Today, the world is facing several big environmental problems that need to be addressed, and the United States is no exception. In recent years, environmental issues have taken center stage in the country. From debates over the Keystone XL pipeline to the Clean Power Plan, it seems like there’s always something in the news about the environment. Here are the five biggest environmental issues affecting the United States today.
1. Air Pollution
Air pollution is one of the most significant environmental problems in America today. This isn't surprising considering that the US emits more carbon dioxide than any other country besides China. Data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that the country was responsible for 67 million tons of air pollution in 2021! This pollution consisted of everything from smog to greenhouse gases. The main cause? Large power and transportation industries in the nation.
Additionally, data from the American Lung Association shows that 40% (4 out of every 10) of individuals are residing in areas with polluted air. This causes various lung diseases, exacerbating asthma, and may even lead to premature death.
The good news is that recently in August of 2022, the government passed the Inflation Reduction Act. This act is designed to lower emissions by setting a cap on how much pollution each state can release into the atmosphere. It is expected to lead to a significant reduction in emissions by 2025 on the way to carbon neutrality in 2050.
2. Water Pollution
While the United States has some of the cleanest drinking water in the world, that doesn’t mean that all the country's water is pollution-free. The most common water pollutants include pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals from factories and power plants. These pollutants can contaminate both surface water and groundwater, making it difficult for people and animals to access clean water.
What’s more, water pollution is often linked to other environmental issues, such as climate change and air pollution. For example, when it rains, pollutants from the atmosphere are deposited into waterways, causing further contamination. According to the EPA, there are still over 1,300 Superfund sites across the country today. These sites are on the priority list for a clean-up as they are contaminated with hazardous materials.
3. Climate Change
Climate change is one of the most significant environmental issues of today, and it is only getting worse. Based on data collected by NASA's Goddard Institute, the Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, and the rate of warming is only increasing. If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced, the Earth could warm by as much as 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century!
This temperature rise has already begun to cause serious problems. More frequent and intense storms, droughts, storm surges, and wildfires have occurred. Additionally, higher temperatures are melting polar ice caps and causing sea levels to rise which could lead to flooding in coastal areas.
What’s more, climate change is expected to cause major disruptions to ecosystems and the animals that live in them. As temperatures continue to rise, many species will be forced to move to new areas to find suitable habitats. This could lead to the extinction of many species and the loss of biodiversity.
As part of the global initiative to combat climate change, the United States has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. However, whether this goal will be met is yet to be seen.
Deforestation is another major environmental problem facing the United States. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the world loses an area of forest the size of New York’s Central Park every three minutes!
This loss of trees has several negative consequences. First, it eliminates habitat for many species of animals, putting them at risk of extinction. Second, it releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Finally, it decreases the amount of land available for people to live on and farm.
To slow down deforestation, the United States has created the Forest Service, under the Department of Agriculture. This agency is responsible for managing and protecting the country’s forests by conducting regular activities such as replanting trees in deforested areas.
5. Wildlife Extinction
Due to the numerous environmental issues affecting the United States, many species of animals are now at risk of extinction. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) estimates that more than 1,600 species of animals in the country are now endangered and over a third of all US wildlife is at risk of becoming endangered. Some of the most iconic animals in danger of extinction include the American bison, the bald eagle, and the Florida panther.
The United States is facing many serious environmental issues. While the government has taken some steps to address these issues, much more needs to be done to protect the environment and the animals that live in it. Aside from government interventions, private entities can also do their part by participating in corporate sustainability reporting through the Global Reporting Initiatives (GRI) standards