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Impact on the Environment

Impact on the Environment


"It is easier to protect ecosystems than it is to fix them."

This statement means that the Earth is a very fragile place and if we, as humans, are not careful, we are going to create situations that will have serious repercussions. In fact, many examples already exist. 

Everyone has heard of climate change. This is the warming of the Earth due to an increase in the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. How do these levels go up? All the cars and factories that are pumping exhaust into the air are disrupting the carbon cycle (see image).

Carbon Cycle With Text Labels

Carbon is a naturally occurring element that is present in all living things and quite common in the ecosystem. When living things die, or rocks are broken apart, the carbon is released back into the environment. A certain amount of carbon is used to help new plants grow or animals be born. However, when there is extra carbon in the air, it has no where to go, so it stays there. Automobiles and factories release a lot of carbon as exhaust. Since the natural depositories of carbon are already full, the excess has no choice but to stay in the air. This, in turn, acts as a greenhouse gas, keeping heat from escaping. This makes the Earth warmer.

As a result of increased temperatures, the polar ice caps are beginning to melt. One might say that a little extra water in the oceans is no big deal. Well, a little extra water is a huge deal. Think of all the people who live on the coast. If the oceans rise, all of that beachfront property will be underwater. Additionally, without ice at the poles, animals such as seals and polar bears will not have the habitat they need in order to survive.

Another way the environment is being impacted is through chemical pollution. Every time you wash the car or do a load of laundry, chemicals such as phosphorus and nitrogen are being released into the environment. Remember that all water systems are connected. The soap from the car gets washed out into the street. There is goes down the storm drain, which takes it to the sewage treatment plant. One it has been superficially cleaned, it gets dumped into the closest river. The river flows to the ocean, where the chemicals can impact wildlife.

The largest threat to wildlife is the destruction of habitat. After all, if an organism does not have a place to live, it cannot survive. As the human population continues to grow (although more slowly than it did 100 years ago), there is an increasing need for places to live and for food. Since most food is farmed, man has chopped down millions of acres of forest in order to make room for grazing animals. As a result, all of the places where the organisms living in these forests are gone. This can lead to lost of species, and ultimately, loss of biodiversity.

The thing to remember is that everything on Earth depends upon everything else. Mess up one thing and everything else is in trouble.

Directions for this Lesson: Answer the practice questions and then watch the videos to learn more about how humans impact the environment and what can be done about it.

Required Videos:

Related Worksheets: