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At the end of the 20th century, humanity began to realize what may happen in the future if nothing is done to protect and save nature.  That is why the modern ecologists are constantly working on the development of various strategies and tactics in order to prevent the global disaster. Scientists state that people are part of nature; thus, their existence primarily depends on the proper functioning of all natural systems.  Mankind should recognize the need to counter the causes of the destruction of nature and not only to struggle with the already existing effects. Environmental laws combine biological as well as social human life. The thing is that, with the deepening of the ecological crisis, the social well-being has worsened greatly. The world’s most prominent scholars objectively indicated that the raw materials and food crises as well as different environmental issues were not temporary phenomena. Their growth poses some very serious challenges for the whole humanity. Thus, the main aim of this research paper is to examine the environmental issues facing the modern society. Besides, some possible solutions to these problems will be identified. In addition, the actions that are already taken to protect the environment will be analyzed.

Throughout its history, humanity relied on the “nature destruction” form of management. It means that people did a lot to exhaust nature and less to enrich it. Today, scientists state that there are only three possible options of the further human civilization development. First, it is a technocratic way. It presupposes the further consumption of natural resources. In its turn, it will cause the soil depletion, air and water pollution, increase in population etc. In essence, it is a recipe for disaster. The catastrophe will be inevitable as people will have neither energy nor resources to create an artificial biosphere. The second option presupposes some major changes in the society development strategy. People should use only clean technologies; alternative agriculture should be practice, and there should be a decrease in the use of resources.   It is also necessary to control the birth rate and self-needs on the planet. Moreover, a universal disarmament is also needed. The third option is intermediate and considered one of the most suitable today. It presupposes a gradual change from the technocratic to the ecological development of society. The thing is that the needs of the global community are very selfish and limitless. Scientists state that the humanity will be able to continue development only when people adopt a more environmentally conscious way of life.  Today, every member of the global community should understand that to save the environment means to save the planet and, thus, to save the future.

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Since the ancient times, people perceived the world as the whole entity. However, back then, there were not so many environmental problems as one may observe today. Due to the low technical level, the weak science development, the lack of widespread use of chemicals, and a small planet population, environment was not as endangered as it is now.

On the verge of the 18th and 19th centuries, a German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt was the first person who realized the need for a comprehensive assessment of natural systems.  He explained close connections between the humanity and the natural environment. Humboldt devoted all his life to studying of environmental issues. Furthermore, he has written more than 600 works that had given impetus to the development of geology, hydrology, soil science, and climatology. However, a German scientist, Ernst Haeckel was the founder of ecology in its present form.  He defined the ecology as the science that studies the general economy of nature. Haeckel also introduced the term “ecology”. There were also a lot of other scholars who have been studying the environmental issues.

In the first half of the 20th century, Vasily Dokuchaev created a soil doctrine.  In 1948, a British scientist A. Tensli, introduced the ecosystem concept and explained its essence.  A Soviet scientist Vernadsky also takes a prominent place in the history of ecology. He introduced some totally new notions, such as biosphere and noosphere. The monographs of the American scientist J. Odum probably made the greatest impact on the formation of the modern ecology. 

Today, the world has already faced many environmental issues. Sandra Ketcham enumerated some of the most important modern environmental concerns, which include: “contamination of drinking water, water pollution, soil contamination, wildlife conservation, air pollution, biological pollutants, carbon footprint, climate change, consumerism, dams, ecosystem, energy conservation, fishing, food safety, genetic engineering, intensive farming, land degradation,  land use, logging, mining, nanotechnology, natural disasters, nuclear issues, overpopulation, ozone depletion, resource depletion, sustainable communities, toxins, and waste”.

Every day, people drink a lot of water. However, the majority of it is not drinkable at all. It is contaminated. In most cases, contamination of fresh water is not visible for people, as contaminants dissolve in it. However, there are some exceptions, such as foaming detergents, oil and raw sewage. There are also a few natural pollutants. For example, some aluminum components get into water as a result of chemical reactions. Floods also wash out the magnesium out of the meadows, causing a great damage to fish.  However, the amount of natural contaminants is too small compared with man activities. Annually, thousands of chemicals fall into the water basins. Most of them have an unpredictable effect on the people’s health. Many of them are new. Some toxic heavy metals (such as cadmium, mercury, lead, chromium, etc.), pesticides, nitrates, phosphates, petroleum and surfactants can be easily detected in water.  In addition, more than 12 million tons of oil is thrown out in seas and oceans annually. 

Acid rains also make their contribution to the increase and concentration of the heavy metals in water. They dissolve the minerals in the soil, which, in its turn, leads to water contamination. Due to nuclear power plants, a lot of radioactive wastes get in the water circle. According to the World Health Organization, water-related diseases include:

  • “those due to micro-organisms and chemicals in water people drink;
  • diseases like schistosomiasis which have part of their lifecycle in water;
  • diseases like malaria with water-related vectors;
  • drowning and some injuries;
  • and others such as legionellosis carried by aerosols containing certain micro-organisms”.

For instance, in Great Britain, farmers annually use more than 2,5 million tons of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Moreover, a substantial part of those fertilizers get into the fresh water. Some of them are persistent organic compounds that enter the food chain and cause environmental problems.

Air pollution is another very serious problem facing the society. Nowadays, many people live and breathe in places where the air is highly polluted. As a result, they suffer from headaches, lung cancer, depression, etc. Furthermore, such air greatly influences children.  American Academy of Pediatrics (2004) asserted that:

Children and infants are among the most susceptible to many of the air pollutants. In addition to associations between air pollution and respiratory symptoms, asthma exacerbations, and asthma hospitalizations, recent studies have found links between air pollution and preterm birth, infant mortality, deficits in lung growth, and possibly, development of asthma.

Today, the main air pollutants are:

  1. Natural (volcanic eruptions, forest and grassland fires, dust, pollen, animal wastes, etc.);
  2. Man-maid (anthropogenic), which, in its turn, can be divided into several groups:

2.1. Transportation (those are pollutants generated by the road, rail, air, sea and river transport);

2.2. Production (pollutants created from industrial processes, heating);

2.3. Household (pollutants appearing from the recycling of household waste).

The problem of air pollution has become a constant one since the beginning of the industrial revolution (over 300 years ago). Some scientists state that the standards for the amount of main air pollutants are constantly exceeded in many major cities. However, there are some countries that have done much to prevent industrial pollution and substantially increase the air quality in their cities.  

Furthermore, with every passing year, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is constantly increasing. It caused the greenhouse effect problem, which results in increase of temperature all over the planet.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency (2012) states:

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities. In 2010, CO2 accounted for about 84% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Carbon dioxide is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the Earth's carbon cycle (the natural circulation of carbon among the atmosphere, oceans, soil, plants, and animals). Human activities are altering the carbon cycle--both by adding more CO2 to the atmosphere and by influencing the ability of natural sinks, like forests, to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Today, China takes the first place in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide emissions (21.5%). The second place is taken by the United States of America (20.3%), and on the third place is Russia -5.5%.

If nothing is done, the temperature on our planet can increase by 3 ± 1, 5 °C. The minimum warming occurs in the polar areas and the maximum - near the equator. Glaciers will also continue to melt. Consequently, the sea level will raise by 0.5 cm each year. Apart from that, today, acid rains have already become a common phenomenon. They fall all over the Europe, North America as well as Asia and Latin America.  Acid rains occur because of sulfur and nitrogen increase in the atmosphere. It is caused by the constant burning of fossil fuels in different stationary installations and motor vehicles. Acid rains cause great damage to buildings, monuments, and metal structures. They also provoke digression and destruction of forests, reduce the yield of many crops, impair soil fertility, etc.

The amount of waste products is rapidly increasing. Industrial and municipal solid waste is a serious practical problem for many governments as well as local authorities. Industrial waste, by its volume, is smaller, but it contains a lot of hazardous materials such as toxic chemicals, flammable liquids, and asbestos. Although the total amount of industrial waste is less than the total amount of domestic waste, its disposal presents a more serious problem than it is the case with the usual household waste.

Emergence of hazardous waste has become a worldwide major problem. Land contamination occurs when the dangerous wastes pollute the land and ground waters. It happens mainly because of improper and irresponsible utilization. Neglected places of waste dumping are especially serious and costly problem for every society. Often hazardous wastes are disposed of illegally. It is very dangerous. In most cases, businessmen simply cannot find a cheaper way of getting rid of them. These wastes greatly affect the person’s health and increase the risk of cancer. According to Greenberg & Bederman, LLP:

The following are specific examples of the potential harm that soil contamination can cause. For example, chlorine solvents can cause kidney damage, liver damage, and central nervous system damage. Some pesticides are known to cause cancer. Benzene in sufficient amounts is reportedly associated with the occurrence of leukemia. Lead is reportedly dangerous for children and can cause damage to the brain and kidneys. In fact, some chemicals that cause soil contamination can even cause a person to die.

The global ecosystem is also in danger due to the fast industrialization and extensive agriculture. Today, extensive drainage has changed the natural water flow and ruined the everglade ecosystem. As a result, thousands of plants and animals are endangered or on the brink of extinction. The main reason of negative changes is improper water management. In Florida, the majority of water has always been soaked in the vast wetlands. In the last century, a massive canal system was built there. It led to a very prompt water drain. Every day, more than 1, 7 billion gallons of water fall into the gulf and ocean. As a result, there is not enough water left for the environment. Ecologists state that ecosystem will hardly recover if nothing is done on the human part in the future.

Thus, today many scientists claim that, in order to fight all environmental problems, the mankind has to do the following:

  • Unite humanity around common environmental goals and objectives;
  • Create a single informational network;
  • Provide freedom in decision implementation in order to change the environment though the unrestricted access to the resources and energy;
  • Secure equality and high welfare of all members of society;
  • Eliminate wars.

Unfortunately, not all requirements are met in the modern world. Humanity is currently in a phase of unsustainable development. Very often, internal conflicts hinder the solution of the main global problems. The world community needs a common concept of survival. It is also very important to increase the people’s awareness as well as extend their participation in order to find some reasonable solutions aimed at saving the civilization and environment. Education is the best way to achieve this goal. It helps to realize and develop the environmental and ethical norms, values, skills and lifestyles. All of these are needed to ensure the sustainable development of society.

Stapp et al. (1997) explained the main objectives of the environmental education. They are:

  1. A clear understanding that a man is an inseparable part of a system, consisting of man, culture, and the biophysical environment, and that man has the ability to alter the interrelationships of this system.
  2. A broad understanding of the biophysical environment, both natural and man-made, and its role in contemporary society.
  3. A fundamental understanding of the biophysical environmental problems confronting man, how these problems can be solved, and the responsibility of citizens and government to work toward their solution.
  4. Attitudes of concern for the quality of the biophysical environment, which will motivate citizens to participate in biophysical environmental problem-solving.

Countries should also provide all educational institutions with materials raising environmental problems. The scientific environmental literature should be of easy access so that people could continue the further environment studying and learn about its conservation and improvement.

Particular attention should be also paid to the future leaders of industry, agriculture, transportation, and other spheres of human activities. It is also very important to create schools and community organizations that would implement the policies aimed at the environment protection, drinking water control, and industrial sanitation. The media should also play a vital role in solving such problems. It has to propagandize the environmental values and their importance to human life.

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