Table of contents:
- Plastic dandruff
- Poisoning by radionuclides
- Baldness and eczema
- Metabolic disorders
- Lack of micronutrients
The words “planet in danger” are often heard from all sorts of conservation activists and are usually not meant to be taken literally. The planet as an astronomical body successfully survived both total glaciation and the impact of an asteroid, after which a three-hundred-kilometer crater was formed.
But human civilization is still poorly designed to survive in the face of global catastrophes, and a number of chronic problems like global warming pose a certain threat. Here are the top 9 most alarming diseases of mankind.
It’s worth starting, perhaps, with a well-known problem, which even in its name has the word “global”. The times when it was possible to say something in the spirit of "scientists themselves do not yet know whether the Earth is really getting warmer on average" or "people here may not be to blame" are long gone, the connection between carbon dioxide emissions and temperature increases is reliable today proved, and with about the same certainty we can say that attempts to stop the global warming up are far from successful. Carbon dioxide is not only not getting smaller, but its emissions are growing from year to year, and there is still no simple solution to the problem.
Than threatens:climate change around the world, often in an unpleasant way for people. Droughts, tropical cyclones, or even a combination of droughts in one season with worsening storms and hurricanes in another. In addition, due to the temperature expansion of water and the melting of glaciers, sea level is rising - almost all coastal regions are at risk, including St. Petersburg in Russia and the absolute majority of island territories around the world. It is especially bad that vulnerable zones in most cases fall on poor countries with underdeveloped civil institutions - in which case, you should not count on solving problems on your own.
What to do:Carbon dioxide emissions are driven by several large industries - electricity, transportation, cement and livestock. It will not work out quickly to remake most of the enterprises and technological chains, therefore, in parallel, it is possible to consider a number of geoengineering projects designed to somehow solve the problem of overheating of the planet. This can be, for example, a screen located in space to reflect part of the sun's rays, light-reflecting particles sprayed into the upper layers of the atmosphere, or even large-scale factories for extracting carbon dioxide from the air for subsequent injection underground. True, all these decisions have not yet been worked out in too much detail, and their price, at best, is comparable to the budget of not the smallest country as a whole.
Side effects of treatment:energy alternative to burning fossil fuels has its drawbacks, batteries for electrical engineering require a lot of lithium (and cobalt, most of which is mined in rather problematic places from many points of view, such as mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), projects for spraying aerosols in the upper atmosphere are not yet very good calculated (at least, "Attic" knows nothing about correctly calculated projects).
How to get involved: by reducing your consumption of electricity, gasoline and gas. In the limit - to abandon air travel and private vehicles, choosing as much as possible a variety of rail transport.
The second known problem is plastic waste.In addition to the fact that it looks ugly in places of rest, plastic at least seriously harms animals: they either die in scraps of nets, or choke on indigestible, but bright and attractive fragments. In addition, plastic packaging makes up a significant portion of the city's waste volume, so if nothing is done with it, landfills will take up more and more space. And the plastic also crumbles, falls apart and forms microparticles, which are then found even far from settlements - the so-called microplastic.
Than threatens:at least by littering our habitat, at the most - microplastics can accumulate any toxins and poison everyone who absorbs it.
What to do:separate collection, recycling, high-temperature incineration, reasonable approach to the use of plastic, replacement with materials that decompose relatively quickly in nature or, on the contrary, can withstand repeated use. A way to be approached with caution is to develop microorganisms that can naturally recycle plastic. In a number of jurisdictions, the use of plastic is reduced by law, imposing high taxes or even banning the sale of disposable bags in stores. Another measure could be packaging standardization, since beverage bottles made from single-layer, colorless polyethylene are easy to recycle. But multilayer (of different materials) packaging with a plastic valve is only suitable for an incinerator, which acts as a "third-line treatment" when all else fails.
Side effects of treatment: the plot of the fantastic novel "Mutant 59" by Keith Pedler and Jerry Davis is built around microorganisms that have learned to eat plastic. Brief summary: The bacteria started out with plastic bottles, but very quickly tried the insulation on the wires, coupled with the plastic parts in various devices. While this is fantastic, but perhaps only for now. But the smoke from burning plastic is already an everyday reality, especially in rural areas and poor countries. Outside industrial installations with powerful plasma torches and outlet filters, plastic burns to form many highly toxic products.
How to get involved: Reducing the amount of disposable plastic you consume and recycle what you can donate. Unfortunately, even in large cities of Russia there are not very many points that accept all types of plastic, but there are already many places where you can attach at least empty transparent bottles. Going to the store with your bags or a reusable bag also reduces both the amount of garbage and the volume of the notorious "bag with bags" lying in the kitchen.
Poisoning by radionuclides
The next pollutant in the popular ranking of environmental problems is spent nuclear fuel. Uranium pellets that are loaded into the reactor can even be taken by hand, but it is better to overload the irradiated fuel at the outlet with a manipulator controlled from a room covered with a biological shielding layer.
What is the danger: The ingestion of radioactive waste into groundwater, soil and atmosphere leads to additional radiation exposure, which is associated with an increased risk of cancer. Thus, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant led to an additional four thousand deaths from malignant tumors. The accident at the Fukushima-2 nuclear power plant in Japan and a number of lesser-known episodes with military objectives have also led to an increase in cancer.
What to do: for a start, collect all the most active and remove it further and more reliably. After several tens of millennia, a significant part of the most unpleasant isotopes will decay.In theory, this process can be accelerated with the help of specially designed reactors or even particle accelerators, but in practice, the waste is simply removed for now. Fortunately, the volume of the most hazardous wastes is relatively small and their sources are well known … in most cases (except for objects drowned in the sea - either intentionally or accidentally).
Side effects of treatment: Leakage is also possible in recycling plants.
How to participate: but no way, alas. If you have a reactor compartment from a submarine lying around at your dacha, it is better to entrust its disposal to Rosatom employees. It is almost impossible to find something seriously "firing" in everyday life or even on the ruins of an old military unit - in the worst case, you will come across a dial with radium marks or a calibration source from a dosimeter.
Baldness and eczema
The next known problem is deforestation, from the taiga to the Amazonian jungle. With it, everything is not so simple, since for ecologists it is important not only the area occupied by thickets, but also the preservation of a number of unique ecosystems.
Than threatens: in addition to the extinction of a number of animal and plant species, there are a number of other problems. Deforestation can cause rivers to dry up, and deforestation and even just the development of the jungle are fraught with the risk of bringing something dangerous out into the world. HIV, for example, did not travel outside Cameroon until the 1970s, where it originally circulated among chimpanzees.
What to do: Improve agriculture, forestry and technology in general. It is appropriate to give an example of the Moscow region. In 1914, the forest occupied about a quarter of its territory due to felling for firewood and plowing of land. Now, despite the increase in population from 2.6 to 19 million people, the forest cover is about 40 percent, that is, the forest has grown by 60 percent). Forest conservation programs in developing countries are based on fuel substitution and fertilization, which allows multiple use of a single site instead of steadily attacking forests. Separately, it is worth mentioning programs that are aimed at specific animals - pandas in China or Amur tigers in Russia. Such programs can also place additional emphasis on combating poaching.
Side effects of treatment: replacing firewood with natural gas, coal or oil leads to the release of excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Firewood is ideal from the point of view of combating global warming, because exactly the carbon that was previously absorbed by the plant appears in the atmosphere, and the overall balance is reduced to zero.
How to participate: through volunteer reforestation programs, as well as waste paper collection, paper conservation and selection of recycled paper where perfect whiteness is not as critical (for example, in the toilet and in the manufacture of boxes).
Now is the time to move on to lesser known, but even more serious problems. Plastic looks ugly and kills the animals that swallowed it, but the violation of the phosphorus and nitrogen cycle has much more dramatic consequences. People were able to avoid a catastrophic shortage of food due to the introduction of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, and now the global cycles of these elements have changed significantly compared even with the Middle Ages, not to mention life before the advent of man.
Than threatens: nitrogen fertilizers are obtained from air, more precisely from nitrogen, which is most in the air (hydrogen is also needed, taken from natural gas). Nitrogen passes into a form accessible to plants and in this form continues to circulate through the biosphere, causing, for example, eutrophication of water bodies. And this will lead to the rapid growth of algae and "bloom" of water, which will make it unsuitable for fish and, in general, all organisms breathing oxygen.
There is another problem with phosphorus - it not only makes the water turn into a muddy green slurry, but is also carried out by currents into the ocean, where it eventually settles on the bottom. Under natural conditions, phosphorus returned to land by geological processes, but we do not have several tens of millions of years in reserve. According to some estimates, phosphate reserves for fertilizer production could run out in the next century.
What to do: improve agriculture again. Careful fertilization at the correct doses, wastewater treatment and new technologies for extracting phosphorus may at least postpone the "phosphorus" or "nitrogen apocalypse", just as the discovery of ammonia synthesis from nitrogen avoided starvation due to depletion of saltpeter deposits.
Side effects of treatment: balancing the biosphere, in which several more gigatons of live weight (people and pets) have appeared, is, in principle, not easy. It is possible that the solution found will not be so ideal and the imbalance in the nitrogen / phosphorus concentrations will appear somewhere in an unexpected place.
How to participate: since most of the readers are not connected with agriculture, then - in any way. This is one of those problems that is useful to be aware of, but which does not imply an immediate civil response. However, reducing wasted food will significantly help in several directions at once - here both the reduction of fertilizer costs and the reduction of greenhouse emissions.
Lack of micronutrients
A number of chemical elements (say, all lanthanides *) do not play a significant biological role. They could be toxic (cerium, for example, is poisonous to fish), but it is more than difficult to find a place in nature with an increased concentration of such elements. But people are desperately needed these rare earths and a number of other metals like cadmium: without them, most electronic devices cannot be made, from a smartphone to a laser amplifier on an optical communication line. These elements are few, the deposits are limited and at the current rate of consumption they risk ending soon.
* Lanthanides, or lanthanides - metals with atomic numbers 57-71 (from lanthanum to lutetium)
Than threatens:we are unlikely to be left completely without electronics. It is unlikely that even the prices of gadgets will skyrocket, because the share of minerals in the cost of a phone is negligible. If the prices for cobalt for batteries grow several times next year, the price of storing a kilowatt-hour of energy will most likely remain the same, since in recent years it has been steadily falling by 15-20% per year, - a threefold rise in the price of cobalt will give only 12% on top of the price of the finished battery. Rather, the problem is that the depletion of existing mines will lead to both the development of new deposits and the entry into the market of suspicious traders like militants from sub-Saharan Africa, for whom the expressions "sewage treatment plants" and "ban on child labor" are talking about completely incomprehensible topic.
A similar problem is related to the fact that cadmium from disposable batteries, when thrown into a landfill (and even more so into a forest), quickly turns out to be outside. This not only dissipates the valuable metal, but also poisons the groundwater: cadmium is toxic.
What to do:to establish the processing of their used equipment and to look for alternative technologies. Now, for example, transparent electrodes are made on the basis of indium, and physicists have repeatedly demonstrated samples based on graphene.
Side effects of treatment:not every substitution of a scarce resource will result in a lower burden on the environment. By reducing the consumption of rare earth metals, we can get an increase in the consumption of something else - for example, toxic organic solvents or other petroleum products.
How to participate: instead of throwing away broken or obsolete electronics, hand it over for recycling.It is not a fact that your particular collector of recyclable materials will be able to extract all valuable metals, but at least copper and gold will be used. The collection of batteries has also been improving in recent years, and a factory for their processing has finally started working in Russia.
Humanity has successfully survived a giant polar bear, a saber-toothed tiger and a host of other animals (and chewed some of them). The total biomass of all animals on the planet is rather increasing, therefore, in terms of live weight of livestock, there is now much more than the glacial megafauna once was.
But quantity doesn't always mean quality. The decline in the number of species, or, as ecologists say, the decline in biodiversity, is also a problem.
Than threatens:an ecosystem of many species is theoretically more resistant to various external influences and to the occurrence of internal waves of abundance. When a dozen species of herbivores and heels of predators coexist on the same territory, the probability of catastrophic reproduction of someone is small, no invasions of mice or flocks of stray dogs can be expected. Diverse vegetation (if there are several hundred species) can survive droughts or pests, but fields planted with one crop in the history of mankind have already turned into a disaster zone. Relying on potatoes killed Irish farmers after the outbreak of late blight, the Gross Michel banana variety became exotic due to the fungus, and the last mass famine in Russia, which took many lives, happened after the end of World War II - in 1947 (by the way, after it in the southern regions of the USSR they urgently began to introduce a grass crop rotation, in which most of the arable land is occupied by perennial grasses). The attack on natural landscapes not only reduces the area of "wilderness", but also increases the risks to agriculture.
What to do:In addition to the already three times repeated recipe for the modernization of agriculture (and what can be done, after all, it occupies more than a third of the world's land mass), it is necessary to note the measures to create reserves and sanctuaries, as well as the creation of forest shelter belts among the fields, coupled with forest parks in cities. Moreover, the latter, according to ecologists, is better done without attractions, areas for barbecue and asphalt paths - the less human intervention, the better and the greater the chances of sheltering different types of animals and plants right within the metropolis, including those included in the list of endangered ones.
Side effects of treatment: ill-considered introduction of this or that species into the ecosystem can result in the fact that it will multiply and displace the rest. However, such methods are prohibited by the international convention on biodiversity conservation. Russia signed it in 1992.
How to get involved: Helping conservation organizations - from donations to volunteering. Preservation of the forest next to the dacha, if there is one. There is no need to take out the trash and cut trees in order to give more sun to the squash in the garden.
The list of chronic diseases of mankind would be incomplete without the section "psychiatry". A number of environmental problems are closely intertwined with social ones, and it is pointless to talk about the degradation of ecosystems in the mining zone without answering the question of why producers of raw materials do not take long-known measures to protect the environment.
A number of regions today are in a state of protracted humanitarian crisis. These are many African countries (Zimbabwe, Somalia, the Central African Republic), and unrecognized states in the post-Soviet space, and Afghanistan and Iraq, where large-scale armed intervention did not solve social and economic problems at all. Predatory extraction of resources, overpopulation and deforestation in some cases is combined with crumbling abandoned enterprises and facilities such as the Donetsk Yunkom mine, which is now flooded by soil years and where an underground nuclear explosion was made in 1979.
Than threatens: effective fight against all of the above disasters requires both financial resources and effective work of both state and civil institutions. Where there is neither one nor the other, even minor problems by the standards of developed countries threaten to turn into full-fledged disasters.It is appropriate to draw an analogy with depression and mental disorders in humans: they do not provoke cancer by themselves, but recent research has shown that psychiatric patients have, on average, a worse prognosis for detecting malignant neoplasms.
What to do: first-line therapy presupposes mass education, but there are cases when it turns out to be powerless or difficult (Afghanistan and Somalia). Financial aid is more of a palliative method, and aggressive measures (fighting ISIS in Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria) are poorly tolerated due to side effects.
Side effects of treatment: Money allocated to humanitarian crises is often stolen or ends up in the wrong hands. So, in 2019 it became known that part of the programs of the World Wildlife Fund were compromised by the involvement of illegal armed groups to fight poachers. Direct military intervention has repeatedly turned into a catastrophe and even worse consequences. Thus, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime ten years later led to the emergence of the notorious Islamic State, and the conflicts in Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh were only frozen for an indefinite period (both of these territories still have a controversial legal status and a number of acute social problems).
How to get involved: Through international charities. However, be aware of the side effects.
Most of the inhabitants of large cities never see the Milky Way. The night sky for people has turned into a murky dark sphere, on which only the brightest stars are hardly distinguishable. This is due to excessive lighting and atmospheric pollution.
Than threatens: disturbance of natural darkness can lead to sleep disturbances, and astronomers have to look for new places for observatories. The bright light also confuses birds and insects - their navigation system is based on the light of the moon, rather than a multitude of bright lanterns. Finally, we just lost our beautiful view.
What to do: turn off excess light. Giant billboards shining brightly at three in the morning, lanterns over warehouse hangars, where no one appears until morning - all this only leads to bloated electricity bills and a senseless glow in the sky. In addition, there is no need for lanterns to shine often upward and even sideways: those who live on the lower floors, for the most part, are perfectly familiar with the need to draw curtains not only from the eyes of neighbors in the house opposite.
Side effects of treatment: It is believed that dark streets are more attractive to criminals, while dark roadsides are more dangerous for pedestrians and drivers.
How to get involved: Turn off the lights where you don't need them.