The human population of our planet is steadily increasing at the rate of one million more people every four days. The total human population of the Earth, as of November 2020, was over 7.8 billion people and increasing by the second! This gives us pause for thought, when we know that in 1970 there were fewer than 3,500 million humans inhabiting the world!
As the human population increases, so do many environmental problems. More attention is now being paid to the environment, but huge damage is still being done throughout the world.
So what is the biosphere?
Put simply, it's the bit on the outside of the planet, where all living things are able to exist. It includes the deepest layers of soils and ocean trenches, upwards to the highest levels of the atmosphere in which any form of life (including dormant spores, bacteria or other cells) is present.
We humans are a product of the biosphere, just as apples, caterpillars and rocks are. We not only live in the biosphere but are absolutely dependent upon it for almost every aspect of our existence. We constitute an integral part of the biosphere, but we are so prominent and active that we are now changing it very considerably - and much too rapidly for our future safety and survival.
Image: Our Battered Biosphere by Andrew Tijou
Information sourced from:
US News and World Report (2014) The 2015 U.S and World Populations [online], Available from:
http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2014/12/31/us-population-2015-320-million-and-world-population-72-billion [accessed 28/05/2015].
Threats to the Biosphere
Some of the changes humans have caused to the biosphere are extremely dangerous, especially those we regard as irreversible. Among the better known examples are:
1. The atmospheric build-up of carbon dioxide, (causing global warming).
2. Pollution of fresh and salt waters, and of soil and air.
3. Erosion and other effects of deforestation.
The Earth's atmosphere is wafer thin when compared with the size of the planet - with about 50% of the atmospheric mass existing in a layer which extends less than 6km out from the surface. The rest of the atmosphere stretches up to about 680km, but it cannot support life and gets progressively thinner as it gets further from the earth. Temperatures in the atmosphere vary greatly, from -55 degrees Celcius to over 2200 degrees Celsius. The distance from the Earth's core to the outer reaches of the atmosphere is 6,550km. All animal and plant life exists in a layer at most 30km thick, so we have a comparatively small amount of space to use on the very surface of the planet.
Most of us are aware that an ever-increasing number of animal and plant species are being pushed towards extinction. In fact, the world may already be losing one species of animal or plant each day.
There are definite signs that people's attitudes towards the environment are changing. Concern is being expressed continually in the media, and young people's knowlege is getting ever greater. However, there are still major hurdles to overcome.
Why do we Keep Harming the Biosphere?
Many industries which are bad for the environment cannot simply stop. This would put hundreds of thousands of people around the world out of work. Governments will not agree to take part in schemes which will reduce harm to the environment but which will also seriously damage the economies of their countries. Progress towards reducing harm to the environment is therefore likely to be slow and steady, rather than dramatic and swift, especially in the developing countries of the world, where environmental damage is increasing rapidly as they struggle to catch up industrially with the economies of the West.
Another important factor is that people don't know what to do about this. They may well be concerned about the environment, but not do anything to help it themselves. Many see that it is the government's responsibility to make big changes, others believe that technology will save the day. But really we are all responsible for the lives that we lead and the choices that we make on a day to day basis.