2 big environmental problems you probably don't know about — and 1 you should care more about.
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The Wilderness Society

The Earth.

Photo by NASA.


It's probably fair to say that most of us enjoy the experience of living on it.

Unfortunately, all of us continuing to do so might take more work than previously thought. There are lots of forces conspiring to screw up the environment.

And not all of them get great press.

At the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival, four experts were asked to name the "biggest environmental problem most people don't know about."

These were their answers:

1. How little water there is for all of us to drink.

Here in the U.S., we're pretty cavalier about our fresh water use.

How cavalier, you ask?

Pretty much sums it up. Photo by David Shankbone/Flickr.

But the abundance of clean water in the United States — and most of the Western world — obscures an important reality.

There really isn't all that much water on Earth to go around. And the more we pollute it, the bigger a disaster we're courting.

Because there's really no alternative.

Sadly "I'll just drink beer" is not a scalable solution. Photo by Nejmlez/Wikimedia Commons.

Oceanographer David Gallo explains it thusly:

The amount of fresh water on the Earth would fit into...

GIFs via The Atlantic/YouTube.

And over 7 billion people have a straw in the same grain of salt. Some speculate that competition for control of this limited supply between countries could eventually lead to famine, war, or worse. There's some evidence it's happening already.

Making sure we preserve clean drinking water for future generations, and figuring out how to distribute it to the people who need it most, are huge challenges that we've only just begun to address.

2. How acidic the oceans are becoming.

Earth's oceans, artist's rendering. Photo by Chris Metcalf/Flickr.

For the past 200 or so years, humanity has basically behaved like a drunk, entitled teenager with regard to the health of the planet, spewing trillions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, consequences be damned. And the oceans have graciously taken on the role of our beleaguered parents, constantly bailing us out by absorbing much of that CO2, slowing down the process of global warming.

It's an unhealthy arrangement, but so far, it's worked.

Unfortunately, it's looking more and more like our sweet setup is unsustainable.

When the oceans absorb CO2, they become more acidic in a process known — creatively — as ocean acidification. And while minor changes in the pH of the ocean might not seem like a big deal to a bunch of hulking land apes, they are a huge deal if you're a tiny sea creature.

Higher ocean acidity makes it more difficult for shelled organisms like sea butterflies and oysters to calcify their shells. When these creatures die off, it trickles up the food chain — with potentially disastrous consequences for the larger creatures who eat them. Like fish. And whales. And, um. A certain primate species that loves its seafood. Not going to name names. Not going to say who.


Looking at you, Jeremy. Photo by torbakhopper/Flickr.

But you know who you are.

3. How hot the Earth is getting and how quickly.

Keep cool, dude. Photo by Ash Photoholic/Flickr.

Climate change. The big Kahuna. The whole banana. D-Day. Yahtzee.

And yes, I know. You're thinking, "Ugh. I know about this already." And maybe you do. But according to survey after survey after survey, too many of us don't. Not really, anyway. So the experts think, anyhow.

This year alone, unprecedented heat waves killed thousands in South Asia. Major changes in ocean currents are already afoot. Some scientists are predicting that sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previous thought by 2016.

A Pew Research Center poll from September 2014 found that action on climate change was near the bottom of most Americans' priorities lists. There's some evidence that people are finally starting to pay more attention, but even caring a lot might still not be enough. Because holy crap, it could be bad.

We need to take action, and we need to take it now. In so many ways, climate change isn't just an issue, it's the issue. Call up your senators and representatives and tell them to get it on the agenda. Spread the word! Get in the streets!

The Earth is pretty darn great. Let's make sure it doesn't go away.

But don't take it from me.

Take it from the experts.

Seriously. Listen. To. Them. These folks know what they're talking about:

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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