Environmental Challenges and Environmentalism

Environmental Challenges and Environmentalism

Environmental Concerns and Disasters: 1970s-2000s


During the latter half of the twentieth century people around the world became concerned with a growing number of environmental problems, including air, water, and land pollution, population growth, excessive consumerism, and shortages of a growing number of natural resources, particularly water and arable land. These problems have grown out of the mass production, pollution, and consumerism that came with the Industrial Revolution. Recognition of these problems around the world, along with efforts to solve them, reflect the positive and benevolent character of globalization. 

One of the major concerns in the world today revolves around stopping climate change caused by continued reliance on fossil fuels. Climate change visibly epitomizes the impact of pollution in ways people cannot miss, although certainly many with shortsighted economic interests try to deny. Efforts by various groups, individuals, and governments to combat climate change have been frustrated by vested economic interests based on the old and inefficient fossil fuel-based economy. These vested interests either have denied climate change, discounted the effects of climate change, or claimed that they already were doing all they could to stop climate change. Both those who work to stop climate change and those who oppose such efforts are part of globalization, which blurs conventional political and economic borders. As an example, climate activists across the globe emphasize the necessity of countries, companies, and other groups acting in concert; contrarily, their opponents, including Republicans and Democrats in the United States tied to the coal industry, such as U.S. Senator from West Virginia Joe Manchin, claim that making changes in response to climate change will put the U.S. at a disadvantage when compared to nations that do not. These opponents include Republicans and Democrats in the United States who are tied to the coal industry, such as U.S. Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia; Manchin opposes efforts to stop climate change because many of those who vote for him refuse to abandon coal mining and because he has made over four million from coal mining, and will continue to make more. 


Learning Objectives

  • Identify and explain the environmental challenges that humanity faces today. 

  • Identify, explain, and evaluate responses to these environmental challenges. 


Key Terms / Key Concepts

fossil fuel divestment: the removal of investment assets, including fossil fuels, in an attempt to reduce climate change by tackling its ultimate causes

greenhouse gas: a gas in the atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range, which  is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect that warms the planet’s surface to a temperature above what it would be without its atmosphere. 


Global warming and climate change are terms for the observed century-scale rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system and its related effects. Multiple lines of evidence show that the climate system is warming. Many of the observed changes since the 1950s have unprecedented for over tens of thousands of years. 


Global Land-Ocean Temperature Anomaly: Land-ocean temperature index, 1880 to present, with base period 1951 – 1980.
The solid black line is the global annual mean and the solid red line is the five-year lowess smooth, i.e., a non-parametric regression analysis that relies on a k-nearest-neighbor model. The function is evaluated using a fraction of data corresponding to a ten-year window of data, giving an effective smoothing of approximately five years. The blue uncertainty bars (95% confidence limit) account only for incomplete spatial sampling. The graph shows an overall long-term warming trend. In other words, this graph shows the steady increase in temperature during the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.


Efforts to arrest the effects of climate change for which people have been and are responsible, have been carried out at the individual, group, corporate, provincial, national, and international levels. 

1 of 4