How to Help Our Planet this Earth Day: Top Environmental Issues of 2021

Annabelle Fung, Staff Writer

There have been extreme environmental issues detrimental towards the planet’s health, but 2021 is a year where things can improve if people begin to care more about the planet. 

One environmental issue that is a main concern for everyone around the globe is climate change. Globally, January 2021 was ranked the seventh hottest January and was also the 45th consecutive January with temperatures above the average. Although the temperatures have been cooler lately, the last seven years have been the warmest years in history. 

Despite these data, there is still hope that these negative effects of climate change can be reversed as the US, the world’s second-largest carbon emitter, rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement on February 19, 2021. Countries in the agreement will communicate actions through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and achieve the Paris Agreement goal, which is to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius. 

The Paris Climate Agreement is essential for fighting against the climate crisis and getting countries to have a global conversation about the planet’s health and future. The US accounts for 1/7th of the world’s emissions and their re-joining this agreement brings hope that the health of the world can improve. 

A student adviser of Earth Club, Kate Young, ‘22, said, “I think global warming is definitely real and that it’s vital for us to stop global temperatures from rising more than 2 °C, although it would be much better if the planet didn’t warm by more than 1.5 C°. Once either of these thresholds are crossed, an increased percent of the global population will be exposed to severe heat waves, and [these] will be widespread if we reach even 1.5 °C. The extreme heat is just one of the consequences that would result from reaching 1.5 °C of global warming.”

Pollution is another important issue that needs to be addressed. 92% of the world’s population lives in an area with polluted air, and 6.5 million people die annually from air-pollution-related diseases, according to WHO. 

Studies have even shown there is a positive correlation between death rates of COVID-19 and levels of air pollution. Because COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, breathing in harmful particles can cause cellular damage and diseases, which in turn increases the risk of death from COVID-19. 

Plastic pollution is also a major environmental concern, especially due to the pandemic. The use of single-use plastic has increased due to COVID-19,and other plastic materials such as masks, gloves and protection equipment have met a surge of demand. About 12.7 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean, and with the additional surge of single-use plastics, this number is certain to increase. 

Thirdly, an environmental issue that is concerning for 2021 is the loss of biodiversity and habitats. Currently, less than 3% of the Earth’s land is ecologically intact, and nearly one million plants and animals are endangered. Extinctions of species continue to increase. The main reason for their extinction is from humans overhunting, pollution, and the loss of habitats. 

Deforestation is another major issue and, since 1990, over one million acres of forest have been lost. Many corporations are planning to build infrastructure in tropical areas of the world in 2021, which could increase deforestation. This will negatively impact the environment and destroy essential habitats. Some scientists also claim the sixth mass extinction may be currently occurring as nearly all of Earth’s biodiversity is being wiped out through illegal wildlife trade, human activity and loss of habitats. The UN also only achieved six out of the twenty goals they set for 2020 to combat the effects of the loss of diversity. 

However, an author of the report and technical officer for the Key Biodiversity Area Secretariat, Daniele Baisero said,”While the 3% figure that we found is low, the paper also highlights the opportunity to restore up to 20% of the land to close to intactness.” 

There is still hope that these environmental issues in 2021 can be combated in 2021. People must become increasingly aware of these problems, as well as more conscious of their actions and how it will affect the planet. 

Young added that “Everyone can make small changes to help. For example, choosing one day during which they don’t eat meat would decrease carbon emissions. Eating more locally sourced and fewer processed foods can also help to reduce carbon emissions, which contribute to global warming. Using reusable utensils and water bottles can also help to reduce waste.”