Environmental Impact

What is the Environmental Impact?

The environmental impact is an alteration in the quality of the environment, which is produced by human activity and intervention. Some natural phenomena can also cause environmental impacts.

The environment is the environment where living beings and natural resources develop and interact. It is made up of biotic factors (animals, plants, bacteria or fungi), abiotic factors (soil, water, light or temperature), and social factors (culture, economy).

Deforestation, for example, is an economic activity from which wood is obtained. This activity causes soil erosion, decreases the quality of oxygen and reduces the space where various species live.

How is the environmental impact measured?

Environmental impact.1

The alterations generated by environmental impacts can be evaluated and analyzed through the Environmental impact evaluation or EIA, which aims to:

  • Detect, identify and evaluate the magnitude of the environmental impacts generated by human actions (projects, works, activities).
  • Determine how the environmental impact affects the quality of the environment.
  • Establish measures aimed at optimizing or reducing environmental impact.

Continuing with the example of deforestation, the EIA would make it possible to establish a series of measures to regulate the felling of trees and reforest those spaces.

Types of environmental impacts

The quality of the environment can be affected by various impacts. These can be classified into different categories according to their magnitude or the effect they generate on the environment.

Positive environmental impact

It is one that generates a benefit or reduces a problem in the environment, as a result of an activity, norm or measure. For example, the restoration or recovery of rivers and forests have a positive environmental impact.

The construction of a dam can also have a positive impact on the fauna and flora and even on the economic activity of a particular area.

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Negative environmental impact

It represents a break in the ecological balance, causing serious damage to the environment, as well as to the health of people and other living beings.

For example, air or sea pollution due to garbage or fossil fuels. Noise pollution generated by certain economic activities such as construction. Radioactive energy waste, among others.

Direct environmental impact

It is one that leads to an alteration of the quality of the environment immediately, even critically. For example, gold mining is an activity that leads to soil contamination and erosion, seriously affecting the development of animal and plant life.

Indirect environmental impact

Certain activities produce a long-term alteration in the environment, which makes it difficult to detect them in advance.

The construction of an expressway to displace the use of a highway can reduce visitation to small communities that depend on travelers buying their local products. Although the project is positive for the infrastructure of a region, it has a great impact on the economic activity of the area and encourages the displacement of its inhabitants.

The lack of people can cause the deterioration of the fields, the abandonment of infrastructures and the growth of weeds that lead to fires.

Temporary environmental impact

The temporary environmental impact is characterized by lasting a certain time, it does not generate serious consequences, so the environment can recover relatively quickly.

The noise, dust and discomfort generated by the construction of a building is temporary, since the works are only carried out during the day and last a pre-established time.

Permanent environmental impact

They are those environmental impacts that generate a change in the quality of the environment permanently. For example, the landscape impact of the construction of a series of buildings that are part of the State infrastructure.

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Reversible environmental impact

The reversible environmental impact is one that, beyond the change experienced by the environment, can be modified until it returns to its initial state. For this, a series of specific actions and measures must be applied. For example, recovering deforested areas or implementing plans to improve the water quality of a river.

Some of these reversible changes can occur without the intervention of human action, even if it takes longer.

Irreversible environmental impact

There are environmental impacts whose severity and significance completely prevent the environment from recovering. The magnitude of the impact is such that there is no possible recovery plan to apply.

For example, radioactive waste, generated by nuclear power, cannot be disposed of like other types of materials. These cause high levels of contamination and put the lives of people, animals and the environment in general at risk.

Cumulative environmental impact

These are small impacts that occur constantly in a given space, and that added together cause a large environmental impact with important effects on the quality of the environment.

For example, disposing of garbage residues for a long time and constantly in a lake, possibly affects the quality of the water and the natural life around it.

Synergistic environmental impact

This is the magnitude of the effect caused by the sum of different environmental impacts in the same scenario, since individually each impact would have minor consequences.

For example, an intentional wildfire is made up of several individual environmental impacts such as:

  • the individual who starts the fire by throwing a cigarette butt to the ground,
  • plastic debris found around where the fire started,
  • dry grass derived from drought.

All these impacts separately, produce less change in the environment than together.

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Causes of environmental impact

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Indiscriminate logging is an environmental impact that affects the quality of life of various species.

The causes or reasons that originate environmental impacts are related to human activities and natural phenomena.

Among the human activities, aimed at satisfying the needs of people through the production of goods and services, and that cause the greatest impact are:

  • Industrial activity.
  • The mining activity.
  • The extraction of raw materials.
  • The high rates of waste production.
  • The treatment of chemical residues and waste in general.
  • The lack of urban planning.
  • The excessive use of natural resources.
  • The use of fossil fuels.

On the other hand, the natural phenomena that cause environmental impacts, and that can be difficult to foresee, are:

  • The earthquakes.
  • The tsunamis
  • The Hurricanes.
  • Volcanic eruptions.
  • temperature changes.
  • The landslides.

Consequences of environmental impact

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The conservation of natural parks and other spaces where various species live and grow is necessary to preserve the environment.

The consequences of the environmental impact can be both harmful and beneficial for public health, the conservation of natural resources, economic activity and the quality of life.

If we talk about the reforestation of an area for the recovery and protection of flora and fauna, these actions will have positive consequences for the environment.

As well as, encouraging people to use public transport or the use of other mobility equipment such as bicycles, are also actions with positive consequences for the environmental impact.

However, the consequences of the environmental impact are usually negative:

  • Diseases that put our health at risk.
  • Loss of biodiversity.
  • Global warming.
  • Soil erosion.
  • Various types of environmental pollution (water, soil, air).
  • Displacement of communities.
  • Political conflicts for the interest of certain natural resources.

See also:

  • Causes and consequences of environmental pollution.
  • Ecology.
  • Environmental pollution.