a healthy supply of hazardous waste, affecting plants and animals as well as humans through a process called biomagnification.
4 Depletion of Natural Resources in Poverty Stricken Nations (Global War and Economic Catastrophe): The depletion of non-renewable natural resources in developing nations by developed nations could trigger an economic shift of power. As those natural resources begin to decline, developed nations could struggle to re-design their infrastructure systems for new sources of energy and economic sustainability. Prices for energy sources would outweigh the buying power of common middle-class people in even developed countries, creating a massive cultural and economic shock to the masses. Limited resources could motivate world leaders to aggressively seek higher control of those sources, potentially leading to global war with the use of nuclear arms.
3 Global Cooling Through Excess Air Pollution (Drought, Famine, and Unexpected Rapid Surges in Global Temperature): While a lot of talk has been surrounding the topic of global warming, another process caused by excessive air pollution, global dimming, could block enough sunlight from the Earth to cause droughts, famine, and climate change that could devastate life on the planet. Certain types of air pollution are already creating some dimming. What’s frightening about the current dimming is that global dimming has dangerously shrouded the real threat of global warming, as the Earth may be warming more rapidly than scientists have observed. PBS Nova has a slide show documenting the history of what scientists know about global dimming.
2 Deforestation and Ecological Disruption (Global Viral or Bacterial Pandemic): If deforestation or natural habitat destruction leads to a special extinction, that extinct species may give way to a prey that is known to harbor infection. Creatures that begin to proliferate due to their predators having become extinct could quickly deplete their food sources when they’ve overcrowded their natural habitats. They could venture further into human populated communities, initiating outbreaks of new diseases never before diagnosed. Furthermore, clear cutting of forests and other natural habitats may lead to the unexpected release of unknown airborne illnesses.
1 Technological Advance and Techno-Waste (Human Mutations, Sterilization and Extinction): We really don’t know the ramification of some of the pollutants we are pouring into our landfills and oceans. The process of genetic alteration through biomagnification, the amplification of chemicals in animal and plant tissue through ecological chain processes, could take years or even centuries to present itself as a problem. As technology continues to evolve, the byproduct of technological obsolescence is waste. As we venture into new technological frontiers, we contaminate our soil, water, and air with the chemicals used to produce the technology. Nuclear waste, for example, continues to surmount, and despite our ability to contain the waste now, we don’t know how long it will be before it potentially enters the soil and our aquifers. The pollution of our air, soil and water could lead to biomagnification of substances which could alter our genetic expression.
Discussing carbon emissions is advantageous; however, focusing strictly on the political debate over whether global warming is human induced or not steers our focus away from serious changes to our global ecological and environmental systems. Through a deeper connection to nature, we can preserve our natural home while maintaining a keen awareness of the environmental changes that affect every one of us.