Seafriends: Summary of threats to the environment
By Dr J Floor Anthoni (2001 - )

S.Harris cartoon.Simply by existing, people have made major impacts on the world's living ecosystems. This summary attempts to list most of these, so that the enormity of the situation can be observed. A century ago, this list would have been quite short, because human use of the planet's resources was much less, and not perceived as damaging. Today, not only can damage be seen or predicted, it can also be felt personally in the form of shortages and hindrance. Little do we realise, however, to what extent we have changed this planet. In reading this compiled summary, please remember that it reflects just a snapshot of today's situation, and that the world's population is still to double in the coming forty years! Also remember that it lists the doom side of developments, and not the positive actions (like conservation) to alleviate these. So far, such remedies have, at best, been able to postpone the inevitable for a few years. (recycling, fuel efficiency, green engineering, crop genetics, etc.)

Not all changes to the planet's ecosystems are perceived as problems. Only those that affect us are, particularly those that affect us now. All our problems are caused by people, for without people there would be no problems. Thus the more people and the more affluent their lifestyle, the more resources they will use and the more numerous and severe our problems will become. Ecological problems grow faster than the rate of population and the growth of the world economy. For instance, a simple compounded growth of 3% per year will double the world's problems in 25 years; growth of 6% in 12 years! It is not surprising then, that the present generation of school children will experience change as never witnessed before and never to be witnessed again, as humanity exhausts some of its most precious resources, while also causing serious trauma to the environment. The summary below has been divided into four sections, for its effect on humans, the atmosphere, the land, and the sea.

In this summary, we have omitted the benefits of humanity's growth and development, such as major improvements to living standards, security, health, education and the availability and quality of food, comfort, recreation and sport, mobility and so on. These are amply experienced by those who have the fortune to be economically secure. But the downsides of these developments, are often not seen because they happen invisibly, unnoticeably, slowly and somewhere else, and they are not advertised. The tremendous progress made in conservation, is not mentioned here, like the cleaning of rivers, progress in recycling, alternative farming methods and so on. On the other hand, the summary presented here reflects only the tip of the iceberg, being very incomplete.

This article is particularly of benefit to people living in 'clean' developed countries, not being aware that they depend on products that have been farmed or manufactured in other countries, causing environmental problems far away. Their needs ultimately result in environmental degradation that they themselves do not experience, and are not aware of.

Seafriends is a small organisation championing the cause of our seas. Our seas have become the sumps of civilisation, since all water runs down-hill, taking with it all of society's soluble wastes. It is therefore also a good indicator of the damage humans are causing to the natural environment. Not surprisingly, the seas are becoming sicker, everywhere in the world. You may not be directly interested in the sea, but in order to better understand this summary of the world's threats, you may also wish to read from the Seafriends web site:

Please note that this page is updated regularly and that it may never become complete. The information has been derived from many sources, and is not to be used for exact figures, but rather as an indication of the overall picture. Please do not hesitate to inform the author of new environmental problems or incorrect statements: e-mail Dr Floor Anthoni.
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threats to humans: although the threats to humans cannot easily be expressed quantitively or financially, their trends can be described qualitatively. We will get more comfort, but at the cost of considerably more cost or hindrance. Economists estimate that a 200% growth in population causes a growth in Gross National Product of  300%, trickling down into a personal gain of no more than 30% (being 30% better off). However, discomfort and hindrance are likely to grow more than 300%. It is an unwise trade-off that most people are unaware of. Between 1950 and 1990, US per-capita GNP more than doubled, whereas fewer people considered themselves 'very happy' (35% down to 32%). In the past 150 years, world population grew five-fold and per capita consumption four-fold, while a wide range of technologies was adopted, which were harmful to the environment. The result is an escalation of human pressure on the environment, of over twenty times since 1850.

threats to the atmosphere and water cycle

The atmosphere weighs only 0.03% that of the ocean, and is therefore easily polluted. The atmosphere is well mixed, both horizontally and vertically, resulting in problems being spread all over the world.

land, terrestrial threats

80% of known species are terrestrial, but only in 20% of the known phyla.

sea, marine threats.

20% of the known species are marine, but they comprise 80% of the phyla. Many marine species (bacteria, viruses, etc.) have been poorly studied. Several lifestyles are totally absent on land, such as filterfeeding. Marine foodwebs are more complex than terrestrial ones. There is less spatial complexity (trees/coral), less variation (temperature, etc) thus more sensitivity to environmental changes.
The basic nature of water, that of dissolving many chemicals, makes water pollution a threat to marine organisms. Since nutrients in the ocean are naturally hard to come by, many marine organisms are capable of concentrating these, including human-made chemicals. The chemistry of pollution reacts with the chemistry of life.

soil: see land

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