Environmental protection deserves spotlight

Kaitlin Clark, Print Editor-in-Chief

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There is one thing that is more detrimental to Earth’s survival than anything else: humans.

It has become common to see large cities such as New York or Los Angeles covered in a layer of smog due to air pollution. New reports are always coming through of endangered species creeping dangerously close to extinction.

We have come to see the slow deterioration of our planet as unavoidable events, but it does not have to be that way. The vast majority of environmental deterioration is due to human activity, but there are some groups who are trying to protect what we still have. Environmental protection should become more of a focus for the human race at large.

Current statistics show that people are creating pollution at an astounding rate. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 262 million pounds of municipal solid waste, or everyday garbage, was produced in 2015 in the United States alone. Over 52 percent of this could not be recycled, composted or combusted, leaving it in landfills. We aren’t only polluting the land, though. Approximately 18 billion pounds of plastic enter the ocean every year according to Jenna R. Jambeck from the University of Georgia, who was cited by National Geographic. In both of these cases, humans have polluted the planet at unprecedented rates, and while it affects the daily lives of people who rely on the land and sea for their livelihoods, humans are not the only ones that are affected.

Due to human activities, more and more animal species are going extinct every year. According to the World Wildlife Fund, experts estimate that we are losing species between 1,000 and 10,000 times the natural extinction rate. The World Animal Foundation’s website states that, if this rate of extinction continues, between one third and one-half of all species could be extinct by 2050. The extinction of so many species would decrease the planet’s biodiversity, further harming the earth. In addition, human’s overexploitation of animals, such as through overfishing, harms their unique environments, sometimes beyond repair. Their homes are further encroached upon by habitat loss, often caused by logging and other industries.

Our impact on animals has quite literally changed their ways of life. Climate change, which has been furthered by our pollution, has affected when animals migrate, causing it to occur at the incorrect time. We have strongly impacted the ways animals are forced to live, often altering their natural way of life in the process, but we do not have to continue down this path. Some environmentalists are trying to bring awareness to the issue through their work.

Photographer Tom Mangelsen only takes shots of animals in their natural habitat, which helps people understand how they cannot live without their surroundings. In a recent feature aired on CBS’s show “60 Minutes,” Mangelsen told the story of a grizzly bear who is identified by the research number 399, who he has documented the life of. Grizzly bear 399 has had a third of her offspring killed from interactions with humans, and, due to Mangelsen’s photos making her infamous, she has become a target for hunters after grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park were removed from the endangered species list. As of publication, grizzlies have once again been put on the endangered species list due to a ruling from a Montana federal judge, but not all species are lucky enough to receive additional protection.

Despite the hard work of people like Mangelsen or Jane Goodall, one of the world’s leading primatologists and Mangelsen’s personal friends, species are still being threatened every day. What has already happened cannot be undone, but we can push for change in the future to ensure that what still remains of Earth’s natural wonders will not be lost. Without the land, sea and animals that make our planet beautiful, there won’t be much left. We must bring environmental protection to the forefront of our conversations if we hope to have anything left to show future generations how beautiful our planet can be.

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