by Whit Gibbons

July 31, 2016

What do your favorite politicians running for national office consider to be the major environmental problems that face our country? What? They have not mentioned the environment?

This may be a bit of an overstatement because a few mentions have been made here and there about the EPA, climate change and national parks. But overall, most of the rhetoric seems directed, or misdirected, toward other issues. With the November elections closing in on us, a reasonable request to candidates would be for them to declare their position on an issue that affects us all: a healthy environment in our country and the world.

Top 10 lists are appealing, from top 10 books to top 10 YouTube videos to top 10 news items you are not looking forward to hearing about this month, which for me would include political ads and finding out whether Johnny Manziel is behaving himself.

My top 10 environmental problems in order of increasing importance:

10. Air pollution. Uncontrolled releases by industry plus the excessive use of fossil fuels have led to acid rain, dissolution of the ozone layer, smog and the general elimination of "clean air."

9. Invasive plants and animals. The troubles caused by fire ants across the southern United States and Burmese pythons in the Everglades, as well as many other regional environmental problems, have a human origin related to the introduction of exotic species.

8. Global climate change. This has become such a volatile issue that debates between advocates and disbelievers about potential impacts and solutions are seldom productive, with disputes even extending to the semantics of whether we should call it "global warming" or "global climate change." In any case, numerous credible scientific studies have documented human-caused changes in recent decades.

7. Pollution of marine habitats. The oceans are huge, but overharvesting and the degradation of marine environments are proceeding at an alarmingly steady rate around the world, including a commercially extinct codfish industry and disappearing coral reefs along our coasts.

6. Unsustainable agriculture. Humankind is dependent on food production, yet agricultural siltation, pesticide runoffs and loss of natural habitats are constant threats to a healthy environment.

5. Threat of disease. Zika and Ebola viruses are examples of how we can be affected by unseen enemies.

4. Water quality and quantity. Sewage from cities, unregulated releases from industrial and agricultural sites, and dumping of wastes in the oceans collectively exacerbate the worldwide problem of water pollution. Water wars are now a reality in the western states and even in the wetter Southeast, as evidenced by court cases involving Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

3. Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation. The loss of natural habitats from human development and deforestation is a major cause of the decline in biodiversity nationally and globally. Many species are on an inexorable path toward extinction because their native habitats are gone or despoiled.

2. Human overpopulation. Unchecked human population growth leads to overconsumption and associated world poverty. Many people would rank overpopulation as the No. 1 cause of our other environmental problems. Virtually every problem above can be traced back to having too many people for the resources available. Until political and religious leaders have the courage to address birth control on a global scale, most of our environmental problems will continue to worsen.

1. Political apathy. I consider this the No. 1 reason the other nine environmental problems listed here are not being properly addressed. World leaders seldom acknowledge, let alone propose solutions to, environmental problems. For those leaders around the world chosen by a democratic election process, voters are not just condoning such apathy, they are participating in it.

What do you consider to be the top 10 environmental problems facing the United States and the world? Getting politicians to take a stand might be overly optimistic, but one thing is certain, until we overcome apathy, we will never overcome our environmental problems.

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