We explain what environmental impact is and what its causes and consequences are. Also, its characteristics, classification and more.
What is the environmental impact?
By environmental impact we refer to the immediate, medium or long-term effect that different human activities have
on the environment in which they take place. Although certain natural catastrophic events, such as hurricanes , earthquakes or eruptions of volcanoes can at the same time have a high impact on the environment, since they alter the ecological baseline in a radical and sudden way.
Environmental impact is a key concept in ecology , a branch of science interested in understanding and preserving the natural environment. Through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of a given human project, ecologists can warn about its dangerousness
and convenience in environmental terms.
It is known that many human activities, especially industrial ones, have a high level of ecological cost, causing significant alterations in the balance of ecosystems
that often lead to extinctions, overpopulations, pests or erosions, all of which are detrimental to the health of our planet.
How does the environmental impact arise?
The idea of Environmental Impact arose from the conservation movements
that gained more and more ground in world politics during the 20th century , as a consequence of the overwhelming expansion of the industry in the contemporary world and the appearance of the first harmful environmental effects due to the pollution.
Some of these effects include acid rain , ecosystem extinctions, water pollution leading to disease, and more recently the greenhouse effect and global warming , leading to climate change.
What does the environmental impact refer to?
The Environmental Impact is, as we said before, the alteration of the environment by causes beyond its own control
, which can be of human origin (industrial activity, wars, waste disposal, etc.) or natural (natural catastrophes ), but which cause a significant effect on the balance of ecosystems and therefore on life itself.
It is measured in negative terms (Negative Environmental Impact) when it is detrimental to life or the ecological balance of a region or the world
; and in positive terms (Positive Environmental Impact) when it helps to reestablish that balance or heal previous wounds made in the environment.
Types of environmental impact
We can speak of different types of impact, according to their effect on the environment, such as:
- Direct or indirect. The direct environmental impact will be the one that causes immediate and perceptible changes in the ecosystem in the short term, while the indirect impact will be the one that affects it collaterally, without being noticed at first glance.
- Temporary or permanent. The temporary impact is one that can be reversed in time, while the permanent one is forever.
- Reversible or irreversible. Reversible environmental impacts can be undone either by nature itself over time, or through human interventions aimed at restoring the environment; while the irreversible effects have no qualms.
- Cumulative or synergistic. Cumulative impacts are those that add up over time , and whose effect worsens as they accumulate; while synergies are those in which different impacts collaborate to generate the same effect much greater than if they were not all occurring at the same time.
- Current or potential. The current impact is one that is occurring immediately, and the potential is one that could occur in the future, if the necessary preventive measures are not taken.
- Local or widespread. This depends on whether the effect takes place in a small bounded region (local), or whether it flows to other ecosystems and spreads (disseminated).
Causes of environmental impact
As we have said, the causes can be human or natural
. The latter include major environmental disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis , volcanic eruptions, landslides, meteorite falls , floods or extreme weather changes.
As for the causes that are due to the action of man, the main ones are:
- Natural resources exploitation. Such as mining , logging, trawling or indiscriminate hunting, activities that deplete or deteriorate the environment to obtain raw materials .
- Waste disposal. Both urban waste (garbage, sewers), as well as industrial by-products that are dumped into the sea or dissipated into the atmosphere , significantly alter the chemical balance of nature. The burning of hydrocarbons and fossil fuels is one of the main causes of this.
- Wars All the destruction unleashed during war conflicts, such as bombings, use of chemical weapons and abandonment of war material (bullets, mines, destroyed material, etc.), have their ecological cost as well.
- Radioactive material. Whether due to experiments with nuclear energy for peaceful purposes (in radiators to sterilize or in plants to generate electricity ) or warfare (atomic bombs), the radioactive waste is one of the most damaging to the ecosystem that is known.
- Urban sprawl. The cities grow and grow, consuming or altering the surface which was formerly refuge for species animals and plants forever.
Consequences of environmental impact
The consequences are clear: environmental changes that lead to climatic instabilities (such as the so-called El Niño effect), in turn causing human and environmental tragedies; deterioration of the quality of life of humanity as a whole, which translates into an increase in the incidence of diseases such as cancer or epidemics in the less affluent regions of society ; and the worrying reduction in global biodiversity that has been warned for several decades.
Types of environmental impact
The environment is affected in different ways by high-impact activities:
- Affectation of the physical-chemical environment. Changes in the nature of the substances that make life in the environment, whether in soil , water or air , which result in unpredictable and uncontrolled chemical reactions.
- Affectation of the biotic environment. Disappearance of animal and plant species and therefore imbalance in the trophic chain of which they were part, which can lead to the disappearance of beneficial species (such as bees) or the proliferation of pests that previously had a natural predator.
- Affectation of the human environment. Changes in the human life model, which must adapt to the consequences that environmental change brings in their lives, either gradually or catastrophically.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
It is a conceptual tool developed to measure and anticipate the damage to the environment that a human activity may cause and thus decide whether to undertake it or redesign it, or if there are other activities with a positive impact that can accompany the project and decrease its negative consequences. Legal sanctions and other protection measures may arise from these investigations.
Importance of environmental impact
This concept is of the utmost importance in the creation of a social, economic and development model that is respectful of the environment, an ever-increasing requirement in the contemporary world, in which the consequences of a century of indiscriminate industrial exploitation are already long overdue. order of the day.
Environmental Impact Statement (DIA)
This is the name given to the document designed to render accounts before the State of the Environmental Impact Assessment of a given project. It is usually a mandatory document for the approval of building permits, for example.
Example of Environmental Impact
A perfect example can be the expansion of a highway , for example, which would allow the transport of goods between two cities at a much higher rate, but whose construction involves cutting down a forest and the irruption of polluting vehicles (burning fossil fuel) affecting the species that inhabited that ecosystem.
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