Understanding Our Place in the World
Every day we make countless choices about what products to buy, how to use them and how to dispose of them. No matter how small or large they may seem, each of these decisions impacts our lives, our wallets and the planet as a whole. When we understand how the environment works, we are empowered to make informed decisions about how to best preserve and enjoy it.
An Interconnected System
The Earth is a series of complex and wondrous ecosystems. From the air to the oceans and everything in between, all iterations of matter and energy are part of the natural cycles that maintain life in its many forms, including humans.
On Earth, matter is neither created nor destroyed; instead, a combination of biological, geological and chemical cycles causes solids, liquids and gases to change. Nutrients, energy, water and other necessities constantly recycle and transform. We owe our lives to these cycles, and we can help preserve them by making informed choices about what and how we consume.
To survive and thrive, all living things require vital elements like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and oxygen. Natural processes like decomposition, volcanic activity and photosynthesis convert these raw materials into different forms, to be used by living things.
Managing Natural Resources
While deforestation, combustion of fossil fuels and other large-scale human activities can disrupt the Earth's cycles, we can each make small changes that go a long way towards maintaining the environment. For example, while most of us aren't loggers, we can purchase wood, paper and other products from foresting companies that are eco-minded and responsibly managed.
Water cycles between various natural reservoirs located on, above and below the Earth's surface. These vessels include oceans, rivers, lakes, underground aquifers, glaciers, clouds and even plants and animals. While these cycles ensure that water is never really lost, there’s no guarantee that water will return to us in the same form and quality it was once in. And because we use a great deal of water — particularly fresh water — we have the power to impact its cycles in big ways. By reducing waste and pollution, using water judiciously, and making sure we don’t interrupt the flow of water, we can help to preserve water quality, amount, and location, and protect the habitats that rely on those water sources.
A Circular Feast
Food webs provide a system for nutrients and energy to flow between living things. The sun spurs plant growth via photosynthesis, which in turn fuels herbivores, which serve as food for a hierarchy of carnivores. After any of these living things die, they decompose into nutrients, which feed plants, and the cycle starts all over again. Activities that remove plants and animals from their natural habitats (like altering landscapes for urban development), or introduce unnatural or harmful substances into the environment (like polluting air and water), can disrupt food webs. Simple changes like choosing organic produce, which limits the use of pesticides and fertilizers and therefore protects land quality, can help preserve them.
Riding the Waves
Vast and powerful, oceans play a critical role in how the Earth's ecosystems work. Natural conditions like wind and sun allow ocean water to constantly move and circulate, helping transport essential nutrients around the world. As water evaporates, it becomes saltier and denser, causing it to sink. As this water travels along the ocean bottom, it eventually mixes with warmer, fresher water, which once again rises to the surface, and the process begins again.
The Human Impact
Human activities that release greenhouse gasses can raise surface temperatures and cause glaciers and ice sheets to melt, which may interfere with ocean circulation, potentially leading to climate change. By doing things like using renewable energy sources and limiting waste, we can help minimize our impact on surface temperatures and ensure proper ocean water circulation. Air also moves in cycles, transporting heat and influencing the weather. Over time, weather patterns have created a variety of habitats, each suitable for different types of organisms. Harmful manmade processes that release greenhouse gasses and other pollutants into the atmosphere can alter local climates, making habitats unsuitable for some plants and animals.
Improving Our Lifestyles. Improving Our World.
By respecting the Earth's natural cycles, we have the unique opportunity to help preserve the environment. By making smarter choices like recycling waste, conserving natural resources and using renewable energy, we can minimize our negative impact and sustain the planet for generations to enjoy.
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