Five Biggest Environmental Problems Affecting the United States

We take a closer look at current environmental problems in the United States, how it may be exacerbating these problems, and what the country can do to address them.

The environment plays a crucial role in sustaining life as we know it here on Earth. All living things depend on the planet’s resources to survive, and if humans continue to pollute and overexploit these resources, they could be completely destroyed or depleted within a few years. Recently, a number of environmental issues have reached new heights, affecting economies and policies around the world.

The United States is just one of many countries that suffer from and contribute to these effects. From air pollution to the depletion of non-renewable resources, the nation is beginning to recognize and address environmental issues within its borders. Below, we’ll take a closer look at current environmental problems in the United States, how it may be exacerbating these problems, and what the country can do to address them.

1. Deforestation

Each year, the American population increases by more than 1,700,000 people. And each person, statistically speaking, needs an extra acre of land and highways. This rapid influx of people has increased the demand for urbanization, leading to a worrying increase in deforestation as we seek to find more land on which to build. Of course, using the land to house more and more people means less open land and farmland, more overcrowding, and a huge loss of biodiversity and animal habitat across the country.

2. Air pollution

Although air quality has improved dramatically over the past 50 years, it remains a problem in many large, densely populated cities. Sunny California is particularly in a hurry to improve its air quality. Last year, the 12 most ozone-polluted US cities were all located in California. And, according to year-round particulate pollution, three California cities tied for the top spot for the most polluted. So while the United States may not be fighting air pollution as much as India or China, we still have a lot to do.

3. Global warming

Of all the current environmental problems in the United States, global warming is perhaps the most notable because of its far-reaching effects. From melting glaciers to more intense hurricanes, rising Earth temperatures are causing a number of negative effects on local climates, weather patterns, and nearly every community in the United States and the planet as a whole.

The problem even contributes to air pollution, as temperature spikes spark wildfires across the country. Take a look at Australia’s recent fires and its fight against air pollution. These fires burn for months, releasing carbon and particles into the air. Additionally, wildfires destroy crops and wildlife habitats, exacerbating food shortages and loss of biodiversity.

4. Water pollution

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does a relatively good job of regulating drinking water quality, our lakes, oceans, and rivers still suffer from severe water pollution. Globally, people dump two million tons of sewage into waterways every day. Additionally, pesticides and other chemicals on land often add to water runoff and drainage flowing into these waterways, putting chemicals into our major water bodies and sources of drinking water.

And some pollutants, like microplastics, dissolved metals and drugs, are difficult to remove, even through industrial wastewater purification processes. In addition, abandoned US mines continue to release pollutants into waterways. In Colorado alone, mines have polluted 2,300 kilometers of waterways.

The Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) enforces water safety regulations. However, some controversial EPA policies and federal protection changes are currently being pushed back for risk of hazardous water pollution and damage to wetlands.

5. Depletion of natural resources

The demand for resources will only increase as the US population continues to grow. The demand for energy and water, in particular, is expected to increase by 50% over the next 10 years, intensifying pressures on resources and bringing new uncertainties to our sustainability as a nation and to our international relations. Agricultural commodities will also remain tight over the next decade as the United States transforms farmland into urban communities. Non-renewable materials like oil, minerals and metals will also continue to disappear over time. How long before these resources are gone?

Worried enough to do something?

If the United States continues to urbanize at its current breakneck pace, biodiversity, natural resources, trade agreements, and the economy will likely continue to suffer. However, as Americans become more aware of environmental issues and their effects on their personal well-being, more people are beginning to take steps to slow those effects.

A viable solution is the Paris Agreement, which Obama signed in 2016. Under this agreement, almost all countries have committed to reducing carbon emissions. But the Trump administration has since begun to dismantle climate change policies, even announcing the U.S.’s withdrawal from the deal in June 2017. Some policymakers don’t believe renewable energy management is the answer to these problems. Others, like Donald Trump, simply don’t believe in climate change at all.

Thus, at the federal level, policy makers are not currently introducing many solutions to environmental problems.

So the fate of the United States — and the planet — continues to fall into the hands of the general public. Fortunately, businesses, organizations and the average citizen have all come up with and adopted solutions to these environmental issues. Individuals put the EPA in the spotlight and businesses receive legal assistance for conservation and compliance with environmental laws. Additionally, universities and large corporations are committing to net zero emissions or deep reductions in energy use.

Community members attend farmers markets, support small businesses, and work to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastics and other materials. Others eat less meat or buy recycled clothes to reduce their carbon footprint. Organizations are reforesting drylands and actively fighting for change. Together, the people are a force to be reckoned with. And, by working together, we can drive global change.

About the Author

Jenna Tsui is a Texas-based journalist and co-owner of The Byte Beat blog. She writes about the latest in sustainability, culture, technology and more. Check out her work on TBB or follow her on Twitter @jenna_tsui.

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