Human and Environment Interaction: Anthropogenic Impacts

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Human and Environment Interaction: Anthropogenic Impacts UGC NET
Human and Environment Interaction: Anthropogenic Impacts

Anthropogenic Impacts: Human Beings are a beautiful creation by God. Science says that human beings have appeared through biological evolution.  Whatever the reason for Human appearance on the Earth, humans have been interacting with their environment since people first walked the Earth. And obviously, they interacted with the environment for the first and foremost need of food.

Human and Environment Interaction

We will discuss some of the ways in which humans interact with their environment and how the environment influences us, both positively and negatively.

Before going for further details on Human and Environment Integration, we must know about the term “environment.”

Environment

Environment means our physical surroundings and the characteristics of the place in which we live. It also refers to the wider natural world of land, sea, and atmosphere.

The environment is the sum total of living and non-living components surrounding an organism.

Different organisms live in different types of surroundings, such as air, water, and soil. Different kinds of living organisms share these surroundings. The surroundings are the “environment” of an organism.

The environment has two components

  • Physical or abiotic (non-living) components and
  • living or biotic components.

Abiotic components of the environment are air, water, soil, energy radiation, etc.

Biotic components of the environment are microbes (such as bacteria, algae, and fungi), plants, animals, etc.

 

The environment consists of four segments, such as:

(i) Biosphere (ii) Atmosphere (iii) Hydrosphere, and (iv) Lithosphere

Biosphere:

All the parts of the Earth are not suitable for the survival of organisms. Some parts are too hot or very cold to support life. The part of Earth on which organisms can survive and reproduce is called the biosphere.

Atmosphere:

The atmosphere is the only place where free oxygen and water vapour exist. The atmosphere is a thin layer of air (a mixture of gases) around the Earth, which is a great source for all living organisms.

Hydrosphere:

Water plays a vital role in the biosphere; without it, life is impossible. The hydrosphere is the part of Earth on which all types of water resources exists, viz., oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, glaciers, ice caps, groundwater, etc.

Lithosphere:

Soil is a part of the lithosphere which supports life. The lithosphere is the part of the Earth where all types of minerals, metals, organic matters, rocks, soils, etc. exist.

An ecosystem includes all the living organisms (humans, plants, animals, micro-organisms) and their physical environment (soil, water, air, land) and the interactions between them.

Ecology is the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment; it seeks to understand the vital connections between plants and animals and the world around them. Ecology also provides information about the benefits of ecosystems and how we can use Earth’s resources in ways that leave the environment healthy for future generations.

 

The environment can be summarised collectively as:

1.      Biosphere Plants, Animals, and Bio organism
2.      Atmosphere Air (oxygen, CO2, Nitrogen, Hydrogen etc.)
3.      Hydrosphere Water including oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, glaciers, ice caps, groundwater, etc.
4.      Lithosphere Soil, Minerals, Rocks

Anthropogenic Impacts

Human and Environmental Interaction can be described as the connections between human beings and the entire ecological system.

Human and environment interaction is the way people depend, adapt and modify the environment. The interaction between human and environment can be categorised in three ways:

  1. Dependency on the environment for food, water, timber, natural gas, etc.
  2. Adaptability for the environment to fulfill their own needs.
  3. Modification of the environment positively or negatively like drilling holes, building dams etc.

Anthropogenic Activities and their impact on environment

Most of the dictionaries defined the term “Anthropogenic” as “created or caused by human activity or “resulting from the influence of human beings on nature”

The population of India has crossed the figure of 1.3 billion and the world population is estimated to have crossed the 7.5 billion mark. To meet the demand for food, housing and energy, environmental resources are being exploited at a fast pace.

Anthropogenic Activities (Human Activities)

Anthropogenic activities do not only mean that human activities to meet the demand for food, housing, clothing, and energy, it also includes all those development activities which directly or indirectly affect nature.

The anthropogenic activities are the followings:

  • Agriculture
  • Energy production
  • Industrialisation
  • Transportation
  • Personal and Domestic Activities
  • Wars

Anthropogenic Impacts on Environment

Overpopulation is a stage in which the demand for natural resources does not meet for the population. In other words, overpopulation is the condition in which the available natural resources are limited or not sufficient for the human population.

The effects of overpopulation are quite severe, with one of the most severe being the degradation of the environment.

The environment has the potential to restore most of its resources in a certain period of time. However, over-exploitation of resources and anthropogenic activities have altered it leading to many environmental problems, such as:

  1. Deforestation
  2. Pollution
  3. Global Warming
  4. Depletion of Ozone Layer
  5. Diminishing of Fossil Fuels
  6. Acid Rain
  7. Climate Change

Deforestation

Cutting of the natural forest cover is called deforestation. we are aware of the importance of forests as a major natural resource. They provide wood for multiple uses, shelter to wildlife, soil conservation and rainfall. Plants take up carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Fewer forests mean more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Cutting down of forests may lead to the following:

  • Destruction of habitat or living place for wild plants and animals leading to disappearance and extinction of many species,
  • Reduced rainfall in that area,
  • Lowering of water table or depth of groundwater,
  • Soil erosion, loss of fertility of soil and lack of vegetation leading to desertification, and
  • Increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere and global warming.

Pollution

Human life includes a number of daily activities. Bathing and washing of clothes with soaps and detergents add some chemical residue to water and change its quality. Cooking of food by using firewood may give out smoke in the air. Agricultural activities may dump fertilizers and pesticides in the environment.

Each activity, human or industrial, discharges some unwanted substances in the environment. The addition of unwanted substances in the wrong concentration that has an adverse effect on organisms and the environment, is called pollution.

Technological growth has given new devices for human comfort but has also added substances that may have an adverse effect on life and the environment.

An undesirable change in the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the environment especially air, water and land that may adversely affect the human population and the wildlife, industrial processes, cultural assets (buildings and monuments), is called pollution.

The agents that pollute the resources or cause pollution are called pollutants.

Types of Pollution

Depending upon the area or the part of the environment affected, pollution may be of the following types:

  • Air pollution
  • Water pollution
  • Soil pollution
  • Noise pollution

Further Reading: Pollution-meaning, and types

Global Warming  (Greenhouse Effect)

A greenhouse is referred to as a glass chamber where plants are grown in a closed warm environment as compared to the outside temperature. This is normally practiced in cold regions on the hills. The solar radiations bringing heat (in the form of infra-red rays from the sun) are trapped inside the chamber.

Causes of Global Warming

Industrialization and urbanization have to lead to deforestation and release of gases, such as Carbon dioxide (CO2), Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Methane (CH4) and Nitrous oxides (N2O) into atmosphere These gases are the main greenhouse gases that cause global warming. An increase in the concentration of these greenhouse gases leads to increased trapping of longwave radiations resulting in an increase in Earth’s temperature causing global warming. Global warming is one of the top effects of human and environment interaction. 

Greenhouse Gases: Their sources and Causes

Gas Sources and Causes
Carbon dioxide (CO2) Burning of fossil fuels, deforestation
Chlorofluorocarbons(CFCs) Refrigeration, solvents, insulation foams, aero propellants, industrial and commercial uses
Nitrogen oxides (N2O) Burning of fossil fuels, fertilizers; burning of wood and crop residue.
Methane (CH4) Growing paddy, excreta of cattle and other livestock, termites,

Effects of global warming

Although the increase in global temperature in the last hundred years has been estimated to rise by only 1 degree, it has resulted in serious consequences, such as:

  • melting of snow caps/ glaciers and rising of sea level,
  • unpredictable weather patterns,
  • submerging of coastal areas of the Maldives islands in the Indian Ocean,
  • early maturation of crops leading to reduced grain size and low yields, and
  • interference with the hatching of eggs in certain fish.

Depletion of Ozone Layer

The ozone layer present in the Earth’s atmosphere prevents the entry of sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiations reaching the Earth’s surface. Industrial use of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigeration, air conditioning, cleaning solvents, fire extinguishers and aerosols (spray cans of perfumes, insecticides, medicines, etc.) damage the ozone layer.

Chlorine contained in the CFCs on reaching the ozone (O3) layer splits the ozone molecule to form oxygen (O2). Amount of ozone, thus, gets reduced and cannot prevent the entry of UV radiations. There has been a reduction by 30-40% in the thickness of the ozone umbrella or shield over the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

Depletion of the ozone layer may lead to the following hazards:

  • Sunburn, fast ageing of skin, cancer of skin, cataract (opaqueness of eye lens leading to loss of vision), cancer of the retina (sensitive layer of the eye on which image is formed)
  • Genetic disorders
  • Reduced productivity at sea and forests

Important Ozone Depleting Chemicals and their uses

Name of the compound Used in
CFCs Refrigeration, aerosol, foam, food freezing, warming devices, cosmetics, heat detectors solvents, cosmetics, refrigerants, firefighting
Halon Firefighting
HCFC-22 Refrigeration, aerosol, foam, fire fighting
Methyl chloroform Solvent
Carbon tetrachloride Solvent

Acid Rain

Acid rain occurs when Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) are emitted into the atmosphere, undergo chemical transformations and are absorbed by water droplets in clouds. This causes the formation of sulphuric and nitric acids in rain clouds. The droplets then fall to Earth as rain, snow or mist. If rain falls through polluted air it picks up more of these gases and increases its acidity. This is called acid rain. This can increase the acidity of the soil, and affect the chemical balance of lakes and streams. Thus, acid rain is defined as any type of precipitation with a pH that is unusually low. A pH of less than about 5 is used as a definition of acid rain. Acid rain is a serious environmental problem that affects large parts of the world.

Sources of Acid Rain

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is generally a byproduct of industrial processes and burning of fossil fuels. Ore smelting, coal-fired power generators and natural gas processing are the main contributors to sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere.

The main source of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions is the combustion of fuels in motor vehicles, residential and commercial furnaces, industrial and electrical- utility boilers and engines, and other equipment.

Effects of Acid Rain

It causes acidification of lakes and streams and contributes to the damage of trees and many sensitive forest soils. Also, acid rain accelerates the decay of building materials and paints, including heritage buildings, statues, and sculptures that are part of our nation’s cultural heritage. Before falling to the Earth, sulphur dioxide  (SO2)  and nitrogen oxide  (NOx)  gases and their particulate matter derivatives; sulphates and nitrates, contribute to visibility degradation and harm public health.

Depletion of Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuel is a term used to describe a group of energy sources that were formed from ancient plants and organisms during the Carboniferous Period, approximately 360 to 286 million years ago, before the age of dinosaurs. Fossil fuels are also called non-renewable energy.

There are three types of fossil Fuels, namely; Coal, Oil and Natural Gases. The reserves of fossil fuels are limited.

Further reading: Natural and Energy Resources

Fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) have, and continue to, play a dominant role in global energy systems. Fossil energy was a fundamental driver of the Industrial Revolution and the technological, social, economic and development progress which has followed. Energy has played a strongly positive role in global change.

However, fossil fuels also have negative impacts, being the dominant source of local air pollution and emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases.

Fossil Fuel Consumption

Fossile Fuels Consumption
Fossile Fuels Consumption

All deposits of fossil fuels are limited either physically or economically, thus making them finite and non-renewable natural resources. Due to the global population rise, there is a growing demand for energy. Countries, which have fossil fuel reserves, are extracting at a high rate either for the use or to sell to the other countries. As we know that fossil fuels can not replenish through human efforts and technology. Hence, the extraction of finite non-renewable resources is at a faster rate, then it will eventually be depleted within 100-150 years (approximately).

Climate Change

Rising fossil fuel burning is increasing quantities of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. These greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrogen dioxide (N2O), and a rise in these gases has caused a rise in the amount of heat from the sun withheld in the Earth’s atmosphere, the heat that would normally be radiated back into space. This increase in heat has led to the greenhouse effect, resulting in climate change.

The main characteristics of climate change are:

  • increases in average global temperature (global warming);
  • changes in cloud cover and precipitation particularly over land;
  • melting of ice caps and glaciers and reduced snow cover, and
  • increases in ocean temperatures and ocean acidity (due to seawater absorbing heat and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere).

Literally ‘Climate Change’ denotes the long-term change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns (e.g. temperature, precipitation etc.) over decades to millions years of time. The climate on Earth has changed on all time scales even since long before human activity could have played a role in its transformation.

UNFCCC defined Climate Change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods”.

And the adverse human activities for example burning fossil fuel, deforestation etc. are considered likely to bring change in some climatic aspects which are briefly presented in the following table Table:

Aspects of Climate Change and perceived implications

(Effect of Human and Environment Interaction)

Climatic Features Implications of Change
Global Warming GHG

concentration

Emission of Green House Gases through industrialization, travelling etc. is increasing the GHG concentration in the atmosphere. At this moment CO2 concentration is at its highest

concentration in 650 000 years – 393 ppm

Change in world temperature GHG concentration along with some other issues leads to warming the world. Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years have occurred since 1981.

Being central to the issue predominantly, Global warming brings

about change in following different features of the human environment

Ozone layer depletion A slow, steady decline of about 4 % per decade in the total volume of ozone in Earth’s stratosphere (the ozone layer) since the late 1970s is estimated which is likely to bring health implications (different cancerous diseases), augmenting extreme weather events (desertification, drought) through opening the curtain that was protecting Earth from hazardous sun rays.
Shrinking ice sheets Greenland lost 150 km3 to 250 km3 (36 mi3 to 60 mi3) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006 and Antarctica lost about 152 km3 (36 mi3) of ice between 2002 and 2005. This, on the other hand, contributing to the next problem sea level rise.
Rise in Sea Level Global sea level rose about 17 cm in the last century. The continual increase is very likely to inundate many island states, low-lying delta regions leaving their population having no land to inhabit.
Ocean Acidification Since 1750 the CO2 content of the Earth’s oceans has been

increasing and it is currently increasing about 2 billion tons per year which have increased ocean acidity by about 30 %.

Warming Oceans With the top 700 m (about 2300 ft) of ocean showing warming of 0.16 degree Celcius since 1969 due to absorbed increased heat of the Earth.

 

Ocean acidification and Warming Oceans, theses two changes are likely to bring massive change/destruction in ocean habitations.

Conclusion

Human and environment interact on a daily basis. The human and environment interaction does not only destroy the environment but also harm themselves for the sake of a better life. Hence, we can say that climate change is an important concern for the world. Human beings should act accordingly to save mother earth and our environment.


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