When scientists approach environmental issues, they often try to understand long-term impacts and potential outcomes. While useful, predicting the future within this context is quite challenging because there are so many unknown and unforeseeable factors to manage. The results of such predictions are often severely impacted by what assumptions about human population growth are made.
In the past, technology has played a large role in mitigating and overcoming challenges. However, the future role of technology in environmental terms is unknown because any technologies that might be of use have not been invented yet. Even with all of the challenges, scientific predictions can be helpful in developing strategies and initiatives to move forward.
At the making of this tutorial, 30% of the earth's surface is covered in forest canopy. Every year, this number is decreasing by about 30,000 square miles, as a result of deforestation.
At this rate, in 100 years all our forests will be gone. If 70% of all land animals and plants live in forests, then millions of species could be without habitat, likely resulting in a large amount of species extinction.
Deforestation also increases desertification because as forests disappear, they are commonly replaced by desert, which causes eventual climate change in the area. With less forests, climate change accelerates because there is less biomass absorbing greenhouse gases through photosynthesis. Trees are also an important player in driving the water cycle, maintaining soil moisture, protecting the ground from too much sunlight, and preventing heat loss at night. Without them, there will be hotter days and colder nights.
While coal, oil, and natural gas supply still exist, as time progresses the available quantity, quality, and accessibility will decrease until they run out sometime between 30 to 130 years from now.
Scientists predict that over the next 100 years, the average global temperature will increase between 2.5 and 10 degrees. The result will be more extreme storms and weather patterns.
By 2050, global water demand is expected to increase by 55%. In addition, almost half of the world's population -- 3.9 billion -- is expected to survive with severe water shortages caused by environmental degradation and overuse.
It is projected that summer ground-level ozone levels will be enough to harm humans and vegetation.
If current extinction rates continue, they could lead to ecosystems' collapse, and inevitably have drastic effects on humans. In order to supply market demands, 30% of the earth's species, including birds, large mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, are threatened by overexploitation.
Overexploitation is difficult to manage. The rarer a species is, the higher the economic gain from harvest becomes. The result is often endangerment and extinction. Overexploitation and environmental degradation are also impacting aquatic ecosystems filled with salt and freshwater fish, marine invertebrates -- like oysters, crabs, and octopi -- as well as shells and corals.
Over-harvesting plants for food and medicine can also have drastic effects on ecosystem functioning.
The current social paradigm in countries like the United States relies on technology and science to solve problems. This could lead to solutions, but avoiding utilizing behavior-change methodologies could result in unwanted long-term effects for our planet and human lifestyles.