The environment is a very important topic. It’s gotten to the forefront of political/social discussion recently, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s always been significant. The difference is that we were blind to how we changed it and now we can’t be. It’s just not an option anymore. There are people far more qualified to discuss the nitty-gritty details on how to improve things in the short-term. What I’m focusing on here is the broad ways in which relatively simple physics can bring clarity to the problems and help us understand the scope of the possible solutions.
Mass and Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. This is taught in highschool physics, and a law which most adults can parrot. It may be simple, but rarely is it actually applied to the global biosphere. We talk of running out of fossil fuels, of adding CO2 to the atmosphere or about the decline of fresh water. The physical matter that makes up all of that is constant, nothing is being created and nothing is destroyed. The carbon and oxygen that make up the CO2 were in a different form, if it’s exhaust from fossil fuels then it was in the large hydrocarbon bonds found under ground. Those fossil fuels are made of the same basic stuff as all life on earth, it’s simply in a complex chemical bond which we’re breaking into smaller components. And the fresh water has had impurities added, in the case of excess sea water it’s mostly salt.
Now before I go further, I’m not saying everything is fine. The natural forces which gave us an abundance of the chemicals that we rely on (and a lack of the chemicals that could be damaging) are not things we can repeat currently. Ecosystems have wonderfully complex cycles to maintain a balance of the various elements, and they’re remarkably resilient to changes in the environment. Only to a certain point and we have clearly pushed them past that point.
What needs to be understood is that it is recoverable. All those atoms that made up the world as it was for millennia are still here. The earth is a closed system, at least in terms of matter. We just need to find out how to get them back to their previous compositions. We can recover them, we can recreate them. We just need to survive long enough to figure out how.
Except helium. That stuff just floats into space. Course if we live through the next 1000 years we can go get it back, it’s just floating around the solar system.