Problems and Concerns caused by Human Influences on the Environment Index
Depletion of the Ozone Layer and the Greenhouse Effect
Human Influences on the Environment Homepage
Human Influences on the Environment : Questions
Topic Chapters Index
Antarctica and Fossil Fuels
The greatest danger which faces Antarctica is the possible exploitation of its mineral wealth and oil and coal reserves. Since 1961 Antarctica has been protected by an international treaty which only allows scientific bases to be established on the continent.
Some nations would like to change the treaty so that they can prospect for natural resources. This could mean that, if natural gas and oil are found to be present, oil rigs and storage areas would be constructed in Antarctica. It would also mean that super-tankers would be frequent visitors to the continent.
Many ecologists are afraid that mining activities in Antarctica could have dreadful effects. The Exxon disaster in Alaska shows how easy it is for oil spillages to occur, even when all
possible precautions are taken. Exploitation of Antarctica would certainly have an adverse effect on the scenery and is likely to upset the plant and animal life. Some ecologists believe that mining and other activities could have serious world-wide consequences. They argue that no-one really knows the role
which Antarctica plays in the world's climate and that, by disturbing the natural balance of the continent, we could unknowingly upset the balance of the biosphere itself. It is for this reason that, in 1990, the late French explorer and ecologist Commander Jacques Cousteau called for Antarctica to be left as a Natural Reserve : Land of Science.
The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed on 4th October 1991 and came into effect in 1998. The next review is due in 2048.
PROBLEMS AND CONCERNS CAUSED BY HUMAN INFLUENCES ON THE ENVIRONMENT
We need energy every day of our lives. Our own personal energy comes from the food which we eat. We also need energy to help us cook, to keep warm and to light our homes and streets. Industry needs energy to keep its machinery working and we depend on energy for travel.
Coal ready for transportation, Yangtze River, China
Coal, natural gas and crude oil are sources of energy which we take from the earth. All three energy-giving materials were formed millions of years ago when the bodies of dead animals and plants were covered by the land and put under intense pressure. For this reason they are known as fossil fuels. When we burn coal, natural gas and oil we obtain energy.
To produce electricity we need to use a source of energy. Electricity is made in power stations. Coal is widely used as a fuel in power stations. Since there is a limit to our fossil fuel supplies - some scientists believe that the fossil fuels will have been used up by the year 2100 - humans have turned to other energy sources. Another problem is that burning fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide and other gases as waste products. This is adding to the atmospheric pollution.
Fact File No. 67
15% of the human population of the world consumes more than one third of the available fertilizers and more than half of the available energy.
An off-shore oil rig, Punta Arenas, Chile
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