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Causes, Effects and Solutions to Environmental Degradation

Environmental degradation is an increasingly pressing issue that affects us all. It is caused by a variety of factors, ranging from human activities to natural disasters, and its effects can be devastating. Many of these effects can cause further degradation, which means that this impact works as a downward cycle. Fortunately, there are solutions, and we can all work together to mitigate its impacts. Plant With Purpose exists to help reverse this cycle and create a more sustainable future for communities all around our planet.

Causes

Poverty

Poverty is a major contributor to environmental degradation. People living in poverty often experience hunger and food insecurity, which leads to over-exploitation of natural resources. For example, trees are frequently harvested to turn into charcoal, a product that can be sold for quick cash. This can lead to deforestation, air pollution, and other unsustainable practices that have a negative impact on the environment.

Poverty also affects environmental degradation in other ways. People living in poverty may not have access to education about environmental issues or the resources to invest in sustainable practices. They may also be more likely to engage in activities that are harmful to the environment, such as burning wood for fuel or dumping waste into rivers and streams. These activities can have long-term negative impacts on the environment, including air and water pollution, soil erosion, and loss of biodiversity.

Deforestation

Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests in order to make the land available for other uses. It is one of the leading causes of environmental degradation because it reduces biodiversity, disrupts the water cycle, and contributes to climate change. 

Trees also play an important role in the water cycle by absorbing water from the ground and releasing it into the atmosphere. Without trees, the water cycle is disrupted, leading to droughts and floods. Deforestation also contributes to climate change by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Additionally, deforestation can lead to soil erosion, which can lead to desertification and other land degradation issues. All of these effects of deforestation can have long-lasting impacts on the environment.

Climate Change

Climate change is a major contributor to environmental degradation because it can cause soil erosion, which is the process of wearing away the land surface by the action of natural forces such as wind, water, and ice. Climate change can cause an increase in the intensity and frequency of storms, worsening erosion. This can be especially damaging in areas that are already prone to soil erosion due to their topography or land use. 

Additionally, climate change can cause an increase in the intensity and frequency of floods. Floods can carry away large amounts of sediment, which is then deposited elsewhere, leading to changes in the landscape. Furthermore, climate change can cause an increase in the intensity and frequency of droughts, which can lead to soil erosion due to wind and water. In other cases, climate change can create longer periods of drought, which results in insufficient plant growth.

Soil Damage

Soil erosion can have serious consequences for the environment, as it can lead to a decrease in soil fertility, an increase in sedimentation in waterways, and an increase in the risk of flooding. In addition, soil erosion can lead to the loss of valuable topsoil, which is essential for plant growth and food production.

Soil erosion can also contribute to environmental degradation in other ways. Soil erosion can lead to increased air pollution, as the dust particles are carried away by wind and deposited in other areas. Finally, soil erosion can lead to a decrease in biodiversity, as it can reduce the amount of habitat available for plants and animals. All of these effects can have serious consequences for the environment and should be taken into consideration when developing land management strategies.

Effects

Poverty

In many rural areas, people rely on the environment for their livelihood. Right now, 8 in 10 people living in poverty are rural, reflecting the severity of our environmental crisis. Environmental degradation is a major contributor to poverty. Deforestation, overgrazing, pollution, and climate change all contribute to environmental degradation and can lead to decreased crop yields and water shortages. These factors can all contribute to poverty, as people are unable to produce enough food to feed their families.

“I was exclusively dependent on agriculture to support my family,” explains Chanceline in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Relying only on agriculture hindered my development. I had dreams of also starting some commerce, but I never had the financial resources to get started with my dream.”

As extreme weather events damage crops and reduce crop yields across Eastern Africa, people have grown increasingly unable to produce enough food to feed their families.

Deforestation

As environmental degradation worsens poverty, it drives people towards overharvesting of resources, namely, trees. When land is degraded, people are more likely to deforest an area in order to access the fertile forest soil for agricultural and other uses. Deforestation can also occur when land is cleared for agricultural or industrial purposes, or when forests are burned to create space for urban development. All of these activities can lead to a decrease in the amount of forested land available, which can have a devastating impact on the environment.

Soil Damage

Environmental degradation damages soil in a variety of ways. It furthers erosion, which removes topsoil and reduces the fertility of the soil. It can also cause an increase in salinity, which affects the ability of plants to absorb water and nutrients. Environmental degradation can lead to compaction, which reduces the amount of air and water that can be held in the soil. Finally, it can lead to a decrease in organic matter, which affects the ability of the soil to retain nutrients and water and to support plant growth.

Climate Change

Environmental degradation is a major contributor to climate change. Deforestation, overfishing, and other unsustainable practices lead to the destruction of habitats, the release of greenhouse gasses, and the disruption of natural carbon sinks. As habitats are destroyed, fewer plants are available to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, leading to an increase in atmospheric concentrations of the gas. The destruction of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems also leads to a decrease in the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed by the ocean, further contributing to climate change. Additionally, unsustainable practices such as overfishing can lead to a decrease in the number of organisms that consume carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, further exacerbating the problem.

Further Vulnerability

When people living in rural areas experience environmental degradation and increasing poverty, they resort to desperate actions. Many times, children are taken out of school to work on their farm, and this disproportionately applies to girls. As a result, gender equality and education suffer.

Many people resort to migration, either to more urban areas or other countries, in search of sufficient work opportunities. Unfortunately these journeys are often dangerous, and displaced rural people in new cities or countries are especially vulnerable to exploitation. Environmental degradation is a significant contributor to human trafficking and violent activity.

Solutions

Challenges like poverty, soil erosion, and climate change are both causes and effects of environmental degradation. This means that when one of these problems grows out of control, it sets off the other problems, and they all grow more severe together. It can lead to a very difficult life for someone living in a rural area that has been degraded. 

Anicet in Burundi explains how his struggle with poverty was related to famine and food insecurity. “Before, we were living in extreme poverty and a state of panic because we could not find enough food. There were years when we only ate once a day,” he shares.

But what is Anciet supposed to do when the few available opportunities to earn cash threaten to contribute to further environmental degradation? This is why Plant With Purpose exists.

Solutions to poverty, climate change, and environmental degradation exist. When they are applied holistically, they can turn cycles of poverty into cycles of abundance.

Regenerative Farming

Regenerative farming is an agricultural practice that focuses on restoring the health of the soil and reversing environmental damage. This practice works to rebuild soil fertility, increase biodiversity, and reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Regenerative farming also works to improve water retention and reduce water runoff, which can help to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality. Through the use of cover crops, crop rotation, and other practices, regenerative farming helps to improve soil structure, increase organic matter, and promote healthy microbial activity in the soil. 

In addition to improving soil health, regenerative farming also works to restore biodiversity by increasing the number of beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife. This helps to create a more balanced ecosystem that can better resist pests and diseases. By reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, regenerative farming also helps to protect waterways from contamination.

These practices typically increase crop yield by a good deal. As poverty is reduced, so too are the demands that it places on an ecosystem.

Tree Planting

Planting trees is an effective way to prevent environmental degradation. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the air, helping to reduce air pollution. They also provide shade and shelter, helping to reduce the urban heat island effect and evaporation. Trees also help to reduce soil erosion by stabilizing the soil with their roots. In addition, trees help to conserve water by reducing runoff and providing a natural filter for water that passes through the soil. Finally, trees provide a habitat for wildlife, helping to maintain biodiversity. Planting trees is a simple and effective way to help protect the environment from degradation.

Savings & Loan Opportunities

Savings and loan opportunities can be an effective tool in preventing environmental degradation. By providing access to capital for projects that promote sustainability, or that simply provide families with a non-destructive means to grow financially and overcome poverty. This gives people in rural communities the means and margin to conserve and restore natural resources, such as forests and wetlands. 

Spiritual Renewal

Spiritual renewal is a powerful tool for preventing environmental degradation. A restored relationship with the Creator can help us recognize our interdependence with the rest of creation. This can help us develop a sense of responsibility for the environment and a desire to protect it. This spiritual renewal can lead to stewardship: more mindful consumption, greater respect for the environment, and more sustainable practices. Additionally, it can inspire us to take action to protect the environment, such as engaging in conservation efforts, reducing waste, and advocating for environmental policies.

While a variety of solutions exist, it’s important to implement them holistically. One of these solutions alone, without the enhancement of other activities, is likely insufficient to reverse environmental degradation. Plant With Purpose establishes Purpose Groups in rural communities, which are platforms that serve as farmer field schools, savings and loan groups, and spiritual communities.

“I am convinced that this new venture will make it easier for me to save even more money in the near future. I want to apply that towards growing my business,” explains Chanceline, exemplifying how her savings and investments are creating a cycle of abundance. “The Purpose Group curriculum has helped me learn to make contour canals fixed with grasses and shrubs. I have also planted agroforestry and indigenous trees and used mulching and organic fertilizer combined with Mucuna green manure to improve the health of our farm.”

UPDATE: Read Environmental Degradation Part Two where we talk about Eight Ways to Invest in People and Planet for the Next Generation

About the Author

Philippe shares the stories of people living at the forefront of the climate crisis, who are working to transform their ecosystems and communities. He loves emphasizing the human experience, and keeping conversations about the environment centered on the communities most affected by it. Philippe has led storytelling trips to Mexico, Thailand, Colombia, Tanzania, South Africa, Haiti, and a number of other countries. He has previously served in similar roles at Liberty in North Korea and Mobility International.

Philippe obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies at UC Santa Barbara. He furthered his studies by earning a Master of Arts in International Studies as well as a Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management at University of Oregon. Philippe is also an illustrator, podcaster, and digital artist. Outside of work, Philippe loves spending time with his wife and their three kids.

Plant With Purpose seeks to restore hope by reversing two of the world’s greatest challenges: global poverty and environmental damage. These problems are interconnected.

Our goal is to see creation’s life-giving regenerative cycles restored and people renewed through their relationship to God, living in healthy sufficiency and empowered to dream.

We operate in eight countries around the world. Our international work is 100% locally-led, with global offices operating both as independent agencies within their country, and alliance partners with Plant With Purpose U.S., which supports their ongoing work.

16 comments on “Causes, Effects and Solutions to Environmental Degradation”

  1. Wow so intresting i hope the rold changes osina a good wwya becusawe an loev3 the environment and doggies and people and rreaedjdng and then whorle worlds I'm so happy to cokntinj=ue=== learning about the world.

  2. so lovely,we need to work together for a better environment.Thank you for the write up!

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