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Environmental sustainability is a commonly used phrase in discussions surrounding environmental protection, nature conservation and climate change. It is a very important concept to examine and consider when discussing methods of protecting the Earth’s resources, the natural world and reducing greenhouse gas concentrations, which will allow us to ensure a sustainable future for the human population.
Resource depletion is a large issue for the human population, mainly because we require materials for the stability of our society and economy, for present and future technological and economic development, and because depleting resources harms the natural world. Environmental sustainability is essential in order to reduce the depletion of resources, which in turn mitigates many other issues. Using renewable energy is a great example of this, as it uses mostly natural resources –both fossil and nuclear fuels have a shelf life, and if alternatives are not in full use by the time they deplete, a global energy crisis will present a huge problem for future generations. Another example is sustainable forestry, which ensures that forests are harvested at a slow rate so that they can grow back, and that trees are replanted, preventing a shortage of wood. Promoting the recycling of materials dependent on resources that are finite, such as plastic, which relies on crude oil, is an additional way of promoting environmental sustainability. Reducing and depleting resources such as these will have many negative consequences for future generations, and for their technological and economic development.
Ignoring commitments to environmental sustainability also has bad impacts on both human health and the natural world. According to the World Health Organisation, 23% of deaths can be traced back to avoidable environmental factors; a large proportion of these are caused by air, water and soil pollution. Sources of this include the unnecessary burning of woodland, fossil fuels or other materials, which emit large levels of smoke and sulphuric dioxide into the air, as well as the runoff of chemical fertiliser from farmland and chemicals from industrial activity into water supplies and the soil. Non-environmentally sustainable practices also have terrible effects on the natural world. Rampant deforestation severely reduces the rich biodiversity of woodland areas, disrupting many natural ecosystems, whereas crop farming, despite being essential, has similar and large impacts on the natural world as well. Agricultural impacts on the environment would be reduced by limiting our dependence on meat, as livestock requires grain, as well as pursuing more sustainable and non-chemical methods of fertilising the soil.
Environmental sustainability is also essential as it reduces Greenhouse Gas emissions, in particular the amounts of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels, which are still widely used to power homes, industry and transport, releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide – using more renewable and thus sustainable methods of producing energy would massively reduce these emissions. Revisiting the example of deforestation, cutting down trees also adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, through both the subsequent burning of tree matter, and by removing a large carbon absorber. This further emphasises the requirement for forestry that is environmentally sustainable.
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