Industrial development & ecological issues are at opposite ends in the spectrum regarding the health of the planet and its residents. While industrial development has improved the quality of life for people, it has come at a great ecological price.
One of the most devastating effects of industrial development is habitat loss. The losses are sobering. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, over a half of the wetlands in the lower 48 states has been lost during the years spanning the 1780s through the 1980s.
Prairies have fared worse. Native prairies have suffered overwhelming losses both globally and in the United States. The Iowa Prairie Network estimates that less than 0.1 percent of native Iowa prairie remains. The Nebraska Wildlife Federation places prairie losses at 98 percent.
One the contributing factors was the invention of the self-scouring steel plow by John Deere in 1837. This seemingly minor instance of industrial development made breaking the prairie easier, allowing farmers to cut through the dense prairie plant root systems. With some prairie plants having roots over 10 foot long, the invention of the plow was a major breakthrough.
Even if entire ecosystems are not lost, habitat fragmentation can negatively affect plant and wildlife populations. Large tracts of habitat ensure the genetic viability of organisms. Some species such as the upland sandpiper are area sensitive, preferring tracts of land greater than 100 acres to meet its ecological needs. Industrial development fragments habitats, placing such animals at risk for extinction. It also creates habitat for invasive plant and animal species that can further impact native populations.
Perhaps the greatest issue surrounding industrial development & ecological issues is pollution. A 2007 study published in the journal, Human Ecology, estimated that up to 40 percent of all deaths worldwide are caused by environmental degradation from rising populations and pollution.
Pollution degrades the air, water, and soil, causing long-term environmental damage. American River estimates that almost 40 percent of all American rivers and streams are too polluted for to support recreational activities such as swimming or fishing.
The primary source of this pollution is agricultural runoff, according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. Industrial development has meant the production of pesticides and fertilizers which can have grave environmental impacts. Runoff can harm both land and water resources.
Runoff into surface water such as lakes and streams can have far-reaching effects including impairment of drinking water sources. While industrial development has improved some aspects of life, it has created ecological issues on a disaster scale.
Global warming or climate change represents one aspect of industrial development & ecological issues unlike the planet has ever faced. Greenhouse gas emissions from human-caused sources threaten the oceans and coastal areas.
Because of their role in atmospheric regulation, impacts on the oceans can have cascading effects. The danger of global warming is that a reversal takes time and a global effort. Unless action is taken promptly, it may be too late to undue the devastation.
Industrial development must address the ecological issues it causes by reducing emissions and pollution of the environment. The lessons of the past must be used as guidance for developing countries to avoid the mistakes of early industrial development. Only through learning from history can the ecological issues the world has endured be avoided.
Photo by George Bosela
Nebraska Wildlife Federation: Tallgrass Prairie Project – www.nebraskawildlife.org
U.S. Geological Survey: Wetlands – www.npwrc.usgs.gov
D. Pimentel et al. Ecology of Increasing Diseases: Population Growth and Environmental Degradation. Human Ecology, December 2007:35(6):653-668.
Iowa Prairie Network: What Is Left of the Prairie? – www.iowaprairienetwork.org