Environment

Eight Reasons Our Changing World Will Turn You Into an Environmentalist, Like It or Not

The challenges our society faces with depleted energy resources, water shortages, soaring food costs all point to environmental solutions.
Many of the bigger challenges we will be forced to address in the 21st century have major environmental implications. On many of these issues, there are opportunities to choose more sustainable and ecologically friendly ways of life. For example, if, as experts warn, that oil demand will soon outstrip our available, dwindling supply, then our petro-dependent society will change along with it. It's a chance to pursue cleaner and more efficient methods of using energy -- switching from cars to public transport, and going from oil to solar and wind.

AlterNet picked eight topics -- water, global warming, food, health, energy, pollution, consumption and corporations -- that pose real dangers to the future of human life and selected a series of recent essays that illustrate these problems, along with links to organizations and further resources that address these issues. (Please use the comment section to share other articles and resources on these issues. )

1. Water

The world is quickly running out of freshwater. Thanks to global warming, pollution, population growth, and privatization, we are teetering on the edge of a global crisis, AlterNet editor Tara Lohan writes in "Our Drinkable Water Supply Is Vanishing." While many point to techno-fixes like desalination as a solution, Scott Thill debunks that myth in "Will the World's Oceans Be Our Next Drinking Tap?" Thill writes that although desalination plants are popping up all over the world, they may very well make the environmental crisis worse. It's not all bad news, though. A growing movement is helping take on part of the problem -- corporate control. In "The Bottled Water Backlash," Michael Blanding explains how the bottled water industry is on the defensive as restaurant owners and cities are canceling their bottled water contracts and advocating for tap.

To find out more about what you can do to turn this crisis around visit:

2. Global Warming

The effects of our planet's rising temperature is liable to wreak havoc on the environment, the economy and communities. How close are we to the precipice? Steve Connor lays it all out in his article "Global Warming: Nine Things that Will Put us Over the Edge," which identifies what scientists see as the most pressing "tipping points." As people have begun to wake up to the reality, we've some good and some not-so-good plans for tackling the problem. One of the most popular has been carbo offset. But are they really all they're cracked up to be? In "The Great Carbon Con: Can Offsetting Really Help Save the Planet?" Sophie Morris explains how celebrities and politicians are falling over each other to advocate plant-a-tree conservationism as a salve to global warming, but it falls far short of what we need. So what do we need? A movement for change. In his story "Is the World Making Progress on Fighting Global Warming?" Tom Athanasiou writes about the latest attempts at international negotiations and what we need to accomplish in the next two years.

Here are some organizations with solutions that are being put into practice.

3. Food

The rising cost of food -- especially staples like rice, corn and wheat -- as a result of soaring energy prices, the rise of the biofuel industry and growing demand as a result of population growth is leading to food shortages across the planet. The agribusiness model of raising livestock is also a major contributor to greenhouse gases. In "Face It, We All Aren't Going to Become Vegetarians," George Monbiot argues it's better for the planet to avoid eating meat, but the reality is we have to make it more sustainable for people who don't want to be vegetarians. Amy Goodman's recent interview with author and activist Raj Patel explores the dangerous implications of letting corporations control the world's food supply.

Learn more at:



4. Health

The cumulative effect of our worsening environmental problems is now reflected in our own health. AlterNet editor Heather Gehlert shares the dangerous truth about everyday products we put in our hair and on our skin in "I'll Have My Cosmetics with a Side of Infertility, Please," an interview with author Stacy Malkan. Toxic products are not just a worry to consumers, but they are also dangerous for those who have to make them. In "Toxic Toys: Not Just a Health Issue for Kids" Emily Xu and Zhang Jianyi explain the young women who work in China's toy factories are often unaware of their own exposure to harmful toxins. And of course, it is not just consumer culture that pose a risk, but our most pressing environmental issues are also health issues. In the "Hazards of Global Warming to Your Health" Susan Blumenthal and her co-writers explain how the he health of our planet and its people are inextricably entwined.

Learn more at:



5. Energy

Americans simply can not afford to drive and consume goods the way they have been with the price of oil soaring over $110. Something has to give, and it's probably going to be our way of life. James Howard Kunstler argues in the essay "Cheap Oil Is Over: Kiss the Gas-Guzzling NASCAR Era Good-Bye" that our suburban nation of snowmobilers, dirt bikers and NASCAR races was made possible by the one-time blessing of cheap oil. In his recent essay, "How New Energy Order Will Dramatically Change our Daily Lives" he explains that this problem will become only more "pronounced as energy supplies dwindle and the global struggle over their allocation intensifies."

Learn more at:



6. Pollution

Pollution from our unchecked growth and consumption is threatening are communities and the environment. Our oceans have been bearing the brunt of the problem. In "The World's Dump: Ocean Garbage From Hawaii to Japan," Kathy Marks and Daniel Howden explaing how a "plastic soup" of floating waste in the Pacific Ocean now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States. Much of the pollution in the water is coming from plastic on land, including plastic bags, as Tara Lohan writes in "The Great Plastic Bag Plague." Not even the skies are fairing well. City residents in many places face worsening air pollution. Leslie-Ann Boctor writes in "Living in Cairo Is the Same as Smoking a Pack a Day" that the average resident of Cairo ingests more than 20 times the acceptable level of air pollution a day, the same as a pack of cigarettes.

Check out these organizations for more information:

7. Consumption

The West's staggering level of consumption is utterly unsustainable. In "The Threat of Population Growth Pales Beside the Greed of the Rich," George Monbiot argues that some blame the poor for growing pressure on the world's resources, but the wealthy West takes the lion's share. And the U.S. level of material consumption is incompatible with living in a sane, psychologically balanced society. As Charles Shaw recently argued on AlterNet in his essay "Are You Unhappy? Is It Because of Consumer Addiction?," the pattern of out-of-control consumption in the United States is not too different from the well-known behavioral patterns of substance abusers.

Learn more at:

  • The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute documentary exposing the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues.

  • Adbusters


8. Corporations

The dominant corporate model is based on the unsustainable notion of endless growth. This doesn't jibe with the reality of limited resources and our fragile planetary ecosystems. In "Greening the Corporation," Ralph Nader argues that only when the mindset of businesses adapts to long-term environmental realities will there be a shift in direction: "When business sees environmental management as saving it money, increasing productivity, becoming more competitive and attracting young talent, the prospect of sustainable policies taking root becomes more likely." And in "Climate Change Is a Wake-Up Call to Radically Reform Our Economy," Preeti Mangala Shekar and Tram Nguyen explain that people most affected by the injustices of the polluting economy are already helping to lead the way.

Learn more at:

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