Ecological Challenges


 Sources must be cited in APA format. Your response should be four (4) pages in length.

Carefully study and review the section titled, “Ecological Challenges Facing Humanity.” Skim through that and then focus on the topic of deforestation.

Using your own words, write a short descriptive essay that defines and explains selected environmental impacts of deforestation. As you write, imagine you are talking to a friend who has no knowledge of this topic. In short, write the way you speak, using a conversational tone. Also, try to alternate short sentences and longer sentences to make your writing more readable.

Be sure to create a title and cite yourself as the author. 

For example:

                                         Environmental Impacts of Deforestation
                                                                     Jennifer Croft

Your essay should include five paragraphs, as follows:

  • Paragraph 1 is your lead paragraph. It will contain an overview of what you have to say about these three topics: disruption of the carbon cycle, disruption of the hydrologic (water) cycle, and the reduction of species diversity.
  • Paragraphs 2, 3, and 4, are your body paragraphs. 
    • Paragraph 2 should describe how deforestation disrupts the carbon cycle.
    • In paragraph 3, you’ll write about how deforestation disrupts the hydrologic (water) cycle.
    • In paragraph 4, you’ll explain how deforestation is related to declining species diversity.
  • Paragraph 5 is your conclusion paragraph. Here, you can describe how you feel about the three effects of deforestation discussed, and what we might do about it.

It’s permissible to use direct quotes from your reading, but don’t use too many. One to three such quotes should be your limit. Be sure to put a direct quote in quotation marks. For example: According to Smith, “Carbon dioxide is both our friend and our enemy.”



Pollution is the process of making land, water, or air unsafe for life. Pollution of the air, water, and soil is a problem for everyone. For example, in 2014 toxic chemicals were unintentionally spilled into the water supplies of nine counties and the city of Charleston in West Virginia. The culprit was a toxic chemical called 4-methylcyclohexane. The spill may have been an accident but it was still a catastrophe. The government issued a ban on the use of tap water for nine days, which barely made an impact on the ongoing problem. Several hundred people had to be treated in hospitals for chemical exposure over the following weeks. 

Tap water continued to have a peculiar, lingering licorice odor for some time afterward.

Pollution comes from many sources. For example, water pollution can come from oils spills, acid rain, and industrial and farm runoff. These issues also cause problems with soils. Farms that rely on petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, for instance, have destroyed organism-rich topsoil. Meanwhile, air pollution comes from emissions from internal combustion engines. Think about the brown clouds that are often seen over urban centers. (California has been a recent exception; in that state, regulatory action has made urban air more breathable.)

Waste Disposal

Across the globe, the overconsumption of resources has created a crisis associated with waste—garbage—disposal. Developed countries in particular produce an enormous amount of garbage. This garbage is dumped into the oceans or buried in landfills. The disposal of nuclear waste poses a tremendous health hazard. The radiation from nuclear waste dumps can remain toxic and lethal for centuries.

Waste disposal is one of our most serious environmental problems.

Here are examples of a few waste disposal dangers:

  • Chemical spills pose danger to water supplies.
  • Landfills and incinerators dump carcinogens and pollutants into the air. This increases the risks for cancer, asthma, and respiratory disorders.
  • Landfills attract rats, flies, and other carriers of a variety of communicable diseases.
  • Burning waste contributes to the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These gases promote global warming and climate change.

Let’s focus on that last item for a moment. According to one source, “Asia, Latin America, and Africa alone are to blame for about 40 percent of methane emissions every year. That 40 percent is equal to about 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.” Further, experts believe that industrialized nations produce considerably more waste than this. Specifically, “In the United States, each American produces an average of .75 tons of trash every year.” That’s the most waste per person per capita in the world. Europeans are estimated to dispose of about half a ton of trash annually. In Asia, an average person produces .2 tons of trash each year.

Pollution affects everyone, everywhere. Environmental problems in Asia can and do affect North America, Europe, and Africa. For this reason, cooperation among nations is needed to deal with the waste problem.

Consider, for example, Europe leads in the development of environmental technologies. In fact, about 60 percent of environmental discoveries and technologies originate in Europe. Thus, Europeans can play a major role in raising awareness and helping other nations to apply workable solutions. China and India are both high on the list of Asian countries with major pollution problems, including water and air pollution, deforestation, and the loss of biodiversity. Other countries can work with their governments to find workable solutions.

Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl refers to the uncontrolled expansion of urban living areas. Urban sprawl means one thing in developed countries and quite another in developing or underdeveloped countries. In this lesson, we’ll focus on urban sprawl issues as they apply in the United States. The complex issues related to urbanization in the developing world will be considered in future lessons.

In developed countries, urban sprawl occurs when populations move from high-density cities into lower-density surrounding areas. The era of urban sprawl in the United States began during the period of economic prosperity following World War II. It was made possible in large part by the progressive reforms initiated under President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Labor unions were strong, and corporations embraced fair labor practices. There were plenty of good jobs with benefits. The G.I. Bill allowed a whole generation of young men to obtain a college education, and the future looked bright. Consumer demand soared. The philosophy of consumerism soared. The “American Dream” was linked to owning a home, sophisticated appliances, and the latest model of automobile. The rush to the suburbs became a stampede, which came at a serious cost. Let’s look more closely.

Increased Air Pollution

According to the Sierra Club, the typical annual commute from the suburbs to the workplace involves about eight workweeks of 55 hours each. That’s 440 unpaid hours sitting behind the wheel of an automobile. More driving leads to an increase in air pollution, in addition to health risks due to inhaling exhaust fumes and smog.

Overconsumption of Water

Urban sprawl means a larger ecological footprint for people. As people spread out and population density increases, water distribution problems arise. One of these problems is the result of a demand for water to landscaping. According to the EPA, about 30 percent of daily water in the United States is used outdoors. People water their lawns and golf courses, grow flowers and plants, and fill their outdoor pools. Review this site for more details: Understanding Your Own Water Use

Increased Risk of Obesity

According to the Ontario College of Family Physicians and the American Planning Association, life in the suburbs is associated with higher rates of obesity. This can partially be blamed on the consumption of processed foods and fast-food restaurants. However, experts also agree that obesity has risen due to overuse of automobiles for traveling even short distances.

In many places, people in the suburbs must drive to go anywhere. They spend too much time sitting in the car instead of walking where they need to go. In short, too little exercise can lead to an excess of weight on the body.

For more information on the relationship between urban sprawl and obesity, visit these sites:

Obesity is very problematic for people. It increases the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, among other health concerns.

Loss of Wildlife Habitat

Wherever there’s urban sprawl, native wildlife suffers. Today, some 60 percent of native wildlife lives within metropolitan and suburban regions. Some of these species, such as black bears, whitetail deer, skunks, redtail hawks, starlings, and opossums, have adapted to populated environments. Even though these animals lived in suburban areas first, residents often view these species as annoyances. They look for ways to eliminate or minimize them.

For more detail on species endangered by urban sprawl, visit this site: Endangered by Sprawl

The list of threatened and endangered species is quite long. In Virginia alone, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports these numbers on their list of threatened or endangered species:

  • Amphibians and reptiles: 7 (Most of them are species of sea turtles.)
  • Birds: 4 (Example: The red-cockaded woodpecker is endangered because 97 percent of its habitat range has been destroyed.)
  • Fishes: 8 (Example: The Atlantic sturgeon is now listed as engendered throughout the Chesapeake Bay due to overfishing and habitat destruction.)
  • Mammals: 5 (Three of these species are bats coping with habitat destruction.)
  • Mussels and other invertebrates: 31 (Again, in most cases the culprit is habitat destruction.)
  • Plants: 17 (Another result of habitat destruction, especially in the Appalachian highlands.)

Total: 72. And that’s for just one state. Urban sprawl is endangering wildlife all across America.

Artists Speak: Characterizing Urban Sprawl

Sometimes we can better understand the dry statistics of topics like urban sprawl by listening to the voices of the arts, in this case, protest ballads. Recall that advances in technology may be at odds with cultural ideals. Below we’ll get a perspective on the suburbs from an article written by Angie Schmitt:

“The protest movements that have changed the world—for peace, civil rights or labor justice—have always had rallying songs that inspired devotees and informed the masses. The smart growth movement is no exception: sprawl and the general shortcomings of the American suburb have been a favorite theme among musicians ever since the invention of the cul-de-sac.
Rock music … literally teems with songs about loneliness, alienation, disaffection, conformity, overbearing authority, and general malaise as they relate to the modern suburban landscape. And as time has gone on, the cries have only gotten louder.
The first musical rattling of protest began nearly as soon as sprawl itself in the early 1960s. One of the first hits of this genre is Malvina Reynolds’s ‘Little Boxes,’ written in 1962 and made famous by Pete Seeger the following year. More recently, it was picked up by Showtime as the theme song for the suburban melodrama Weeds. Like many of its type, the song dwells on themes of conformity, material excess and spiritual poverty.
Little boxes on the hillside / Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside / Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one / And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky / And they all look just the same.
Another classic is Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi,’ recorded in 1970. The song was inspired by a trip to Hawaii. When Mitchell looked out her hotel window, she saw a beautiful vista, marred by a large parking lot. The trip also . . . included a trip to the Honolulu Botanical Garden, which contained many rare and endangered tropical plants.
They took all the trees / Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people / A dollar and a half just to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot”

Depletion of the Ozone Layer

The ozone layer is found in Earth’s stratosphere. It provides a natural shield against harmful ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun. The ozone layer is composed of ozone gas. In fact, about 90 percent of all ozone in Earth’s atmosphere is found in this layer. (Most of the remaining 10 percent hovers near Earth’s surface as an atmospheric pollutant.) Ozone is important because it provides protection for the planet and allows species—including humans—to thrive. However, it’s also considered a toxic pollutant when it’s close to Earth. Ozone gas is one of the main components of urban smog.

The stratosphere has that name because it’s stratified, or formed in layers. There are higher and lower layers. As one moves upward through the layers of the stratosphere, the atmosphere gets warmer. That’s because heat (energy) gets released as ozone interacts with ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. These interactions essentially “devour” UV radiation.

Starting in the 1970s, scientists noticed the thinning of the ozone layer. This was especially noticeable over Antarctica, where an “ozone hole” was appearing. Note this isn’t an actual hole; rather the ozone at that location is vanishingly thin. In any case, as the ozone situation became known, scientists began to realize that human activity was the root of the problem. Experts identified the main eater of the ozone as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs are chemicals that combine molecules of carbon, chlorine, and fluorine. They’re used for many industrial purposes. However, they’re especially used for refrigerants, plastics production, and as propellants in aerosol cans. As these gases move upward in the stratosphere, they eat away at ozone in the stratosphere.

It’s clear that CFCs are potent greenhouse gases. International agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol seek to replace the use of CFCs with other substances, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). That has helped. The ozone layer is being gradually restored, and one kind of greenhouse gas has been sidelined. On the other hand, HFCs have also been identified as potent greenhouse gases. This raises the question: should plastics be abandoned worldwide? (This makes sense for many reasons, including waste management. Consider that the three “dead zones” in the Pacific Ocean are essentially enormous floating landfills, full of decayed plastics.)

By the way, before you spend time in a tanning bed, think twice. There are two kinds of ultraviolet light, UVB and UVA. UVB causes sunburn and can cause cancers such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. Worse yet, UVB can penetrate the skin of organisms—both plants and animals—and cause permanent DNA damage. However, UVA, which is used in tanning beds, is far from risk-free. It’s now known that UVA can cause melanoma, a deadly skin cancer. UVA also leads to premature aging of the skin.

The ozone layer is linked to another ecological challenge, deforestation, which we’ll cover a little later. In simple terms, trees offset the effects of greenhouse gas emissions by serving as carbon sinks. That is, trees and plants are able to soak up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere while also replenishing oxygen. However, deforestation—the removal of trees—upsets this process. One way to fix the ozone problem is to plant more trees: as many as possible, in as many places as possible. This helps to check global greenhouse emissions and repair the ozone layer.

Acid Rain

Acid rain is produced by burning fuel that includes sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2). Acid rain may arrive as rain. However, it may also arrive in the form of snow, dew, hail, or fog. Acid rain (sometimes called acid precipitation) in any form is damaging to plants, animals, and humans.

How does acid rain form? Gases from burning fuel rise to the high atmosphere. There, they undergo chemical reactions with oxygen, carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight. Through this process, the gases are converted to sulfuric and nitric acids. Eventually, these acids make their way back to the planet in the form of acid rain (or other precipitation). Acid rainfall alters environments in ways that are unfriendly to humans and other living things.

Some acid rain occurs naturally through processes like the rotting of some types of vegetation and volcanic eruptions. However, most acid rain is a result of human activities. Burning coal in electric power plants is a major source of acid rain. According to the EPA, about two-thirds of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in the United States come from electric power generators. Other culprits include motor vehicles and heavy equipment, as well as manufacturing and oil refineries.

In developed countries, high levels of nitrogen oxide emissions are associated with large urban centers. That’s because populations in those areas are dense and auto traffic is heavy. However, where the wind blows, nitrogen oxide follows. For example, heavily polluted air over industrial China can impact the American Midwest. Similar, nitrogen-oxide laden air from American industrial regions can damage the evergreen forests of Europe. Acid rain pollution is a global problem that can be addressed only through global cooperation.

Review the graphic below. It shows how the sources of primary pollutants produce secondary pollutants, which return to the planet’s surface as acid rain.

Acid rain has many negative effects, including the following:

  • Acid rain can cause extensive damage to trees. Damage to leaves can deprive forest soils of nutrients they need. This makes them more vulnerable to environmental stress and disease.
  • Fish and wildlife populations decline in areas impacted by acid rain.
  • Acid rain can alter the chemical properties of soil, impacting agricultural production. Microbiological processes in the soil become less efficient. This reduces the availability of vital nutrients and stunts root system growth.
  • Acidic water passing though water pipes can leach copper and lead into the water supply that people drink. Although this can be somewhat addressed through modern water purification techniques, not everyone has access to water that’s been properly treated. People who depend on well water, for example, may be at risk for toxic effects of the leached metals.
  • Acidic fog can lead to respiratory disorders like asthma. It can also cause eye, ear, and throat irritations. The risks are greatest among the elderly and those with chronic respiratory problems such as emphysema and COPD.
  • All human-made structures tend to deteriorate over time. However, buildings, statues, tombstones, and monuments (especially when crafted from limestone) exposed to acid rain tend to deteriorate at a faster rate. Acid rain also speeds up the process by which metal corrodes, affecting motor vehicles and exposed steel structures.


Humans have been engaging in deforestation practices for a long time in history. Industrialization has marched hand in hand with the clearing of forests. In fact, in the continental United States, about 90 percent of indigenous forests have been destroyed since 1600.

As already noted, most remaining indigenous boreal forests are located in central Canada, Alaska, northern Russia, northern Japan, and northern Mongolia. The largest remaining indigenous tropical forests are found in the northwestern Amazon Basin and in the Guyana Shield of South America. This region includes Guyana, Surinam, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. Other regions with extensive tropical forests include Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, southern India, and the Congo Basin in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Global forests act as carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide while also uploading oxygen into the atmosphere. Carbon sink capacity is vital—and obviously reduced as forests are cleared. This adds heavily to global greenhouse gas production and contributes to global warming. Additionally, trees and other kinds of vegetation emit carbon dioxide when they die.

According to the EPA, the most significant anthropogenic (human-caused) source of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels. The second major cause is deforestation, particularly the destruction of tropical forests. According to NASA, if the current rate of deforestation isn’t curbed radically, the world’s rainforests may be completely destroyed in as few as 100 years.

Deforestation clearly affects the carbon cycle. However, it also disrupts the hydrologic (water) cycle. Trees, especially those in tropical forests, emit water vapor. Global climate is regulated by water vapor in the atmosphere. This vapor is also considered the world’s chief greenhouse gas. Thus, changes to the water cycle inevitably lead to changes in global climate patterns.

Deforestation is also a major factor in the global decline of species diversity. According to the National Geographic Society, some 70 percent of Earth’s plants and animals are impacted by the destruction of native habitats. Some species can adapt to changes in their native habitats. Some may be able to migrate to other locations. But others can’t adapt and become extinct.

Finally, deforestation leads to soil erosion. Tree roots serve as anchors. When these roots are destroyed, soil may be washed or blown away. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), upward of one-third of the planet’s arable land has been lost to deforestation just since 1960. Part of the problem is clear-cutting forests to grow cash crops like coffee, palm oil, and soy. These crops don’t have root systems capable of anchoring the soil. That makes erosion more likely.

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