Environmental issues

Environmental issues are effects of human activity on the biophysical environment, most often of which are harmful effects that cause environmental degradation.[1] Environmental protection is the practice of protecting the natural environment on the individual, organizational or governmental levels, for the benefit of both the environment and humans. Environmentalism is a social and environmental movement that addresses environmental issues through advocacy, legislation education, and activism.[2]

Water pollution is an environmental issue that affects many water bodies. This photograph shows foam on the New River as it enters the United States from Mexico.

Environment destruction caused by humans is a global, ongoing problem. Water pollution also cause problems to marine life. Most scholars think that the project peak global world population of between 9-10 billion people, could live sustainably within the earth's ecosystems if human society worked to live sustainably within planetary boundaries.[3][4][5] The bulk of environmental impacts are caused by the most wealthy populations in the globe consuming too much industrial goods.[6][7][8] The UN Environmental Program, in its "Making Peace With Nature" Report in 2021, found addressing key planetary crises, like pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss, was achievable if parties work to address the Sustainable Development Goals.[9]


Major current environmental issues may include climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, and resource depletion. The conservation movement lobbies for protection of endangered species and protection of any ecologically valuable natural areas, genetically modified foods and global warming. The UN system has adopted international frameworks for environmental issues in three key issues, which has been encoded as the "triple planetary crises": climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss.[10]


Eighty-plus years after the abandonment of Wallaroo Mines (Kadina, South Australia), mosses remain the only vegetation at some spots of the site's grounds.

Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as quality of air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems; habitat destruction; the extinction of wildlife; and pollution. It is defined as any change or disturbance to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.[11]

Environmental concerns can be defined as the negative effects of any human activity on the environment. The biological as well as the physical features of the environment are included. Some of the primary environmental challenges that are causing great worry are air pollution, water pollution, natural environment pollution, rubbish pollution, and so on.[12]

Environmental degradation is one of the ten threats officially cautioned by the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change of the United Nations. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction defines environmental degradation as "the reduction of the capacity of the environment to meet social and ecological objectives, and needs".[13] Environmental degradation comes in many types. When natural habitats are destroyed or natural resources are depleted, the environment is degraded. Efforts to counteract this problem include environmental protection and environmental resources management. Mismanagement that leads to degradation can also lead to environmental conflict where communities organize in opposition to the forces that mismanaged the environment.


Hambach Forest protest against coal mine expansion

Environmental conflicts or ecological distribution conflicts (EDCs) are social conflicts caused by environmental degradation or by unequal distribution of environmental resources.[14][15][16] The Environmental Justice Atlas documented 3,100 environmental conflicts worldwide as of April 2020 and emphasised that many more conflicts remained undocumented.[14] Parties involved in these conflicts include locally affected communities, states, companies and investors, and social or environmental movements;[17][18] typically environmental defenders are protecting their homelands from resource extraction or hazardous waste disposal.[14] Such activities create resource scarcities (such as by overfishing or deforestation), pollute the environment, and degrade the living space for humans and nature, resulting in conflict.[19]

Frequently environmental conflicts focus on environmental justice issues, the rights of indigenous people, the rights of peasants, or threats to communities whose livelihoods are dependent on the ocean.[14] Outcomes of local conflicts are increasingly influenced by trans-national environmental justice networks that comprise the global environmental justice movement.[14][20]

Environmental conflict can complicate response to natural disaster or exacerbate existing conflicts  especially in the context of geopolitical disputes or where communities have been displaced to create environmental migrants.[21][16][19]

The terms socio-environmental conflict, environmental conflict, or EDCs are sometimes used interchangeably. The study of these conflicts is related to the fields of ecological economics, political ecology, and environmental justice.




Environmental justice is a social movement to address the unfair exposure of poor and marginalized communities to harms from hazardous waste, resource extraction, and other land uses.[22] The movement has generated hundreds of studies showing that exposure to environmental harms is inequitably distributed.[23]

The global environmental justice movement arises from place-based environmental conflicts in which local environmental defenders frequently confront multi-national corporations in resource extraction or other industries. Local outcomes of these conflicts are increasingly influenced by trans-national environmental justice networks.[24][25]

The movement began in the United States in the 1980s and was heavily influenced by the American civil rights movement. The original conception of environmental justice in the 1980s focused on harms to marginalised racial groups within rich countries such as the United States and was framed as environmental racism. The movement was later expanded to consider gender, international environmental discrimination, and inequalities within disadvantaged groups. As the movement achieved some success in more affluent countries, environmental burdens have shifted to the Global South (as for example through extractivism or the global waste trade). The movement for environmental justice has thus become more global, with some of its aims now being articulated by the United Nations.

Environmental justice scholars have produced a large interdisciplinary body of social science literature that includes political ecology, contributions to environmental law, and theories on justice and sustainability.[22][26]


Environmental law is a collective term encompassing aspects of the law that provide protection to the environment.[27] A related but distinct set of regulatory regimes, now strongly influenced by environmental legal principles, focus on the management of specific natural resources, such as forests, minerals, or fisheries. Other areas, such as environmental impact assessment, may not fit neatly into either category, but are nonetheless important components of environmental law.


Levels of air pollution rose during the Industrial Revolution, sparking the first modern environmental laws to be passed in the mid-19th century.

The environmental movement (sometimes referred to as the ecology movement), also including conservation and green politics, is a diverse philosophical, social, and political movement for addressing environmental issues. Environmentalists advocate the just and sustainable management of resources and stewardship of the environment through changes in public policy and individual behaviour. In its recognition of humanity as a participant in (not enemy of) ecosystems, the movement is centered on ecology, health, and human rights.

The environmental movement is an international movement, represented by a range of organizations, from enterprises to grassroots and varies from country to country. Due to its large membership, varying and strong beliefs, and occasionally speculative nature, the environmental movement is not always united in its goals. The movement also encompasses some other movements with a more specific focus, such as the climate movement. At its broadest, the movement includes private citizens, professionals, religious devotees, politicians, scientists, nonprofit organizations, and individual advocates.


Environmental issues are addressed at a regional, national or international level by government organizations.

The largest international agency, set up in 1972, is the United Nations Environment Programme. The International Union for Conservation of Nature brings together 83 states, 108 government agencies, 766 Non-governmental organizations and 81 international organizations and about 10,000 experts, scientists from countries around the world.[28] International non-governmental organizations include Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and World Wide Fund for Nature. Governments enact environmental policy and enforce environmental law and this is done to differing degrees around the world.

Film and television

There are an increasing number of films being produced on environmental issues, especially on climate change and global warming. Al Gore's 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth gained commercial success and a high media profile.

See also


Specific issues


  1. "The Effects Of Human Activity On The Biophysical Environment | Bartleby". www.bartleby.com. Retrieved 2022-06-15.
  2. Eccleston, Charles H. (2010). Global Environmental Policy: Concepts, Principles, and Practice. Chapter 7. ISBN 978-1439847664.
  3. Alberro, Heather. "Why we should be wary of blaming 'overpopulation' for the climate crisis". The Conversation. Retrieved 2020-12-31.
  4. "David Attenborough's claim that humans have overrun the planet is his most popular comment". www.newstatesman.com. 4 November 2020. Retrieved 2021-08-03.
  5. "Dominic Lawson: The population timebomb is a myth The doom-sayers are becoming more fashionable just as experts are coming to the view it has all been one giant false alarm". The Independent. UK. 18 January 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
  6. Nässén, Jonas; Andersson, David; Larsson, Jörgen; Holmberg, John (2015). "Explaining the Variation in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Between Households: Socioeconomic, Motivational, and Physical Factors". Journal of Industrial Ecology. 19 (3): 480–489. doi:10.1111/jiec.12168. ISSN 1530-9290. S2CID 154132383.
  7. Moser, Stephanie; Kleinhückelkotten, Silke (2017-06-09). "Good Intents, but Low Impacts: Diverging Importance of Motivational and Socioeconomic Determinants Explaining Pro-Environmental Behavior, Energy Use, and Carbon Footprint". Environment and Behavior. 50 (6): 626–656. doi:10.1177/0013916517710685. ISSN 0013-9165. S2CID 149413363.
  8. Lynch, Michael J.; Long, Michael A.; Stretesky, Paul B.; Barrett, Kimberly L. (2019-05-15). "Measuring the Ecological Impact of the Wealthy: Excessive Consumption, Ecological Disorganization, Green Crime, and Justice". Social Currents. 6 (4): 377–395. doi:10.1177/2329496519847491. ISSN 2329-4965. S2CID 181366798.
  9. Environment, U. N. (2021-02-11). "Making Peace With Nature". UNEP - UN Environment Programme. Retrieved 2022-02-18.
  10. "SDGs will address 'three planetary crises' harming life on Earth". UN News. 2021-04-27. Retrieved 2022-02-18.
  11. Johnson, D.L., S.H. Ambrose, T.J. Bassett, M.L. Bowen, D.E. Crummey, J.S. Isaacson, D.N. Johnson, P. Lamb, M. Saul, and A.E. Winter-Nelson. 1997. Meanings of environmental terms. Journal of Environmental Quality 26: 581–589.
  12. Types of Environmental Issues
  13. "ISDR : Terminology". The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. 2004-03-31. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  14. Scheidel, Arnim; Del Bene, Daniela; Liu, Juan; Navas, Grettel; Mingorría, Sara; Demaria, Federico; Avila, Sofía; Roy, Brototi; Ertör, Irmak; Temper, Leah; Martínez-Alier, Joan (2020-07-01). "Environmental conflicts and defenders: A global overview". Global Environmental Change. 63: 102104. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2020.102104. ISSN 0959-3780. PMC 7418451. PMID 32801483.
  15. Lee, James R. (2019-06-12), "What is a field and why does it grow? Is there a field of environmental conflict?", Environmental Conflict and Cooperation, Routledge, pp. 69–75, doi:10.4324/9781351139243-9, ISBN 978-1-351-13924-3, S2CID 198051009, retrieved 2022-02-18
  16. Libiszewski, Stephan. "What is an Environmental Conflict?." Journal of Peace Research 28.4 (1991): 407-422.
  17. Cardoso, Andrea (December 2015). "Behind the life cycle of coal: Socio-environmental liabilities of coal mining in Cesar, Colombia". Ecological Economics. 120: 71–82. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2015.10.004.
  18. Orta-Martínez, Martí; Finer, Matt (December 2010). "Oil frontiers and indigenous resistance in the Peruvian Amazon". Ecological Economics. 70 (2): 207–218. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.04.022.
  19. Mason, Simon; Spillman, Kurt R (2009-11-17). "Environmental Conflicts and Regional Conflict Management". WELFARE ECONOMICS AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT – Volume II. EOLSS Publications. ISBN 978-1-84826-010-8.
  20. Martinez Alier, Joan; Temper, Leah; Del Bene, Daniela; Scheidel, Arnim (2016). "Is there a global environmental justice movement?". Journal of Peasant Studies. 43 (3): 731–755. doi:10.1080/03066150.2016.1141198. S2CID 156535916.
  21. "Environment, Conflict and Peacebuilding". International Institute for Sustainable Development. Retrieved 2022-02-18.
  22. Schlosberg, David. (2007) Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and Nature. Oxford University Press.
  23. Malin, Stephanie (June 25, 2019). "Environmental justice and natural resource extraction: intersections of power, equity and access". Environmental Sociology. 5 (2): 109–116. doi:10.1080/23251042.2019.1608420. S2CID 198588483 via Taylor and Francis.
  24. Scheidel, Arnim (July 2020). "Environmental conflicts and defenders: A global overview". Global Environmental Change. 63: 102104. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2020.102104. PMC 7418451. PMID 32801483.
  25. Martinez Alier, Joan; Temper, Leah; Del Bene, Daniela; Scheidel, Arnim (2016). "Is there a global environmental justice movement?". Journal of Peasant Studies. 43 (3): 731–755. doi:10.1080/03066150.2016.1141198. S2CID 156535916.
  26. Miller, G. Tyler Jr. (2003). Environmental Science: Working With the Earth (9th ed.). Pacific Grove, California: Brooks/Cole. p. G5. ISBN 0-534-42039-7.
  27. Phillipe Sands (2003) Principles of International Environmental Law. 2nd Edition. p. xxi Available at Accessed 19 February 2020
  28. "About". IUCN. 2014-12-03. Retrieved 2017-05-20.
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