The Sea of Aral was the world’s fourth largest body of fresh water, spanning 66,000 square kilometers on the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Its surrounding climate was moderate and pleasant, and the variety of animals living around and in it was tremendous. In the 1960’s the Soviet government decided to divert the waters of the two primary rivers leading to the Sea and aim them south in order to irrigate vast desert areas designated for cultivating cotton and rice. The Sea of Aral dried up almost completely. All marine craft movement stopped, most of the fish and vegetation died out and the ecosystem that relied on the sea collapsed. The local population, over 30 million people, lost their livelihood and their access to water, and to this day suffers from a high rate of mortality and severe illness as a result of severe air and ground water pollution.
Scientists estimate that in recent years, global warming has exacerbated the severity and length of droughts all over the world by 15-20%. The severe dryness causes massive damage to agricultural crops, creates forest fires, leads to a decline in the river and lake levels, and is responsible for the death of millions of animals and trees. One third of Earth’s land today is classified as desert. An increase of 2 degrees Centigrade in the global temperature will cause another 20-30% to become desert. If the current trend continues, by 2025, one third of the world’s population will suffer from water shortage.
- Extinction of Species
Ivory trading is the primary cause for extinction of wild elephants. To obtain the tusks, which are used for decorative purposes, and to reap the horns of rhinoceroses, which are used for traditional medicine, one thousand rhinoceroses a year and one hundred elephants a day are killed in Africa alone. Elephants are hunted with axes, knives, automatic weapons, sometimes even by shooting from helicopters. At times the hunters cut the ivory from the elephants’ heads while they are still alive, leaving them to die slowly and painfully. Gangs that trade in ivory often also trade in weapons, drugs, and human organs.
The extinction of species is a natural part of evolution, but today – due to human activity centering on pollution, urbanization, deforestation, and illegal poaching – species are becoming extinct at a rate faster than the evolution of new species, and 1,000 faster than the rate in the past, with the variety of species dwindling.
- Oil Spills
The “Deepwater Horizon” spill that took place in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is classified as the largest oil spill in history. It began when an underwater oil well exploded, leading to an explosion on a drilling dock and the death of 11 people. BP made several failed attempts to plug the well, but the oil kept flowing from the well for over 85 days, causing a massive environmental catastrophe. In an oil spill in the ocean, oil and grease stains appear, causing damage to fish, seaweed, corals, marine mammals, tortoises and sea fowl. The damage is caused by a combination of poisoning, blindness and asphyxiation, and appears in a large percent of the creatures exposed to the pollution, even if they have been cleaned. Additional damage is caused to ecosystems in the sea and the shores, which may last long after the spill is plugged. Oil spills on land lead to the pollution of rivers, ground water, and land.
- Forest Fires
The forest fire “Thomas”, which raged in a few areas in Southern California, was the largest in the state’s history. Over 700 homes were ruined in the fire, which lasted for several weeks and decimated an area larger than those of New York, Brussels, and Paris combined. Forest fires also have natural causes, but climate change has contributed to their increase: continued droughts lead to large amounts of dry trees that are easily flammable, and the water shortage encourages the growth of dry weeds among the trees, which help the fire spread quickly. The majority of California’s largest forest fires have been documented in this century – seven since 2000.
- Melting of Glaciers
Global warming has led to a more rapid melting of glaciers and to the decline of glaciers worldwide, which has an adverse effect on many species of animals, including polar bears, who have trouble hunting due to the lack of ice. In addition, it also leads to extreme climate-related events in the northern hemisphere, leading to rising water levels, which could lead in the future to the flooding of low coastal regions such as Bangladesh, Jakarta, and Miami, and to millions of climate refugees.
Hurricane “Irma”, which took place in August of 2017, was the strongest hurricane ever measured in the Atlantic Ocean in terms of wind force. Irma took a death toll of dozens of casualties in the Caribbean and the USA, and its damage was estimated at $62 billion. It is unclear whether global warming has caused an increase in the frequency of hurricanes, but there are growing testimonies to the fact that it exacerbates their intensity.
- The Meat Industry
In 2006, the UN published a report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, describing the ruinous environmental effects of the animal-based food industry. According to the report, this industry plays a very significant role in destruction of the land, climate change, air pollution, water pollution, water shortage, and decreasing of biodiversity. In addition, the livestock industry is the second or third most significant factor in environmental damage in the world. Massive areas of rain forest are cleared every year to make room for growing feed like soy or corn and for pasture, and this industry is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide – more than all the vehicles in the world together.
Deforestation is the destruction of natural rain forests through massive clearing of trees or burning of trees in forest areas in order to use them as fuel or raw materials for products, or in order to use the cleared land for agriculture, pasture or settlement. Destruction of forests without sufficient and correct reforestation leads to the destruction of habitats and ecosystems, to the extinction of species and to the reduction in biodiversity. Areas that have been deforested usually undergo a significant erosion of soil and its nutrients, and soon become arid or desert. This process leads to floods, loss of drinking water, and desertification. Deforestation is one of the central reasons for the exacerbation of the greenhouse effect and global warming.
- Palm Oil
Since the end of the 20th century there has been a significant increase in the demand for palm oil, which comprises one third of the vegetable oil consumption in the world. As a result, the exporting countries deforested vast areas of an old tropical forest to plant oil palm trees. Deforestation for the purpose of producing palm oil is one of the key cases for the disappearance of tropical forests, which are home to a vast variety of animals, including the orangutan in Borneo, the Sumatran tiger and the Asian rhino, which are in peril of extinction. Moreover, some of the palm oil corporations exploit local villagers, taking their land and turning them into slaves of these huge organizations, while simultaneously introducing an accelerated and destructive modernism in their midst, leading to consequences such as violence, alcoholism and suicide. Also, palm plantations are more flammable than natural forests in dry weather. In 2006 alone there were over 40,000 fires in palm plantations in Southeast Asia.
The thawing of the arctic ice shelf causes climate systems to remain in one place for a long time. Thus, on one night in 2017, Colombia experienced two weeks’ worth of rain, which caused a flood and mudslides leading to hundreds of victims and mass destruction. Global warming causes floods in other ways, including increased sea levels and stronger winds during storms, which leads to flooding.
- Mass Death Events
Events of mass mortality are events where a large number of individuals of one species die within a short time span. Such an event may place a certain species in danger of extinction and undermine ecosystems. The causes of these events are usually related to human activity: disease, pollution, and extreme climate change resulting from global warming. For instance, in January of 2018, over 400 flying fox bats died in one day, of fatigue and dehydration, when the temperature in Southeast Sydney reached 47.3 degrees centigrade, an 80 year record high. In March this year, 150 whales were beached at Hamlin bay, also in Australia. Scientists believe this is because of seawater pollution, sonar operated by humans and other underwater noise, e.g. oil drilling, that tamper with the marine mammals’ ability to navigate, bringing them to shore in large groups, where they are usually unable to return to the water, and die.
- Air Pollution
Air pollution is a health hazard that also causes environmental damage such as acid rain, thinning of the ozone layer, and global warning. In 2012, the Global Health Organization estimated that air pollution was the cause of 7 million deaths per year, and the cause of death of one in eight humans.